I cooked rabbit in a chocolate sauce and somehow, it seemed appropriate for Easter. Easter has passed, but rabbit or hare cooked with chocolate can be enjoyed at anytime.
Religious Easter celebrations in Sicily go back to pagan times – the continuation of ancient rites and traditions.
Easter in Sicily is also a celebration of spring, a time for revival and new beginnings, casting away winter with particular attention to spring produce. Therefore I was not surprised when one of my favourite cousins who lives in Ragusa in Sicily told me that during the Easter lunch they ate: … le classiche impanate di agnello, le scacce, la frittata di carciofo e il risotto agli asparagi.
And, as he also told me: tutto molto buono – it was all good. For those of you who do not understand menu Italian, these particular Sicilian relatives ate two traditional Easter specialties from Ragusa – the lamb impanate and scacce, accompanied by an artichoke frittata and an asparagus risotto … the produce is a celebration of spring.
The impanate are focaccia like pies stuffed with lamb – spring lamb of course.
The scacce are pastries made with a variety of fillings. The pastry is folded like in a concertina over the filling and my favourite are those that contain sheep’s milk ricotta: the milk is at its best in spring, after the rich winter pastures.
But probably, my favourite would have been the frittata made with young artichokes. In Australia it is often difficult to purchase young artichokes unless you grow them yourself. Sometimes young spring asparagus (also wild asparagus) is cooked as a frittata, but on this occasion the asparagus went into a risotto.
He did not mention the sweets, but there would have been cassatedde half-moon shaped pockets of pastry stuffed with ricotta and/or cassata or cannoli, all made with sheep’s milk ricotta.
I know many of you may disagree, but for me traditional hot cross buns do not appear to be as appetising as what my Sicilians relatives ate for Easter (see below for the full descriptions and recipes).
Rabbit with Chocolate sauce
Rabbit with chocolate sauce is a Sicilian recipe, probably introduced by the Spaniards who ruled Sicily from 1282 to 1516: the Aragonese and from 1516 – 1713: the Spanish Habsburgs.
Rabbit in chocolate sauce is not traditionally cooked at Easter but in Australia it seemed appropriate.
You begin with a rabbit(s).
As you can see, the rabbits have been cut into sections – legs and backs. I kept the front legs for another time.
The rabbit pieces have been in a marinade that is mainly a mixture of extra virgin olive oil, chopped celery leaves, some fennel seeds, a few cloves, fresh bay leaves (I like bay) and 1 small chopped onion. In the past on some occasions I have also added cinnamon bark. I left the meat in the marinade for about 3 hours, however overnight is OK too and judging by the time the rabbits took to cook they could have done with a longer time in the marinade.
You will also need more carrots and onions and celery to add to the rabbit when you cook it.
During cooking, you will also add good quality dark chocolate, pine nuts, currants, stock, wine, a little sugar and some vinegar. The rabbit is cooked the same way as if cooked in a sour and sweet sauce but with chocolate to enrich the sauce.
The rabbit needs browning … drain the meat from the marinade and leave as much as the solids behind … don’t crowd the pan.
The rabbit browned quite quickly.
Remove the pieces of rabbit from the pan.
Have ready some chopped celery , carrots and onions.
Next, make a soffritto – the aromatic base composed of sautéed carrots, celery, and onion that forms the foundation to many Italian dishes. Sauté the vegetables in some more oil.
Remove the vegetables, add about a dessert spoon of sugar to the frypan and wait for it to melt.
Traditionally only vinegar is added to the sweet and sour rabbit dish, but I also like to add wine; for my quantity of rabbit, I added about a half a cup of white wine and about a tablespoon of white wine vinegar and I also added about a half a cup of red wine that somehow seemed more appropriate with the brown colouring of the dish.
Return all of the meat and vegetables to the pan. Add currants and pine nuts, broth/stock to cover, salt and some chocolate. I added half a block and the rest of the chocolate at the very end to enrich the sauce. Taste it, and depending on how much you like the taste of chocolate, add more if you wish.
Cover and cook it slowly till the rabbit is cooked. If it is a farmed rabbit it will take as long as cooking chicken, mine was wild rabbit and it took about three hours of slow cooking.
i served it with sweet and sour pumpkin (fegato di sette cannolli) and pears quickly fried in a little oil and butter.
For a more complete recipe see: