Last Updated on January 28, 2021 by Fiona Maclean
Slow-Cooked Venison Shank in Red Wine for an Italian Date Night Dinner
This is the second of our date-night menus, which we are sharing just ahead of Valentine’s Day. If your taste is more for British food and an all British date-night, then do take a look at our English Sparkling Wine with Scottish Seafood evening where you’ll find a delicious recipe for scallops in champagne sauce. We’re journeying to Italy today, in my head the land of lovers. And, this special date-night menu with slow-cooked venison shank in red wine as the star of the show, along with a truly excellent Italian Brunello wine, shares some ideas for food and wine that are reasonably easy to put together and won’t leave you slaving in the kitchen while you should be cuddled up with your date.
Although Valentine’s Day isn’t widely celebrated in Italy, the country can rightly claim ownership of the event as St Valentine was a third-century Roman saint. On his Saints’ Day, it has become traditional to celebrate courtly and romantic love though that is something that seems to have been a 14th century English invention perhaps by Geoffrey Chaucer and friends. The traditions associated with ‘Valentine’s Day’ were first documented in Chaucer’s Parlement of Foules but set in a fictional context and over time became increasingly popular in England and then across Europe and the World. Today, Valentine’s Day is recognised around the world as the day for romance. Whether you are in London, Paris or Rome, you may be looking for a way to treat your loved ones. And, what better than through a special meal with paired wines. In this case, an Italian date night, one that is based on some very special Italian wines and which includes some delicious Italian treats.
- Aperitif –Lo Sparviere Brut Cuvée n.7 NV Franciacorta DOCG
- Antipasti – Italian olives, cold meats, artichoke hearts and bread served with a glass of Franciacorta
- Main course – Slow cooked venison shank cooked in red wine, rosemary and juniper with parmesan polenta and cavolo nero. Served with Ridolfi Brunello di Montalcino 2015
- Cheese Course – Italian cheese platter served with Kurtatsch Gewürztraminer 2019
- Baci chocolates and coffee.
You may note, there’s no tiramisu – just chocolates and coffee. This is quite a hearty menu and I felt that anything more would be too much. In any case, it provides the perfect excuse to indulge in Baci chocolates, each of which comes with a little love note.
We love Franciacorta – Italy’s answer to champagne – and we’ve already reviewed the Lo Sparviere Brut Cuvée n.7 NV Franciacorta DOCG so have no hesitation in recommending it for the aperitif and antipasti.
A selection of olives, cold meats, artichoke hearts and some freshly baked bread makes an easy, prepare in advance antipasti. You should make sure that your cold meats are served at room temperature – so take everything out of the fridge and plate up an hour or so before you are ready to eat.
For the main course, slow-cooked venison shanks. You could substitute lamb if you prefer, but either way, this is a dish to make the day before you are planning to eat – whether that’s Valentine’s day or any other date night. Like a good ragu, the slow-cooked meat will improve if cooked in advance. All you need to do is reheat in the oven for 30-40 minutes when you want to enjoy them. You’ll find the recipe at the end of this feature
Parmesan polenta is a delicious accompaniment for the venison – I use the quick type which takes just 5 minutes to cook. I make it up with stock and add plenty of butter and parmesan at the end for a melting accompaniment to the rich venison shanks. A simple green vegetable is all you need to round off the perfect ‘secondi’.
And, of course, wine. We paired our venison with Ridolfi Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2015, Decanter Silver Medal. It’s one of the flagship wines of the Ridolfi winery in Montalcino where they pride themselves on their innovative wine-making and bottling techniques and the Brunello di Montalcino is a very special wine indeed. Based on the Sangiovese grape, the award-winning Ridolfi Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2015, is soft but full of flavour with bold tannins and lots of red fruit. It’s a special occasion wine that I’d love to drink every day – and has plenty of depth to pair with the venison shanks.
