There is something deeply satisfying about honest, humble pub grub and Rose Prince brings that feeling home with rich venison cannelloni. Serves two.
There’s a group of pubs, scattered between inner London and Oxford, that I urge anyone to seek out. The term ‘gastropub’ is used to describe pub food. I dislike it. Gastronomy is not what pub food should be.
The best, most honest, authentic fare goes well with humble British ales and a modest wine list. Yet it is rare to find a place that manages to retain its ‘spit and sawdust’ feel while serving great provincial food. So, to the Magdalen Arms in Oxford’s Iffley Road, which is nicely scruffy on the inside. No one spent a fortune on posh seating — the focus is on the quality of the food and drink. Beloved by locals, it is a destination pub and many will travel miles to eat there.
Along with its associated pubs — the Canton Arms, the Anchor & Hope and the Clarence Tavern (all in London) — it offers dishes to share between two. This might be a generous chicken or game pie, but the last time I visited, I shared an enamelled, cast-iron dish of bubbling cannelloni. I’d forgotten this great baked pasta dish so decided to create this recipe for venison cannelloni.
Simpler than lasagne, but equally comforting, there are easier ways to make it than trying to fill those dried pasta tubes, as I show below. At its base is a patiently made ragu that is always best when made with meat and finely chopped liver. The offal adds a satisfying richness to the sauce’s flavour and texture. If you can’t get venison liver, use calves or chicken in its place. (Find more venison recipes here.)
Recipe for venison cannelloni
For the Ragu:
- 3 tbsp duck fat
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 carrot, finely chopped
- 1 celery stick, pared and finely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped
- 450g venison mince
- 100g venison liver, finely chopped
- 2 tbsp tomato puree
- 100ml red wine
- 400ml meat stock
- ½ tsp dried thyme, chopped
- ½ tsp dried rosemary, chopped
- 1 bay leaf
For the Béchamel:
- 400ml whole milk
- 1 bay leaf
- ¼ tsp grated nutmeg
- 40g butter
- 40g plain flour
For the cannelloni:
- 8 sheets fresh lasagne
- 2 to 4 tbsp grated fresh Parmesan
- First prepare the ragu, preferably the day before putting the dish together. Heat the duck fat in a casserole pan and add the onion, carrot, celery and garlic. Cook for about 15 minutes over a low heat, so the vegetables do not brown. They will shrink a little and develop a sweet scent. Add the venison mince and liver. Stir over the heat until it changes colour, but do not worry about browning the meat or it will dry out. Add the tomato puree and the wine, and cook for a minute, stirring, before adding the meat stock and herbs. Bring the contents of the casserole to a simmer, then cook, with the mixture barely bubbling, for an hour to an hour and a half, until the meat is tender. It should have a thick, glossy sauce. It may be necessary to add a little more meat stock during cooking if the ragu sauce becomes too dry. Season to taste and allow to cool.
- To make the béchamel, pour the milk into a saucepan, add the bay leaf and nutmeg, and heat to boiling point. Pour through a sieve into a jug. Clean the pan and then add the butter. Melt it over a low heat, then add the flour. Cook until it develops a sandy texture. Add the milk slowly, whisking it into the butter mixture over a medium heat until it becomes a thick sauce. Keep whisking until the béchamel sauce begins to boil. Season with salt and pepper, then set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C and butter a gratin dish. Lay the fresh pasta sheets on the worktop and put two tablespoons of the ragu on each. Roll them up and place in the gratin dish, side by side. Pour over the béchamel sauce, scatter half of the grated Parmesan over the surface, then bake until bubbling and golden. Serve with more grated Parmesan.