Some days or weeks just call for a bowl of cheesy, meaty, pasta goodness to make everything better. This baked venison rigatoni is the perfect dish for times like those. It's easy to make, even on a busy weeknight, and is a hit with our entire family.
Serve it up with a side salad and some garlic bread for a meal everyone will love. Don’t have rigatoni in the cupboard? Substitute with ziti, macaroni or shells; just about any small pasta will do. When cooking the pasta, keep in mind that the dish will continue to cook in the oven, so pull the pasta at the early al dente stage when it still has plenty of firmness. Save the pasta-cooking water for thinning the meat sauce later, when combining it with the pasta.
2 pounds ground venison
16 ounces dried rigatoni or other small pasta
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning blend
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 shallots, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 handful or 1/2 cup of fresh basil, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 cups shredded mozzarella or Italian blend cheese
Start by heating 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the ground venison and begin browning. After a few minutes, add the shallot and garlic. Continue cooking until the venison is browned and cooked through and the shallots are clear and soft.
Add the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, Italian seasoning, salt, basil and red pepper flakes to the pot. Stir well. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the butter and stir.
While the sauce simmers, cook the pasta in salted water. When the pasta reaches the early al dente stage, just beginning to soften but with plenty of bite left, scoop it from the pot with a spider or large slotted spoon and add it to the sauce.
Stir in a half cup of the pasta water to thin the sauce. You want it to be on the wet side. If the pasta still seems dry, add a bit more of the pasta water.
Turn the sauce and pasta mixture into a 13x9 baking dish. Top with grated parmesan and shredded mozzarella cheese. Place the dish into a 350-degree, pre-heated oven. Bake for 30 minutes or until cheese is bubbly and beginning to brown.
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