Once you’ve finished the venison, I’d suggest a cheese platter to follow. Again, something to prepare in advance. Cheeses should be taken out of the fridge at least half an hour before you are ready to eat, so make up your platter, cover it with a clean tea towel and put it somewhere cool to rest. My cheeses came from one of my favourite cheese sellers at Borough Market, Ubriaco. They sell Italian cheeses that have been finished in wine or beer and have an excellent range to choose from. We enjoyed Dolomitico, a pasteurised blue cow’s cheese refined with Dolomiti red beer, Desiderio di Tartufo – a truffled goats cheese refined with Glera and Fragolone, a Provolone that’s refined with sparkling white wine and cut in a heart shape! Rather than crackers, we enjoyed an accompaniment of fresh pear, nuts and truffled maple syrup.
Now, I know Gewürztraminer as a German wine. But, it’s also made in a number of other parts of the world, including Alto Adige in the Southern Tirol, Northern Italy. Kurtatsch is a well established co-operative made up of 190 families from the Alto Adige region of Italy. Their Gewürztraminer is lightly floral and spicy, with a great minerality and a fresh mouth. It’s full-bodied enough to work well with cheese, intense, elegant and very drinkable.
Here’s how to make the slow-cooked venison shanks. I bought one each, but there was far too much for two of us. Since they vary tremendously in size, you’ll need to judge for yourself whether you need one or two. That said, I took the leftover meat off the bone and had a delicious casserole the next day!
Slow-Cooked Venison Shank with red wine, juniper and herb sauce
- 1 medium Onion preferably red or white, peeled and finely chopped
- 2 small Venison shanks if you are using larger shanks, you may only need one and you may need to slow-cook for longer
- 50 g Chopped pancetta
- 1 stick Celery trimmed and finely chopped
- 1 large Carrot trimmed peeled and finely chopped
- 1 Bayleaf
- 2 sprigs Rosemary
- 1 handful Fresh Thyme
- 1 tsp Juniper Berries crushed
- 2 cloves Garlic crushed
- 500 ml Red wine
- 250 ml Stock
- 1 tbsp Olive oil
- 1 tbsp Butter
Take the venison out of the fridge and bring to room temperature
Pre heat the oven to 140c (130 c fan and around 280f)
Add the pancetta to a large heavy casserole and sweat over a medium heat till the fat is running
Remove and put to one side
Add the olive oil to the casserole and heat through till just below smoking point
Add the venison shanks and brown on all sides
Remove the venison shanks
Tie the herbs into a bouquet garni
Add the onions to the casserole and sweat over a low heat for 5 minutes
Add the remaining vegetables together with the garlic and juniper. Cook for a further 5 minutes
Return the venison shanks and the pancetta to the pan, add the wine and stock and season well with salt and pepper. Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer on the hob, then cover and transfer to the oven where you can leave it to cook for 3-4 hours
Check the venison occasionally and top up with more water or stock as necessary
Once the meat is fork-tender, remove from the oven and allow to cool
Take each venison shank out and wrap in foil before refrigerating overnight
Transfer the cooking liquid and vegetables to a large jug and chill so any fat solidifies and can be removed
Strain the liquid through a metal sieve, pushing through as much of the vegetable mixture as possible
40 minutes before you are ready to eat, reheat the venison with the cooking liquid in a casserole with a lid. I do this by bringing to a simmer on the hob then putting the casserole in the oven at 140C
After 30 minutes the shanks should be warmed through. Remove them and keep warm.
Reduce the liquid down by bringing to a brisk boil on the hob. Add a tablespoon of butter and whisk through. Check and adjust the seasoning before serving
Serve the venison shanks on polenta with the sauce poured over
Franciacorta Lo Sparviere, Ridolfi and Kurtatsch wines are available online from Italian wine specialists Independent Wines who offer free next day delivery and free gift wrapping on all orders. Find out more here.
Oh, and if you prefer not to cook at all, check out our date night dinners round-up