I think it’s time for a substantial winter meal. One that is plentiful, generous and abundant with the bold flavors of wild game and toothsome pasta. In Italy this would translate into a classic Tuscan peasant dish known as coniglio alla cacciatora, hunter’s rabbit stew. Traditionally served with long fat strands of hand-rolled pici or broad pappardelle pasta this dish was also made with the meat of a hare (pappardelle sulla lepre).
Hare and rabbit are both readily available in Italy. Italians find it tasty, lean, inexpensive and perfect for cooking alla cacciatora, the long, slow stewing method with a sauciness and fall-off-the-bone flavor. A substantial primo piatto this dish needs little to accompany it to make a hearty meal other than a full-bodied red wine and some briny local olives. In Italy the pasta is placed on top (sulla) of the cacciatora then gently mixed ever so slightly creating a subtle mingling of flavors.
If you can, use wild rabbit or hare for a more traditional dish with an earthy, richer flavor than farmed rabbit which is more delicate. In Italy, wild game dishes made with rabbit, hare, cinghiale (wild boar) or duck (anatra) are traditionally served with a thick rolled or broad pasta to absorb the flavor of the stewed meat. In Umbria stringozzi pasta is typical and very similar to Tuscan pici. Both are types of “peasant” pasta that resemble fat spaghetti. All are thick pasta that go well with rich robust hunter-style sauces that take the bite out of winter.
Coniglio alla cacciatora – Hunter’s rabbit stew
- 7 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- Flour for dusting 1 rabbit
- 1 rabbit, chopped into large pieces
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 carrot, chopped
- 1 stalk of celery chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
- 2 small bay leaves
- sprig or 2 or parsley
- 1 cup of red or white wine
- 2 ounces of tomato paste dissolved in 1 cup of water
- meat broth or water
- coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
Season the rabbit with salt and pepper. Dust the pieces of rabbit with flour and sear over medium high heat in a deep skillet suitable for a stew with 3 T extra virgin olive oil until golden brown. Remove the rabbit pieces and set aside. Deglaze the pan with the wine scraping up the browned bits with a wooden spoon. Allow the wine to simmer and the alcohol to evaporate for a minute or two, then pour it over the browned rabbit and reserve.
In the same pan, add the remaining 3 T of extra virgin olive oil and sauté the soffritto (chopped onion, carrot and celery) over a gentle heat until the onion becomes transparent and soft. Add the garlic and herbs and continue cooking a few minutes until fragrant. Add the tomato paste to the pan and cook until the paste slightly darkens, about 5 minutes. Return the reserved rabbit and wine to the pan, adjust the heat to medium low and stir to mix about 10 minutes or until the rabbit begins to release its juices.
Simmer the rabbit partially covered, basting it occasionally, adding water or broth, if the sauce is getting too thick or dry. Cook until the meat is tender and begins to just fall off the bone (about 1 .5 hours).