So I think I successfully cooked my first rabbit, AND I managed to recreate a a restaurant dish I enjoyed a couple of years ago that’s been knocking around in my head ever since – Rabbit Ragu with Pappardelle and Gremolata.
The ragu took most of the afternoon, but it wasn’t difficult. In a cast iron dutch oven I sauteed a carrot, celery rib, and onion, all chopped fine, along with 4 slices of diced, smoked streaky bacon in olive oil till it was all a bit brown around the edges. I added the chopped up rabbit and tried to brown it, but I didn’t get very far because the aromatics were starting to burn – If I do this again, I’ll brown the rabbit in a separate pan and deglaze it with a little wine to get the fond up before adding it back to the main pot. So, after everything was as browned as it was going to get, I added a glass of white wine, a dollop of tomato paste, 4 cups of chicken stock, a piece of parmesan rind and a couple of bay leaves. I put the lid on a little crooked so some of the steam could escape and let it simmer away for a couple of hours. I checked it every half hour or so to make sure it didn’t get too dry and ended up adding another cup or so of water before it was done. Here it is just starting out – it already smelled amazing.
I completely forgot I’d added the parmesan rind, and about halfway through cooking when it floated to the top I could not figure out what this orangey, gummy, perfectly rectangular cartaligey-looking thing was or where it could have come from. So what did I do with this inedible-looking mystery object in my ragu? Why, I tasted it, of course. Even then it took a few more moments before the light bulb came on. Silly me.
So while the bunny simmered, I made some gremolata and got started on the pasta. 1 egg per 100 grams flour whizzed in the food whizzer and then kneaded on the counter(I always add a couple of eggshells of water since I only use medium eggs instead of large or extra large, though now that I think of it, I could just cut out a few grams of flour in the flour/egg ratio). I find the trick to good pasta is to knead it until I think I might die of exhaustion and then let it rest in the fridge for at least an hour before I roll it out. Here’s the hand-cut pasta (I never use the cutting attachment on the pasta machine – I like it rough and uneven), all rolled out and ready to cook. I just dusted it with flour and piled it up loosely while I finished everything else up – you need to make sure that everything stays nice and moist under a damp tea towel while you’re rolling it out, but once it’s done, it’s OK if it dries out a little bit before you cook it.
So the ragu simmered for over two hours until the bunny was super-tender and falling off the bone. I took it out of the dutch oven, let it cool a bit, and pulled all the meat off the bones to add back in to the sauce. It was incredibly dark and rich and sticky, though I must say that it was a tiny bit too salty. I salted the aromatics at the beginning and then the mysterious parmesan rind took it over the top. I decided to add a couple of tablespoons of cream to thin it out and dilute the saltiness a bit- clever, eh?
So here is the finished dish. It was really, really rich and the gremolata cut through it nicely. Gremolata is a condiment traditionally served with the incredibly rich and decadent Ossobuco Milanese, so cutting through richness and unctuousness is pretty much its job. It is good at its job.
I basically followed this this Tuscan Rabbit Ragu recipe from the NYT- it was the only one I could find that didn’t call for a tin of tomatoes. I wanted this to be a meat sauce, not a tomato sauce with a little meat in it – speaking of which, don’t get me started on what the English called ‘bolognese’. Tomato sauce with 500 grams of beef mince cooked for twenty minutes can be tasty enough, especially if you’re hungry and/or nine years old, but it’s NOT Bolognese. Anyway. The NYT recipe called for a 3 pound rabbit, and mine was less than 2 pounds. I was a bit worried and considered cutting back on all the other ingredients, but it turned out fine. The gremolata consisted of a big handful of flat-leaf parsley, the zest of a lemon, and one large clove of garlic, all chopped fine (but not in the food processor – you don’t want a puree) and stirred up with a glug of olive oil and salt and pepper and a squeeze of the lemon juice.
Next time, I think I’ll put the ragu inside some ravioli and make some kind of light sauce based on the gremolata.