The best thing about living near Lansing is being close to all the great amenities of a city while still being just a short drive away to somewhere more secluded like isolated pine forests up north or the marshes and swamps where my husband grew up near Jackson.
I wouldn’t consider myself a dedicated outdoors person. Given the option between camping or a hotel, I’ll take the soft mattress and room service any day. Also, where do you plug the coffee maker in on a hiking expedition? However, I was raised by parents who took my brother and I camping every summer and consequently have a deep love and appreciation for natural settings.
One year, when I was in high school, I drove up north with my dad to the cabin he hunts at to help him get his blind ready for the fall. We spent the cool, early fall day out in the woods constructing pine tree branches into his hunting blind. I remember it was a foggy morning and the air was saturated with the smell of evergreen trees and wet leaves.
Now, I get to create similar memories with my husband helping him prepare his hunting property in the fall. A couple times a year, we make the short drive to his family’s land and spend the day manicuring food plots or walking the trails to check cameras and it’s just the best.
This dish the embodies some of my favorite memories of spending time outdoors with my family. Earthy mushrooms and piney sage create a perfect interpretation of how a damp, cool Michigan morning out in the forest feels.
The recipe starts by browning the butter to create a rich, nutty flavor. When the butter is a deep amber color, the sage gets tossed in to fry quickly. The combination of butter and sage creates the most robust, autumn-like incense that permeates the entire kitchen.
Mushrooms, onions, and leeks just absorb this flavor while lean venison helps fortify the meal. Everything gets brought together with rigatoni and topped with lemony thyme and Parmesan.
Ground beef can definitely be substituted for the venison, but if you have ground venison on hand, this is a great recipe to try it with.
Venison Mushroom Leek Rigatoni with Browned Sage Butter
- 2 Tbsp Butter
- 6 Sage Leaves
- 1 Leek Stalk
- 1 Medium White Onion
- 8-10 Small Mushrooms
- 1 Lb Ground Venison or Beef
- 1/2 Lb Rigatoni
Heat a pan over medium heat. Slice your sage into thin strips. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter and let cook until brown. Add the sage and let it sizzle and wilt down for just a minute. Pour butter and sage into a bowl.
Cut the ends off the leeks and cut lengthwise. Hold the leek by the leafy green part and slice perpendicular to the stalk up about halfway to the green part (when it starts to get dark green and tough) until you have thin, half moon slices. Place the slices in a large bowl filled with water to rinse off excess dirt.
Next, slice your onion in half and place cut side down. Proceed to thinly slice the onion into small strips.
Melt a tablespoon of olive oil in your pan and add the onions. Season with salt. Once the onions are slightly soft and transparent (after about 4 minutes) drain the leeks and add to the pan and stir to combine seasoning with additional salt, if necessary.
Once the leeks are soft, remove the onions and leeks to a separate bowl. Add the mushrooms and let sit until browned before stirring.
Remove the mushroom from the pan and add another tablespoon olive oil. Add the meat to the pan and season with salt and pepper.
While the meat is browning, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Season the water liberally with salt and add the pasta. Follow the cooking directions for the pasta.
Once the meat is browned, return the vegetables to the pan and stir to combine. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the pasta water and add the pasta to the pan. Stir and slowly add the reserved pasta water. The starch from the pasta in the water will help create a sauce and bring everything together.
Add the browned butter and sage along with the thyme and stir. Top with Parmesan, additional thyme leaves, and serve.