When I go out for dinner here in Italy there are two ingredients I usually hunt down on the menu coniglio (rabbit) and carciofo (artichoke). These are two ingredients I don’t cook with a lot…and if I am really honest I would tell you I had never cooked coniglio, until last night. Artichokes are always classed as ‘a lot of effort’, I’ll make them on a day off or I’ll just eat them out. I am not sure why I have such an aversion toward them but I am guessing it is because I was never shown what to do with them as an apprentice. It wasn’t until I came to Italy, had a ton of time up my sleeve and kept looking at them in abundance at the store that I finally decided I’d give them a smashing red hot go…THANK GOD! So far I have boiled, roasted, made risotto, blanched and marinated them, and every time I try something new it works!
I learned one of life’s lessons with artichokes: they look scary and difficult but if you tinker around with them and have an open mind, you soon work out they are pretty easy to work with, taste amazing fresh and have loads of different cooking methods to explore.
Rabbit on the other hand was a different story and like most things I rant about there is an actual story to this as well. It goes back to when I was a little girl living in Darwin with my family and dad offering to cook dinner one night: ‘Mum used to make the best rabbit,’ he said. ‘I’m pretty sure I can remember what she did…’ Famous last words.
Now I was only very young but this memory has stuck in my mind to this day, you see that was one of the only dinners I can recall when I said I just wanted to go to bed (and skip dinner). ‘NO’ were my dad’s words and then something along the lines of: ‘I’ve worked all bloody day on this sauce, and you will eat it!!’
With that said and a look of ‘geez girls, not much longer’ from my mum, dinner was finally served to us around 10pm. It was rabbit with a beautiful sauce (I don’t remember the sauce, only mum’s instance the sauce really was good). The rabbit was inedible, tough as old boots, you couldn’t even stick your fork in it. Tarsh and I ended up going to bed without any dinner after all.
The years after this episode were haunted by the thought of no dinner (I ate everything, all the time) and eating boots. I was never going to eat rabbit again. Thankfully at some stage in my life, not sure when, I was reinstated with a new found love of rabbit. I love it! Can’t get enough of it when eating out, however, I was never game to try and cook it myself because I had years of dad saying, “I don’t know what happened? When mum made it, it melted in your mouth”
I was not about to suffer the same fate as my dad so I decided to just ignore it…and then Max found a fondness for coniglio. When we first arrived in Italy he was shopping with me at the Coop and spotted the coniglio. “Oh mum, rabbit! lets have some for dinner tonight,” he said and started to toss a packet in the trolley. “Umm, no I don’t think the oven is big enough for rabbit Max, let me go home and make sure”
Pathetic I know but there was no way I was going to fail at cooking rabbit when we both loved it so much. We have now been here a little over 7 months, eaten lots of coniglio and I have been thinking…
It wasn’t until I had a dream the other night, in which I was making a rabbit braise with white wine, lots of garlic and serving it with mash potato that I decided enough was enough, I’m going to make a rabbit dish.
OH MY GIDDY AUNT!
I cannot tell you how delicious it was AND it was not tough (silent cheer from the crowd). Dad I am sorry to bring this up after all these years but there was a story to tell as to why I never cooked rabbit and finally I can put this chapter to bed. This rabbit tasted so delicious I can now see quite a few coniglio dishes garnishing our table. I did look up quite a few recipes and thought I would go with one from Saveur magazine, however, I forgot to pick up the bacon and didn’t have the right beer in the fridge so I decided I’d follow my dream instead. There is no recipe, just a method so if your game grab a pen and paper and jot this down because it is a winner.
I am not sure how it is anywhere else, however, you can buy rabbit here all ready cut up into bite size pieces (nice). Some I made a little smaller just so it would go around the four of us. Once I was happy with the size I threw a bit of plain flour, salt and pepper over the pieces and lightly coated them in flour and then browned them in a frying pan until golden (approx. 6 min). Once the pieces were all browned I added them to a baking dish with fresh, whole cherry tomatoes (about 8 of them). I wanted fresh cherry tomatoes instead of using tomato paste because I was after a light, Spring flavour instead of a heavy wintery one. Once that was done I then sauteed diced onion, celery, carrot and parsley in the frying pan with a whole bulb of garlic just cut in half and thrown in.
Once I was happy with the veggies it was time to add a good slosh of white wine (approx. 3/4 cup) and then same again of vegetable stock. Once this was brought to the boil I then added a good chunk of butter (approx. 2 tablespoons) and then poured the wine, veggie mix all over the coniglio and whole tomatoes so it was just covering.
I then covered it with baking paper and foil, popped it in a 180 degree oven (on fan) and cooked it for 40 minutes. Once it was cooked I then removed the foil and added a tin of fagioli cannellini, mixed those in, tested the seasoning and adjusted it then re-covered it with paper and foil and left it until I needed it that evening (it rested for about 5 hours).
I took Max to basketball practice that evening and when we came home, I popped the rabbit back into a hot 180-degree oven without a lid and let it reheat for a further 30 minutes while I made a pot of creamy mash potatoes. The house smelt fantastic and had me praying for success.
Max was the first to offer up his approval and then Nic and Alex followed suit- I could breathe! The meat was tender, juices were mouthwatering and the effort very minimal. I will make this dish again and then some. I loved how the tomatoes kept their shape and then burst their sweet flavour into your bowl when pierced with a knife.
So there you have it, living in Italy has taught me to stop being scared of two items I have kept out of my food repertoire for the past 20 odd years. What have you been avoiding because it all looks a bit hard? Reward is in the game of chance, especially when it tastes as good as the rabbit!