You know dinner is good when the leftovers spark a fight.

That’s what happened today. Everyone wanted some of last night’s pasta and meat sauce for their midday meal, and we’d only saved one serving (which my youngest finally nabbed).

Now, lunchtime wars aren’t too unusual here when pasta is involved. But what made today’s skirmish interesting was that last night’s dinner was out of our comfort zone.

I made it with bison.

Yes, bison. Buffalo meat. An ingredient I’d tried a few years ago to “No ways” and “Come on, Moms!”

What changed?

Bison has gained traction. It’s a featured dish at our local bistro. It’s readily available at both our grocery store and organic market. Its nutritional attributes (leaner than beef and high in iron, protein and zinc) are becoming well-known.

Because I equate bison with game meat, I looked for dinner inspiration last night with venison and rabbit in mind.

The strategy paid off: I found a recipe for rabbit ragu and noodles in Amanda Hesser’s The Essential New York Times Cook Book. Using it as a general guide, I substituted my ground bison for the recipe’s whole rabbit, upped the vegetable quotient and added goat cheese to the finished dish.

It was a beautiful one-pot meal with protein, veggie, starch and dairy swirled into a hearty bowl. The bison provided richness; the veggies gave depth; the cheese offered creaminess. A final addition of herbs and lemon zest kept everything fresh. Tossed with cavatelli noodles, it was Friday’s dinnertime smash.

And just as good, my youngest tells me, for Saturday lunch.


Bison Ragu

You can use any vegetables you have on hand for this. Just be sure you have 3 generous cups after everything is chopped.

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 leek, finely chopped and well-rinsed
  • 2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, tough ends discarded and celery finely chopped
  • 1 parsnip, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 fennel stalk, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 pound ground bison
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 28-ounce can plum tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped parsley
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 3/4 pound cavatelli noodles or elbow macaroni, cooked according to package directions
  • Goat cheese

Pour the olive oil into a large saute pan and place the pan over medium heat.

Add all the vegetables but the garlic to the pan. Season with 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper. Saute for 10 minutes, or until the veggies become wilted. Add the garlic, thyme, cloves and bay leaves and saute an additional minute:


Remove the vegetables with a slotted spoon and place them in a bowl. Set aside.

Add the ground bison to the saute pan. Season with salt and pepper, and cook until the meat is browned.

Drain off any excess fat. Add the tomato paste to the pan and cook for 1 minute.

Add the vegetables back into the pan. Stir, then add the wine and the tomatoes. Use your hands to lightly crush the tomatoes, then stir everything well.

Cover your pan tightly and bring the contents to a boil. Reduce your heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, remove the pan’s covering. Simmer an additional 20 minutes, until the mixture is thickened:


Stir in the parsley and lemon zest. Taste for seasoning.

Place a ladle of pasta in a bowl. Ladle on the ragu. Crumble goat cheese on top, then stir everything together.

Serve immediately: