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Mama’s Spaghetti Bolognese with Venison

My family grew up eating spaghetti with a traditional meat sauce. Well, sort of. . . . The meat was ground venison from a deer Daddy shot, and Mama always added Dede’s homemade scuppernong wine. She also used a McCormick’s seasoning packet, still does. (In my version I add porcini mushrooms to bolster the flavor instead.) This was one of those rare meals mama didn’t make completely from scratch. And, I am not sure why, but she always broke the spaghetti noodles in half and cooked them far, far past al dente, more like “all done.” I’ve enjoyed Bolognese in Rome, “gravy” in Jersey City, and even served marinara sauce to none other than Giuliano Hazan, but Mama’s “Southern-style” sauce is still one of my favorite dishes in the world. Food memories are precious things. The sense of smell, more so than any other sense, is intimately linked to the parts of the brain that process emotion. One whiff of this and I am immediately transported to my childhood. Buon appetito, y’all!


  • 1 tablespoon pure olive oil
  • 1 onion preferably Vidalia, chopped
  • 8 ounces white button mushrooms sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic very finely chopped
  • 2 pounds ground venison or 1 pound ground round beef and 1 pound ground turkey
  • 2 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ ounce dried porcini mushrooms
  • ¾ cup dry red wine
  • 1 16-ounce package spaghetti


  • Heat the oil in a large saucepan or straight-sided skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and sauté until the mushrooms are soft and all the liquid in the pan has evaporated, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 45 to 60 seconds. Add the ground meat and crushed tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Using a wooden spoon, break up the meat into small chunks. Increase the heat and bring the mixture to a boil. Add the dried porcini and wine. Stir to combine. Decrease the heat to simmer and cook until thick, about 30 minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper.
  • Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 10 minutes or according to package instructions.
  • Drain the spaghetti through a colander placed in a large serving bowl (to heat the bowl). Drain the water from the bowl and pat dry. Put the cooked spaghetti in the now-warmed bowl. Spoon over 1 large spoonful of the sauce and toss to coat. Spoon over several additional spoonfuls, depending on how many are at the table. Serve immediately.