Rabbit for Easter?
I have cooked rabbit a few times lately – there seems to be plenty of it about. They are breeding like rabbits seems a very appropriate term, given the excellent breeding conditions for them in most of Australia – good rainfall and abundant vegetation of good nutritional value.
Where possible I buy wild rabbit. I like to think that helping to reduce the rabbit population is a good thing for the environment – wild rabbits have contributed to the extinction of many plant species and by their selective grazing they deplete the high-quality feed for some native species and livestock. The loss of vegetation also contributes to soil erosion.
I found a version of this recipe in Pino Correnti’s Il Libro D’oro della Cucina e dei Vini di Sicilia. As is often the case in Sicilian recipes, there is very little detail about the method of cooking and there are no quantities given, but the following combination works for me. The recipe is from Licodia Eubea, a small town in the province of Catania. It is close to Vizzini and not far from Caltagerone – all are north of Ragusa.
In this recipe the rabbit is marinated in red wine before cooking. If I am cooking a wild rabbit I marinate it overnight, if it is a farmed rabbit 3 hours are plenty.
I have cooked this rabbit several times and each time I have added more personal touches – whole mushrooms or whole onions, more spices. On one occasion I presented it with fregola – this is the Sardinian version of couscous that is common in Southern Sardinia around Cagliari. It is cooked like pasta in boiling, salted water for about 10 minutes and drained. (I am not sure that the Sicilians would approve, or the Sardinians for that matter.)
I use one rabbit to feed four people (usually weighs just below 1 kilo).
red wine, 1½ cups
bay leaves, 4-6
garlic, 2 cloves, each cut into halves
cinnamon sticks, 1-2
extra virgin olive oil, ¾ cup
salt and pepper to taste
tomato paste, 2 tablespoons, dissolved in a little water
rosemary sprigs, fresh 3-4
mint, fresh, 6-8 leaves
onions, whole,1-2 per person
Clean the rabbit and cut it into manageable sections at the joints.
Marinate it in the wine, some of the oil, bay leaves, cinnamon and cloves and turn it occasionally.
Remove the pieces of rabbit from the marinade and drain well. Keep the marinade with the bay, cinnamon and cloves for cooking.
Cut small slits into the flesh of the rabbit and insert the garlic into the slits (the recipe just lists garlic in the list of ingredients).
Add the rest of the extra virgin olive oil in a large frying pan and sauté the pieces until golden. Remove them and set aside.
Reduce the heat, add the whole onions to the oil and toss them around until golden.
Add salt and pepper, the diluted tomato paste, mint, rosemary, the wine marinade with the bay leaves, cinnamon and cloves (if you want to accentuate the taste of the aromatics you may wish to discard the old bay leaves and cloves in the marinade and add new ones).
Cover with a lid and simmer it gently until it is cooked (wild rabbit will take twice as long to cook as the farmed rabbit and you may need to add extra liquid).
Remove the lid and evaporate the juices if necessary.
I like to serve it with more fresh, mint leaves.