This Italian-style ragu recipe by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall makes for fantastic comfort food on chilly or grey days.

What is ragù?

Ragù is a meat-based sauce in Italian cooking that is created to go with pasta. There are plenty of variations of it, but the most well known ragù is ragù alla Bolognese, or Spaghetti Bolognese. Ragù can be made with chopped, minced or ground meat – and is usually made with beef or pork, plus tomatoes, celery, onions, wine and bay leaves, among other ingredients.

This recipe uses Venison to impart a rich, gamey flavour. Once you're at Step 4, you can add it to the slow cooker to gently cook while you go out on a walk – or even gently stew overnight.

Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's Venison Ragu recipe

This is an extract from River Cottage Good Comfort: Best-Loved Favourites Made Better For You by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, with photography by Simon Wheeler.

It’s great to include wild meat in your repertoire, and venison makes a fantastic ‘ragu’ – a rich meat, veg and tomato sauce that is lovely with pasta.


For the Venison Ragù

  • 1tbsp Olive or vegetable oil
  • 100g unsmoked streaky bacon, chopped, or lardons
  • 1kg diced shoulder of venison
  • 1 Onion, chopped
  • 2 Celery stalks, finely chopped
  • 2 Carrots, finely diced
  • 2 Garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 Bay leaves
  • 3 Sprigs thyme
  • 150ml Dry white wine
  • 400g Tinned tomatoes or 500ml passata
  • 500ml vegetable or meat stock
  • 1 dash Worcestershire sauce (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste

To serve

  • Pasta of your choice Hugh recommends wholewheat for a healthier meal
  • Grated Parmesan or crumbled ricotta


  • STEP 1

    Heat a flameproof casserole over a medium heat and add the oil. Add the bacon and fry until golden. Scoop on to a plate, leaving the fat in the pan.

  • STEP 2

    Season the pieces of venison and add half of them to the casserole, frying on all sides to brown well. Remove the meat and add to the bacon. Repeat to colour the rest of the venison. Set aside.

  • STEP 3

    Add the onion, celery, carrots, garlic and herbs to the casserole and sizzle for a few minutes, pushing the veg around to pick up any brown meaty bits on the base of the casserole. Turn down the heat and sweat the veg for 10 minutes until starting to soften. Pour in the wine and simmer until reduced by about two-thirds.

  • STEP 4

    Return the bacon and meat to the pan, along with the tomatoes (crushing them first in your hands or with a fork) or passata, and the stock. The liquid should just cover the meat, so add a dash more water if it’s needed. Bring to a low simmer, cover and cook very gently for about 1½ hours until the meat is tender.

  • STEP 5

    Remove the venison from the casserole and set aside. Taste the sauce and add a dash of Worcestershire sauce if you like. If it isn’t already deliciously rich, simmer uncovered for 15–20 mins to reduce and concentrate the flavour. Check seasoning.

  • STEP 6

    Meanwhile, cut the venison into smaller pieces with a knife and fork. Return the meat to the sauce and check the seasoning.
    Serve on wholewheat linguine or spaghetti, with a dusting of Parmesan or crumbled ricotta... or both.


Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is a multi-award-winning writer and broadcaster known for his uncompromising commitment to seasonal, ethically produced food and his concern for the environment. He has earned a huge following through his River Cottage TV series and books, as well as campaigns such as Hugh’s Fish Fight, Hugh’s War on Waste and his latest, Britain’s Fat Fight and, his latest, War on Plastic with Hugh and Anita.