Cooking Wild Recipe: Spicy Moose Meatballs

When ground moose comes to the table as Italian meatballs with spaghetti, you’ve got one heck of a trophy meal.

This is one of the first recipes Mom taught me to make and to this day, it is still my favourite way to showcase moose at the table, especially when ground meat is on the menu.

The only problem is, in my house, no matter how much moose I grind, it is always the fastest cut to disappear from the freezer so if I get a craving for this mouthwatering Old World supper and the grounds are gone, I don’t hesitate for a minute to thaw out a moose roast or a couple steaks especially for grinding! Of course, any venison member produces good results but moose is the meat I broke ground with so it is still my top pick for this dish.

The biggest secret to this recipe is to make up the meatballs early in the day in order for them to have time to stand in the fridge and mellow. Since they are loaded with garlic, herbs and spices, this gives the meat plenty of time to absorb all the wonderful flavours and aroma. It also helps the balls to hold their shape in the pan when initial browning takes place.

Another tip is to use a thick, rich tomato sauce. Like Mom, I can my own tomato sauce from garden produce but if you are using store-bought product, choose a good quality sauce that is thick and rich.

Fresh herbs, when it comes to Italian cooking, are always the better choice but when fresh are not available, dried herbs will certainly do. You can, if you wish, use a store-bought blend of Italian seasoning mix and omit the individual measures of herbs in the recipe but I prefer to add the herbs according to Mom’s old measures.

Long, slow cooking is the only way to go when simmering the meatballs in the tomato sauce and I find my big cast-iron Dutch oven does a great job as the meatballs can be browned first and then cooked in the same pot.

If extra liquid is needed to keep the sauce from going too thick, I like to add a splash of red wine, preferably Italian, instead of water for authentic flavour.

As for the spaghetti, it should always be cooked, so they say in Italy, el dente, which means tender to the tooth. It should never be soft, soggy or sticky which can happen if it is overcooked, if not enough water is used for cooking the pasta or if it stands too long before draining.

To cook enough pasta for four to six servings (about 375 to 450 grams), you need a large stockpot three-quarters full of rapidly boiling water that has been lightly salted. Add the pasta and cook until “tender to the tooth” — unless you truly prefer it softer in which case, go for it!

To serve this meal, crack open a bottle of red wine and pass around a basket of crusty bread, a shaker of grated parmesan and some dried chilies for sprinkling and the biggest trophy supper of all is on the table!

One more little secret before you don your apron: if you have a stash of dried wild mushrooms such as boletes (boletus) which, by the way, are known as porcini mushrooms in Italian, adding a couple crushed mushrooms to the sauce gives an exciting boost of flavour. If you don’t have dried wild mushrooms, store-bought porcini or shiitake can be used.

Meatball Ingredients

  • 2 pounds ground moose
  • ½ cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1 minced onion
  • 5 cloves minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons fresh minced parsley or 1 tablespoon dried herb
  • Sprig of minced fresh rosemary or dried to taste
  • 1 egg
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Measure the meatball ingredients into a large bowl. Using hands, mix well and form into bite-sized balls and place on waxed paper lined tray until all are formed. Cover with damp cloth and set the meatballs in the fridge and let stand for several hours to mellow. Sauté meatballs in three tablespoons olive oil, shaking pan constantly until evenly browned. Remove meatballs with slotted spoon and set aside.

Sauce Ingredients

  • 1 minced onion
  • 1 minced sweet pepper
  • 1 minced chili pepper, if desired
  • 3 cloves minced garlic
  • 680ml can tomato sauce (or 1 quart if using homemade sauce)
  • 2 cups finely chopped canned tomatoes with juice
  • 1 teaspoon each of fresh minced basil, rosemary, oregano and marjoram (or about ½ teaspoon each of dried herbs or Italian herb mixture to suit taste)
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper and salt to taste
  • A couple crushed dried mushrooms (optional
  • ½ cup grated parmesan cheese

Sauté onion, peppers and garlic in the oil in which meatballs were browned, adding a bit more oil if needed. Add the remaining ingredients, except cheese, and cook, stirring constantly, until bottom of pan is deglazed. Add meatballs to the sauce, cover and simmer for two hours, adding a splash of red wine if sauce goes a bit too thick. Just before serving, blend parmesan into the sauce and heat through. Serve the meatballs and sauce ladled over cooked spaghetti. Serves four to six.

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