|Molini di Triora, Liguria|
As some readers of my blog know, I used to own a rather wonderful and eccentric brown rabbit called Georgina, who had a voracious appetite for vegetable peelings (especially butternut squash and sweet potato) and who had a penchant for nibbling cables (specifically, the hi-fi and the Christmas tree lights). She was popular with my piano students and a reward for good work during a lesson was often feeding the rabbit. Fear not: Georgie does not form the constituent ingredient for this dish. She has gone to a lovely new home, with two of my students, brother and sister Magnus and Saskia, who lavish far more love, care and attention on her than I ever could.
This recipe comes from my big doorstep-sized Italian regional cookery book, La Cucina: the Traditional Home Cooking of Italy. There are many variants of this dish, using different meats, such as oxtail, or wild boar. In fact, when I was in Italy in September, I ate both venison and wild boar versions. Liguria is famous for its "wild food" for the terrain does not allow traditional grazing and one rarely finds beef on a menu. Rabbit, boar and deer are plentiful, roaming the mountain forests.
I have never been squeamish about eating rabbit, despite owning a few in my time. My grandfather kept rabbits all through the war, ensuring the family had fresh meat regularly, and he still kept them (for eating) when I was a little girl in the 1960s. Rabbit is a lean meat and very healthy. It has a pleasantly gamey flavour and lends itself to slow cooking (this ensures it is not tough). It's a nice alternative to chicken, and is fairly readily available in supermarkets these days as it has become fashionable again (I found it in my local Waitrose). A word of caution, though: some wild rabbit contains shot.
1 rabbit, jointed
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
A couple of fresh bay leaves
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
Approx 1 bottle of good full-bodied red wine
A tsp of tomatoe puree
Salt and pepper
Oven 200C initially. I use a large Le Creuset casserole for this dish.
Dust the rabbit lightly with flour and fry in olive oil until lightly browned. Throw the rosemary sprig into the pan to draw out its flavour. Remove the rabbit pieces and rosemary, and fry the onion and garlic until soft. Return the rabbit and rosemary to the pan, throw in the bay leaves, add about half a bottle of red wine, and the tomato puree. Check seasoning. Bring to a simmer and then place in the oven, with a circle of greaseproof paper over the top, lid on. Cook for about an hour at this temperature, then check to ensure it is not drying out. I tend to add wine when needed - you want a sauce with this dish. Turn the oven down to about 150C and cook for a further hour or more, until the meat is tender and falling from the bones.
This dish is traditionally served with wet polenta. I use quick-cook polenta and follow the directions on the packet to make it. The trick for light, fluffy polenta is to keep whisking it. It cooks in a matter of moments and needs only some seasoning, a generous knob of butter and a good handful of fresh Parmesan. Leftover polenta tends to solidify, but it's good deep-fried the next day.