Spaghetti with meat sauce is something I never order in restaurants. The few times I’ve tried it I’ve always found the flavor shallow and bland. But that’s not to say I don’t like meat sauce. I do, I just prefer when it’s homemade.
I’ve made meat sauce, or ragù as it’s known in Italy, many times before but usually with ground beef or a combination of beef and veal. But this time I wanted to try it with bison, which is one of my favorite proteins both for it’s beef-like taste and healthy properties (see Bison-Barley Stuffed Peppers). In a nutshell, bison is nutrient-dense, especially in iron and essential fatty acids, and is lower in fat, calories and cholesterol than chicken.
With all the positive traits and delicious taste of bison it shocks me that people still see it as an “ew, gross,” food, which is the exact response elicited from my sister when I invited her to dinner. I keep forgetting she’s a recovered vegetarian so I’ll go easy on her, I just hope her views don’t reflect the majority because that would be very sad.
Back to the sauce. I was a little unsure of how it would work to use bison because it’s such a lean meat, meaning very low in fat. I didn’t want the sauce to be dry and was concerned I’d have to add more oil to make up for the lack of natural fat, which would defeat the purpose of using bison in the first place. Luckily, it wasn’t an issue at all. I used a generous two tablespoons olive oil to sweat the vegetables and brown the bison, and then added a good amount of liquid from the wine, tomatoes and juice. The end result was a rich, tasty, long-simmered bison tomato sauce that was fantastic served over homemade tagliatelle.
The tagliatelle was made from frozen pasta dough (see fresh pasta video) by rolling it thin using a pasta roller, gently folding into thirds, then hand-cutting the dough with a knife in 1/3-inch wide strips. Separate the noodles immediately and sprinkle with flour to prevent them from sticking together.
The tomatoes used in the sauce were fresh but of course it’s fine to use canned tomatoes with their juices (omit the tomato juice from the original recipe). But if you do decide to use fresh tomatoes, you will want to remove the core and the seeds.
Here’s the recipe for Bison Ragù:
Bison Ragù, makes 10 servings
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, minced
1 large carrot, peeled and minced
1 pound ground bison
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2/3 cup red wine
2 cups chopped tomatoes, seeded and cored (about 3 medium tomatoes)
1 6-ounce can tomato paste (about 10 tablespoons)
1 cup tomato juice
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme or 4 fresh thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons minced fresh basil
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 pound fresh or dried wide pasta (fettuccine or tagliatelle), cooked and drained
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (for garnish)
Fresh basil, thinly sliced (for garnish)
Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-low heat. Add the onion and carrot and sweat until soft, stirring often, about 8 minutes. Stir in the ground bison and use a wooden spoon to break the meat apart. Cook until browned, about 5 minutes, then stir in the minced garlic. Cook for 1 minute then pour in the red wine.
Simmer the wine for for 5 minutes, then stir in the chopped tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato juice, thyme, bay leaf and basil. Reduce the heat to low and cover. Simmer the sauce for 2 hours, stirring once every 30 minutes.
Uncover the pot after 2 hours and season the sauce with sugar, salt, pepper and balsamic vinegar. Adjust seasonings to taste.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package instructions if using dried or for 2 minutes if using fresh pasta. Drain the pasta and top with the bison ragù, garnish with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese and fresh basil.