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An Italian Rabbit Recipe
As rabbit becomes a more popular dish in Manhattan, this writer shares her family's cooking tradition
There are pictures of my brother and me as children holding the most adorable, fluffy white bunny. My uncle had given it to us as a gift - or at least that's what we thought. The next day, my father told us the rabbit ran away to join the circus. That night we ate rabbit in red sauce, one of the most famous dishes from Ischia, the Neapolitan island that is the home of my ancestors.
As I matured, I put two and two together and realized I had eaten my "pet" bunny. But by then I had been eating rabbit almost every Sunday of my life. It is the signature dish of my people, and my family's favorite. I don't ever want to eat a pet bunny again. But although my American friends always seemed horrified to hear we ate rabbit, it seemed natural to me. Frankly, the way my family prepares it is delicious.
Some Americans - at least those in New York - are starting to have a taste for it, too. New York magazine recently reported that rabbits are a trendy item at some popular restaurants. "…Suddenly rabbits are everywhere-from Bar Blanc in the West Village, where they do double duty on chef Cesar Ramirez's menu, as an appetizer and as a pasta to Bar Boulud on the Upper West Side, where they make an appearance in a toothsome Provencal terrine," according to the magazine.
Since rabbit is becoming more popular, I thought I'd share my family's recipe with all of you out there. Here it is:
Coniglio di Pasquale Di Meglio
Heat olive oil in a sauce pan (preferably a clay pot, which is what traditionalists in Ischia use)
Add two or three sliced cloves of garlic and the rest of the garlic head whole and brown it
Then, add the rabbit and brown it (You can purchase rabbits at the supermarket, where they're often frozen and therefore have to be defrosted first, or you can go to a livestock farm that raises rabbit, where the workers might even kill your rabbit in front of you to prove it's fresh.)
Once the rabbit is brown, add half a glass of white wine and let it evaporate
Then, pull out the rabbit and put it in a dish on the side of your pot
To the pot where the rabbit had been, add half a can of crushed tomatoes and add salt, oregano, parsley, and basil – and cook it for 15 minutes with the cover on, stirring occasionally
After about 15 minutes, take the cover off, return the rabbit to the pot, and put the cover on again. Cook the rabbit in the sauce for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally
Finally, take the cover off and cook the rabbit at least one hour. It's done when the meat is fully cooked and tender.
Eat your rabbit (preferably with your hands as an Ischitano would)
Probably the most popular "congilio Ischitano" is rabbit in white wine sauce. To make that, you do pretty much the same thing as you do with the above recipe, but you add additional olive oil and no tomatoes. It's much lighter, and I'm a big fan of dipping bread in the garlic-wine-infused oil that remains in my plate.
If you haven't tried rabbit, give it a shot. It's tastes like chicken - and you just might like it. But if you have kids, do not let them pet or hug or see the live rabbit before you eat it. Trust me. Buon appetito!
For more information on all things Italian, visit www.francescadimeglio.com. Di Meglio is also the About.com guide to Newlyweds at http://newlyweds.about.com.
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