I Made This: Penne with Broccoli Rabe & Venison Italian Sausage

penne with broccoli rabe and venison italian sausage

My dad, much like most dads in Western Pennsylvania, is a hunter. All my life, the Monday after Thanksgiving has been recognized as something of a holiday, as it’s the first day of deer season. Every year, my dad packs his gear and heads for the woods. For him and my family, getting a deer, or two, is not just for sport — venison has always been a regular source of protein for us. So much so that my mom never needs to buy ground meat. When I was little, my dad would send his deer to a local processor, but now he does the whole thing himself, from skinning to grinding. He shoots the deer on my family’s 13 acres, and makes ground meat, jerky (the BEST jerky, I might add), breakfast sausages, hot italian sausage, snack sticks, chops, and steaks in our house. How much more local can you possibly get? And it’s most likely organic, unless someone is spraying down our woods with pesticides.

When Matt and I lived in Pittsburgh, we’d get a couple frozen packages of venison from my parents every few weeks, saving us poor college kids a lot of money and providing us with delicious, lean meat. It’s something that we’ve really missed, now that we’re 400 miles away. Local, sustainable meat is so expensive, and we only really buy it for special occasions. But my parents, God bless them, always bring a cooler full of home-grown venison when they come to visit. My mom and sister delivered the latest batch over Mother’s Day weekend, when they came up for an impromptu visit. Our first recipe from the supply made use of the super flavorful sweet italian sausage, which we served in a pasta with a bunch of fresh broccoli rabe that Matt picked up at the farmers market.

Local highlights:
– Venison Sausage from Dailey Acres (it has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?)
– Broccoli Rabe from Lani’s Farm Stand at the Union Square Greenmarket

broccoli rabe

The bitter rabe paired perfectly with the sweetness of the slightly gamey sausage, which we browned with olive oil, a hearty helping of garlic, and a few dashes of crushed red pepper. We used a hearty whole wheat penne (well, half whole wheat, half Barilla plus multigrain because we didn’t have enough of either), and we generously topped it parmesan cheese. It was one of the simplest, tastiest recipes we’ve made in a long time. Between forkfuls, we kept mumbling things like, “oh my gosh, this is so delicious.”

The recipe was more on-the-fly than step-by-step, but this is generally what I did:


  • 1 pound of ground venison sausage. I’m not honestly sure where you can buy it in New York City (I’ve never even looked), but this forum looks like it may have some places where you could buy it. But really, any lean, locally-sourced italian sausage would work.
  • 1 bunch broccoli rabe, chopped into even pieces, about 1 inch long. Look for bunches with buds, flowers, and leaves. Our bunch was probably about 4 inches in diameter.
  • 1 to 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 3 minced garlic cloves
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper, depending on your tastes
  • About 2/3 or 3/4 pound of whole wheat penne. We like pasta dishes with a higher stuff-to-pasta ratio, so we usually use less pasta than recipes call for, but forgive me, I never measure pasta and I don’t really remember how much we used.
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Freshly grated parmesan cheese to top


  • Cook pasta about one minute less than package directions in salted water.

Ground Venison

  • Begin to brown the sausage in about 1 tbsp. olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet.
  • Add the minced garlic and crushed red pepper when the sausage is about halfway done. Cook until garlic is soft.

penne with broccoli rabe and venison italian sausage

  • Add the chopped broccoli rabe and salt to taste, sauté until tender and wilted, but still bright green. Stems should be crisp to the bite, but not fibrous.
  • Add the pasta to the skillet, cook 1 to 2 minutes. Add a half ladle or so of pasta water if the dish looks dry. It should be shimmery, but there should be no liquid pooling.
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste.

penne with broccoli rabe and venison italian sausage

  • Serve with a hearty shaving of parmesan cheese. The leftovers reheat extremely well. In fact, it may have been better the second day.

One thought on “I Made This: Penne with Broccoli Rabe & Venison Italian Sausage

  1. Hi Jess, I love this article!! And I have to say that when I saw that picture above of the ‘flat ground venison’, it reminded me that YOUR DAD is the one who taught me to freeze it like that! I used to freeze it in blocks, but it stacks so nicely when it is flat, and it also thaws quicker. Love your recipes. When you are home the next time, come see my garden… there is always extra for you to take back to NY… in fact I just ripped out all of the lettuce because I couldnt find anyone to take it 😦

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