Venison Lasagne

Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 3 hours, 30 minutes

For the bolognese sauce
A glug of olive oil
A knob of butter
1 medium onion – finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic – finely crushed
2 sticks celery – finely chopped
2 medium carrots – finely chopped
Pancetta or bacon cut into cubes
12oz / 350g minced venison shoulder
8 fl oz full-fat milk
A glass of dry white wine
500g tin of plum tomatoes – chopped, with the juice
A sprig of rosemary
Salt and pepper
4 fl oz of vegetable stock

For the white sauce
11/4 pints milk
3oz butter
21/2 oz plain flour

For the lasagne
Strips of fresh lasagne pasta
Freshly grated parmesan
Mozzarella cheese (fresh, not pre-grated)

Featured in:
September 2011

Like many of you I’m sure, my foray into cooking with game of any sort has been patchy – often dreamt of but never actually achieved. I will mull over it as a choice in a restaurant, particularly during gaming season, which will soon be upon us, although even when I’m in such establishments that offer tantalising treats such as Game Pie or Breast of Pheasant, I never seem to bite the bullet – please excuse this dreadful pun. I don’t know what it is; I simply never went for it, instead turning to familiar, safer favourites.

I suppose it simply comes down to a familiarity with what I know how to cook, when in fact, as I have learnt recently when I met Simon Williams from Lincolnshire Wild Venison there is very little to worry about, the meat is actually available all year as there is no ‘season’ for venison and if you treat the product with respect you will end up with a very satisfying, easy-to-make and surprisingly inexpensive dish.

I’ve gone for something classic and ‘everyday’ here, as I’m keen that this is the kind of dish we could all cook at home. I’ve also gone for a cheaper cut of venison, the shoulder, which has a little more fat on it. If you’re still unsure (which you really shouldn’t be) or can’t get hold of any, you can substitute the venison for beef.

First make the bolognese sauce, which needs a long cooking time but it really does make for the most tender and succulent sauce, plus you don’t have to cook it all in one session; you could do the first stage in the morning and the final cooking later the same day. It can also be cooked ahead of time and kept in the fridge for three days or frozen.
In a large, heavy-bottomed pan melt the butter and oil, add the onions and gently sauté until they become translucent. Add the garlic, celery and carrots, stir well and cook for a further two minutes.
Add the pancetta or bacon cubes and sauté gently for a further two minutes.
Add the venison, a large pinch of salt, some pepper and cook until it has lost its raw red colour
Add the milk and let it simmer gently, stirring frequently, until it has bubbled away completely.
Add the wine, let it simmer until evaporated, then add the tomatoes and stir thoroughly to coat all the ingredients well.
When the tomatoes begin to bubble turn the heat down to its very lowest setting and cook, uncovered for three hours, stirring from time to time and topping up occasionally with vegetable stock to keep it from completely drying out.
Next, make the white sauce;
Warm the milk through gently in a saucepan.
In a another large pan melt the butter gently on a very low heat and once melted add all the flour, stirring it in with a wooden spoon. Cook, whilst constantly stirring for two minutes.
Take the pan off the heat and add the milk in small measured batches, letting the flour mixture soak up the milk whilst you stir. Do this gently and stir continuously and you’ll not have to worry about lumps. Place the pan back on a low heat and stir without interruption until the sauce thickens. You’re looking for a thick cream consistency. Don’t worry if lumps form, you can simply whisk them away.
Now, let’s build our lasagne:
You’ll need a large oven-proof dish as deep or shallow as you like, depending on how many layers you’re after. Pre-heat the oven to 200C.
Smear the bottom of the dish with butter and then place a layer of the pasta sheets on the bottom.
Ladle over a thin layer of each of the sauces, sprinkle with parmesan and then add another layer of pasta.
Continue to layer this way until you have used all your sauce – the top layer should be the bolognese with a generous sprinkling of parmesan and some torn mozzarella.
Bake in the oven until golden and bubbly – this should take no more than ten minutes. And should you still be unsure about cooking with game, can I recommend the excellent who are dedicated to promoting the delights of wild British game meat.
Eat and of course, enjoy!

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