Last week’s Super Bowl Snack contest garnered many great recipes, both here on the Wild Chef blog and on the Field & Stream Facebook page. As good as some of them sounded, I did have to disqualify a few for not following the rules. Though beer-can chicken is always good, that entry, as well as a few others, didn’t include wild game. The ones that did presented me with a tough choice, but I had to go with Greg Buchanan’s venison heart cheese steak egg rolls. These sounded like a great way to use the heart–an underutilized piece of game meat. So Greg, drop me an e-mail with your address to and I’ll get a gift box put together and send it your way.

Speaking of the heart, Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and it’s time to start working on a wild-game inspired menu to prepare for your significant other. If your Valentine’s Day plans include a proposal, you could drop the hint early in the evening with my take on Italian Wedding Soup.

Italian Wedding Soup

1 lb. ground elk or other venison
1 egg, lightly beaten
¼ cup bread crumbs
¼ cup shredded parmesan cheese
1 tsp. salt
Fresh black pepper

2 tbs. olive oil or butter
½ onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
3 medium carrots, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
8 cups stock
2 cabbage leaves, chopped
1 bag baby spinach (about 6 oz.)
½ cup mini penne (or other small pasta)
1 tsp. kosher salt
Parmesan cheese

Make the meatballs: Combine the ground venison and remaining ingredients in a large bowl, mixing well with your hands. Pinch off a small amount of meatball mix and roll quickly between your palms to make a walnut-sized or smaller ball. One pound of venison will make about 40 small meatballs–more than enough for your soup with some leftovers. (I don’t roast them before adding them to the soup, but you certainly could put them in a 400° oven for about 25 minutes.)

For the soup: Heat the olive oil in a large pot set over medium heat. Add the onions, celery and carrots, stirring until the onions soften–about 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the diced garlic and ½ teaspoon of salt. Deglaze the pot with a little stock–or white wine if you prefer–stirring to scrape up any browned bits.

Pour in the remaining stock, along with the chopped cabbage and bring the pot to a simmer. Add the remaining ½ tsp. salt, along with pepper to taste. Stir in the spinach a handful at a time, until it’s well wilted, about 10 minutes.

Drop the meatballs into the stock a few at a time so the soup’s temperature doesn’t drop. Simmer for 6 to 8 minutes. Add the penne and cook an additional 8 minutes until the pasta is just al dente. Ladle into individual bowls and top with grated Parmesan before serving.