Remember way back yonder, when the weather was still cool, we were on the search for some rabbit to make? We ended up calling around to butchers around Brooklyn and found a place that had them and asked them to save two for us. When we arrived, the butcher handed us our babies and, with a smile, said, “That’ll be 60 bucks, please!”. We couldn’t back out – we took em both and made this that night with it but kept the other bunny in the freezer until we felt the creative juices flowing in order to create another delicious meal.
So on a very, very humid 90-degree day (and subsequently, humid 85 degree night) which happened to be our 1st anniversary, we decided to bring old Bugs Bunny out of hiding. As Jonny and I whined and moaned about the fact that “one year ago today we were in Tuscany about to start our two week trek around Northern Italy” we also thought back to some of the simple and fabulous meals we ate around the small towns of Bucine and Ambra in Arrezo near to where our wedding was held. One of those meals was at a small little hole-in-the-wall place on the side of the road called Osteria dei Conti Guidi. This was one of those places that in America would fail because it’s not trendy enough, not flash, not hip. They had plastic tables and chairs outside with colorful, non-matching plastic tablecloths on top. The tables weren’t very steady because they were sat on the grass which sloped slightly. You walk into the nearly empty restaurant because there is no hot-looking hostess waiting at the front to greet you and take you to your table. Instead, you kind of look around for anyone who can even tell you that the place is open – inside it’s brightly lit with a small TV in the corner blasting the news or a sporting match and a few older men finishing up their digestivo and smoking a cigarette. And then, she appears…. the “mama”. The owner, hostess, waitress, part-time cook and busboy. That “all-in-one” kind of restaurateur who you end up falling in love with because of their speed and passion. I am forgetting her name but that night she was like our best friend. She handed us the menus and we laughed at the loose Italian to English translations on the menu – I have pictures somewhere which I’ll attempt to locate and upload them here. As you eat, the owners many cats would come over and rub past your legs hoping you would accidentally drop some of your prociutto on the grass.
That night Jonny ordered the Hare Ragu with Juniper Berries over homemade pappardelle. I just remember him making many happy noises and eating it up in record speed. It was a dish that should normally be eaten in the colder months, but he was enjoying the complex flavors immensely as we sat outside on the plastic chairs. If you can locate juniper berries at your closest gourmet shop, you will be blown away by the taste – it’s as if you are putting a drop of gin on your tongue. Juniper berries are the seed cone produced by the female juniper plant and it’s actually not a berry, it’s just shaped like one. When they are young they are green in color but turn into a purple-red color once they are over 18 months mature. They are a natural diuretic and, back in the day, were used to treat arthritis and were thought to stimulate the appetite (think they tried to smoke it?). Obviously, the most famous things juniper berries are used for is flavoring gin. You have just got to try them, they are absolutely delicious and are used in many dishes, especially those using game. It is understandable why this spice is such a wonderful paring with our “Open” Raviolo with Hare and Juniper Berry Ragu.
Instead of making normal ravioli’s, we used big sheets of pasta to ‘cover’ spoonfulls of the ragu. The only differences between a normal ravioli and our ‘open’ raviolo’s are the size (ravioli is usually much smaller than raviolo) and the fact that they are not pressed together so that the stuffing is enclosed within the pasta sheets. It’s an interesting way to use pasta and you also get that same feeling of ‘cutting into’ the pasta like you would normally do with ravioli’s. Give this a try. Do not be intimidated by the use of game or the juniper berry spice – yes, it is one of those meals to make with a nice bottle of wine (and, in our case, a very strong air conditioner!) because it is not a quick meal to make. Once you buy the juniper berries you can use them in a variety of meals! ***Note: The Bottle of wine up to the right is from the small vineyard where we were married in Tuscany (Tenuta di Lupinari). The picture of the castle is where I changed into my dress (and drank copious amounts of Prosecco) and where were were married (in the gardens in front of the castle). Ahhhh, memories.
‘OPEN’ RAVIOLO WITH HARE AND JUNIPER BERRY RAGU (serves 4 as main and 6 as an appetizer)
- 1/2 pound to 1 pound of Lidia’s Poor Man’s Pasta Recipe (for Raviolo’s)
- 1/2 rabbit, cut up into chunks using a cleaver/heavy knife
- 1/2 cup flour
- 4 cloves of garlic, smashed with back of knife
- 1 onion, finely diced
- 1 teaspoon dried juniper berries
- 1/4 cup or 4 tablespoons white wine
- 2 sprigs (each) of rosemary and thyme, bruised with the back of a knife
- 1 cup passata or crushed tomatoes
- 1 cup of chicken or rabbit stock
- 3 tablespoons good extra virgin olive oil
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
What to do:
- Dredge rabbit pieces in flour and saute in olive oil in a deep saute pan or dutch oven until all sides are well browned.
- With a slotted spoon, remove rabbit to a plate and add the onions to the oil and, on medium-low, allow them to sweat for at least 5-8 minutes until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes.
- Add the reserved rabbit pieces back to the pan and then deglaze with white wine. Scrape up any bits that accumulated on the bottom of the pan. When the wine is reduced by half, add juniper berries and the herbs.
- When the pot is almost completely dry (all liquid has been absorbed), add the passata/tomatoes and the chicken stock. Stir well and bring to a simmer. When it comes to a simmer, put lid on and cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour.
- While rabbit is simmering, make your pasta. Allow the strips of pasta to dry on a well-floured surface until the rabbit is ready.
- After 45 minutes , remove the lid off your ragu and simmer uncovered for another 30 minutes or until the sauce has become thick.
- Turn off the stove and remove the rabbit pieces with a slotted spoon and allow to cool in a bowl. While that is cooling, bring salted water to a boil in order to cook your pasta.
- Once the rabbit is cool, you will use your fingers (instead of the 1st way we tried with two forks which is not easy) to remove any pieces of bones that are on the rabbit meat. Because it has been cooked for so long, it should come off very, very easily. Make sure you get ALL the bones! You don’t want your guests choking or their mouths being cut up, unless, of course, you do.
- Stir your meat back into the ragu. Remove the rosemary twigs. Add some salt to taste and freshly ground black pepper.
- Slice your pasta sheets into 6-inch squares and cook in the boiling water until they come to the surface (about 2 minutes). Drain.
- Time to plate – add a pasta square on the bottom, top with a big spoonful of the rabbit ragu and a drizzle of olive oil. Top with another pasta square and a smaller spoonfull of the the ragu. Again, drizzle a bit of olive oil on top along with some ground pepper and anything green (chives, parsley, basil, thyme, etc.). Serve with a delicious vino and settle into a satisfying meal. ***NOTE: Feel free to use another thick and hearty pasta with this dish like pappardelle or tagliatelle.
Check out some other posts you may enjoy:
- Vermut (Vermouth): Rediscovering an Old Classic
- Remaking a Tuscan Restaurant Meal (From Florence)
- Striking Over Pasta?
- BEET AND RICOTTA FILLED RAVIOLI WITH BROWN BUTTER AND POPPY SEEDS
- SPANISH (AUSTURIAN) OXTAIL WITH FRIED POTATOES
- GROUND LAMB KABOBS (Lamb Kubideh)