Elk Baked Ziti for the Outdoorsman

This past weekend, I woke up very early and was flipping thru the channels until I came across The Godfather.  I know all of us have a few movies that resonate in our DNA that when we come across them on the TV we cannot help ourselves but to watch it for the hundredth time.  What can I say….I was hooked.  When I get to the part where they are cooking Italian food, I start smelling it like I was there.  I put my plan into action based on three basic principles.  A fantastic meat sauce, a meatball from flavor town, and some great pasta.  We got ourselves Baked Ziti on the way, and that how this recipe started.  I had plenty of elk and everything to make this dish in my freezer.  So off I went…at 5 am. in the morning.

The first thing I need to start on was the stuffed meatballs.  Did I just say that?  Stuffed Meatballs?  Yes I did.  They are just plain awesome.

Stuffed Meatballs:

  • 1.5 lbs of Elk Burger.
  • 1.5 lbs of ground veal, or Italian sausage
  •  5 cloves of garlic minced.
  •  1/2 cup of breadcrumbs.  I use the Italian flavor.
  •  1/2 cup of grated parmesan cheese.
  •  1 tablespoons of oregano
  •  2 eggs
  •  1/4 cup of milk
  •  1/2 tablespoon of salt and pepper
  •  1/2 inch cubed mozzarella slices

Mix all the ingredients together, exept for the mozzarella. Make one inch balls in your hand, then flatten and add your mozzarella.


Then roll the ball over the cheese and roll in your hand until you form a perfect ball.


Try to make sure that you cannot see the mozzarella inside or it will leak out during the cooking process.

Take a cookie sheet and I put cooking paper down, you can also grease the pan.  Form, about as many meatballs that you are going to use for the dish.  Save the remainder for your meat sauce.  I have a huge cooking pot, so I made a lot of meatballs.


Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.


As you can see some of my meatballs leaked some cheese.  I will do better next time.  Now, you have some left over meatball ingredients left in the bowl, set that aside.

Meat Sauce:

  •  4 green onions chopped
  •  1 onion chopped
  •  4 garlic cloves chopped
  •  1 cup of mushrooms (I add more because I love them) sliced.
  •  1.5 cups of smoked linguica sausage (optional). Carlton Farms has the best.
  •  28 oz, and 1 more 12 oz can of stewed tomatoes
  •  6 oz tomato paste
  •  1 tablespoon of oregano.
  •  1/4 cup of fresh basil chopped
  •  2 tablespoon of sugar
  •  2 teaspoons of crushed red pepper
  •  2 teaspoons of salt and pepper add more to taste
  • olive oil

Add olive oil to pot, onions, mushrooms, garlic, and green onions.  Add the crushed red pepper, salt and pepper and cook on medium high until translucent, 4-6 minutes.  Add the meatball left over ingredients.  Cook until browned.  Drain any fat off.


Add tomatoes and paste, oregano, sugar and basil. Taste it, does it need salt and pepper.  Season to taste…Be liberal with your salt.


Stir and cook on low.


I cut my linguica smoked sausage up and cook in frying pan to render any fat, and add to pot.


Stir and cook on low.


Cook pasta dente, per instructions.


Make sure to grease your ziti pan, add pasta sprinkle it with a little parmesan cheese.


Add 3/4 of the red sauce and mix pasta in.


Place your meatballs strategically so when you dish the pasta later you got a hidden meatball surprise in each plated dish.  Shove them down into the pasta.


Pour remaining sauce over pasta and meatballs.


Then layer the fresh mozzarella over the top.


Set the oven to 350 degrees when you are ready, bake for 20 minutes, brown the top if needed.


Your guest will have no idea that there is a meatball waiting for them.  This is a jaw dropper dish, but it is even better the next day.  If the Italians wanted to set a trap for me, this is what they would put in the trap.


I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

The Hunting Chef

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