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Published February 22, 2017
Eeek! Elk in Spaghetti Sauce?
Elk spaghetti sauce with a garnish of smoked mozzarella cheese and basil leaves. Photo Susie Iventosch

It seems hard to believe, but this is the first time I've ever made spaghetti sauce for my family. Oh, I helped my mom make her sauce when I was a kid, but never on my own. Our family enjoys many different pasta dishes, but for some reason, I have always had a mental block against spaghetti, so that's probably why I've never bothered to make it. And, although ground turkey would work, most spaghetti sauce recipes call for beef, and we eat very little beef, in fact almost never.
But, over the past few years my husband has been on an elk kick, because it is a healthier red meat and has very little fat. He has purchased cartons of elk, and with each shipment we get all sorts of different cuts, and always a lot of ground elk. As a result, I've been learning to make more red meat dishes like slow-cooked elk roast, elk burgers, and steaks. Finally, just last week, I decided it was high time to try making spaghetti sauce and it was delicious. Aha! I'm a spaghetti fan after all! This is a great recipe for any of you with elk hunters in the family, too.
When cooking elk, it is important to remember that because there is so little fat, it can dry out quickly. And because the meat is so dense, a little goes a long way. In the case of ground elk, the meat does not crumble as readily as ground beef or turkey, so you need to separate the clumps as you brown it. And, even so, there are some chunky bites in the spaghetti sauce, which are actually really enjoyable.
This recipe also calls for Italian-seasoned chicken sausage, and I found it in a package without the casing, which is much easier to incorporate into the sauce. If you can only find it in the casing, be sure to buy the uncooked sausages and remove the meat from the casings before adding it to the pan. You can substitute turkey sausage for the chicken, too.
Spaghetti with Elk Sauce

(Serves 6 as a main dish)
2-3 Tbsp. olive oil (plus more as needed, and can use canola oil)
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 package sliced cremini mushrooms (8-10 oz.)
1 pound ground elk
1 pound ground Italian-seasoned chicken or turkey sausage, out of the casing
3-4 leaves fresh basil, julienned
2 Tbsp. minced fresh parsley
2 tsp. Italian seasoning
1 tsp. marjoram
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground pepper
3/4 cup port or hearty red wine
4 whole large tomatoes, chopped
1 can tomato paste (6-ounce)
1 28-ounce can finely-diced
tomatoes in juice
1-2 cup chicken broth
1 pound spaghetti pasta
1 cup freshly grated parmesan
Fresh basil leaves or small sprigs
Smoked fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced

Heat oil in a large frying pan, and add onions and garlic. Saut´┐Ż over medium heat, until onions are translucent. Add mushrooms, parsley, basil, Italian seasoning, marjoram, paprika, salt and pepper and cook just until mushrooms begin to soften. Add both the chicken sausage and the ground elk, and cook until meats are completely cooked and beginning to brown. Add a little more oil as needed. Once meat is completely cooked, add wine and fresh tomatoes. Cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally. Now add tomato paste and canned diced tomatoes with juices and stir well. Add enough chicken broth to arrive at desired thickness. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer.
Cook pasta to al dente and drain well. Toss pasta with almost all of the pasta sauce, but reserve a cup or so to spoon over the top of each serving. Garnish generously with freshly grated parmesan, and if desired, a few slices of smoked mozzarella. Add a sprig of basil for a final touch serve with warm French or crusty Italian bread.

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