Venison Stew With Spätzle

This is especially delicious when made with and accompanied by a German red wine. Though few of these refreshing, low-tannin wines reach America now, they are worth hunting for.

Serves: 4

3 tablespoons butter

2 carrots, peeled and chopped

2 stalks celery, chopped

1 large onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

4 whole cloves

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 cups water

1 cup Spätburgunder (pinot noir) or other light red wine

1 1/2 pounds venison, cut into 1-inch cubes

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 14 1/2- or 13 3/4-ounce can beef broth

One 16-ounce can whole tomatoes

1 tablespoon fresh or 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves

10 ounces wild and cultivated exotic mushrooms, coarsely chopped (we used a mixture of porcini crimini, and chanterelles)

Spätzle (Below)

4 sprigs fresh thyme (optional)

1. Several hours or day before serving, prepare venison marinade: In large skillet, melt 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat. Add the carrots, celery, onion, and garlic; sauté until vegetables soften slightly and onion is translucent. Stir in cloves and pepper. Add 1 cup water and 1/2 cup Spätburgunder to vegetable mixture; heat to boiling over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Remove from heat; cool 10 minutes.

2. Place venison in large shallow dish; pour vegetable mixture over venison. Cover and refrigerate, several hours or overnight, to marinate.

3. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. In 5-quart Dutch oven, melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter over medium-high heat. Drain venison from marinade; reserve marinade. Brown venison on all sides. Sprinkle flour over venison and stir to blend. Add remaining 1 cup water and 1/2 cup Spätburgunder, the beef broth, tomatoes with their liquid, and thyme leaves, to venison. Strain liquid from marinade into pan; discard vegetables. Bake venison, covered, 1 hour. Uncover, add mushrooms, and bake 30 to 40 minutes more, or until meat is very tender. Meanwhile, make Spätzle.

4. To serve, divide Spätzle among plates; spoon Venison Stew on top, and garnish with fresh thyme sprigs, if desired.

Spätzle:

In medium-size bowl, combine 1 1/3 cups unsifted all-purpose flour, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper, and 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg. Stir in 2 large eggs, lightly beaten, and 1/4 cup water until firm batter forms. In large pot of boiling water, drop batter through a spätzler, or rub through a colander, to create little drops of batter. Cook 3 minutes and drain in colander. Serve immediately, or, if desired, sauté spätzle in a little butter until lightly browned.