Before I start, I know that some of you reading are turning up your nose at the idea of eating rabbit, even if you’ve never even tried it. You may be vegetarian, and if so, you get a pass.
But for those of you who think nothing of scarfing down a prosciutto sandwich or a porterhouse steak, eating rabbit is no different from eating other animals that are killed for your dining pleasure. In fact, it’s much more eco-friendly since it requires less energy to raise, and produces less waste.
Aside from the ecological benefits, rabbit contains the least amount of fat and calories than other meats, is almost cholesterol free and tastes great. Contrary to what a lot of people think, there’s quite a lot of meat on a rabbit in relationship to bone, and it does not have a “gamey” flavor. Much of it is like eating white meat chicken, only tastier.
So step outside your comfort zone and try cooking rabbit, using this recipe loosely adapted from the book “Blue Plate Special” by Kate Christensen. It was my book group’s selection for January, and we always accompany our discussions with a dinner using food that’s mentioned in the book.
Depending on where you live, it may be hard to find fresh rabbit. I live not far from an Amish market that stocks it regularly. But so does my supermarket. Last week I called ahead to order two of them since I was planning to make it for the book group dinner and didn’t want to risk their not having any in the meat case the day I needed it.
Here’s what it looks like before it’s cut into pieces. You can ask the butcher to do that for you — a task I recommend since it’s hard cutting through the bones. See that bit of liver hanging out? Don’t throw it away. I’ll come back to it at the end.
I ordered two rabbits and used two pans to cook them. One rabbit will feed about four people, assuming you have side dishes and a starch.
This is one of the pots I used and it holds one rabbit beautifully. The pot is probably at least 65 years old and belonged to my mother. It’s perfect for braises, stews and even for baking upside down cakes. Browning the rabbit at high heat means your pan will look pretty messy, but this, and my other pot below, clean up spic and span.
Simultaneously, I cooked another rabbit in this enamel coated cast iron pan – very heavy but it cooks very evenly.
With all the other food that was prepared by other book group members to accompany the rabbit, there were plenty of leftovers for me to take home, and reheat for dinner another night with freshly made polenta and herbs. This recipe would also be delicious served with buttered noodles of some sort, as suggested by the book.
Lentils and rabbit are also a match made in heaven and I made this dish of roasted rabbit, lentils and chestnuts a couple of months ago, trying to duplicate a delicious meal I ate last fall at a restaurant tucked away in the hills of Liguria, Italy. If you’re interested in this rabbit recipe, send me an email and I’ll be happy to send it to you. The lentils recipe is from Joe Cicala, chef at Le Virtù and Brigantessa in Philadelphia, and I posted it a few years ago (along with his rabbit recipe) here.
And remember that rabbit liver I told you to save at the top of this post?
Joe also gave me a great idea of what to do with it.
Chop it up with some shallots and sauté it in some butter, he said, then season with some fresh thyme, salt and pepper. Serve it on toasted bread and drizzle it with a balsamic glaze and you’ve got perfect crostini to drink with your pre-dinner glass of wine.
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1 rabbit (about 2.5 to 3 lbs.)
4 slices of thickly sliced pancetta (about 1/8″ thick), cut into bits
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon flour
1 cup beef broth
1/2 cup wine
1/2 cup water
thyme, rosemary, bay leaf
fresh parsley, minced
Chop the rabbit into pieces. Fry the pancetta in 1 T. of the olive oil until crisp and remove from the pan with a slotted spoon. Set aside and resist the temptation to munch on them (ok, have a few bits).
Add the onion and garlic to the pan and sauté until translucent. Remove from the pan. Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan, sauté the rabbit in the oil on high heat, until the pieces turn golden brown. Sprinkle with the flour and sauté for a few more minutes, turning. The pan will look a mess, but don’t worry. All that brown stuff on the bottom with help flavor the sauce and loosens once you add the liquid. Remove the rabbit from the pan and set aside. Add the beef broth and the wine in the pan, scraping up the brown bits on the bottom. Put the onions and rabbit back into the pan, add the herbs and some of the water. Simmer, covered, for 45 minutes to an hour, adding more water if the sauce gets too thick. Just before serving, sprinkle with the reserved pancetta bits and minced parsley.
Not long ago, I received a book to review – “Passion for Pizza.” Bloggers frequently receive these types of offers, and I turn down most of them. But when the subject is pizza, it’s hard to resist. I mean, who doesn’t love pizza? The book more than lived up to my expectations. It’s divided into two sections – Italy and the USA, with various chapters on pizzerias in those two countries, and recipes at the end (including one at the bottom of this post.) It covers different types of pizzas, from crispy -crusted Roman style, to deep-dish Chicago style and many others, including my favorite, Neapolitan style.
I’ve visited a few of the places mentioned in the book, both here and in Italy, but it’s clear that I’ve got a long road ahead of me if I’m going to make a real dent in the list. With this book as my guide, hopefully I’ll get to some of the others in the future.
There are so many great pizza places around the world that it’s hard, if not impossible, to include all of them. For instance, a real standout that’s not included is La Renella in Rome. They make outstanding bread as well as many varieties of pizza, and like most Roman pizzerias, you order by indicating to the person behind the counter how much of a slice you want them to cut.
Among the places listed in the book is another spot where I’ve eaten great Roman-style pizza, – Gabriele Bonci’s tribute to pizza, Pizzarium (which recently expanded from its little hole in the wall).
Thankfully, there’s a chapter on Naples, the city where pizza Margherita was created more than 100 years ago for Queen Margherita of Savoy and where I’ve been lucky enough to indulge in pizza on a couple of trips to that great city, including one a few weeks ago.
The ownership of Brandi has changed over the years, but it’s still turning out fabulous pizzas from these wood-fired ovens.
Including the famous pizza Margherita, made with simple but high quality ingredients – tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and basil. It’s hard not to dig right in, but if you wait a minute or two, the center won’t be as runny as it cools down a bit.
Despite the criticism New York City Mayor DeBlasio received from Americans when he ate pizza in Naples with a knife and fork, go ahead and follow his example. It’s the way Italians do it and Neapolitan pizza can be very floppy and difficult to handle when it’s hot from the oven.
Pizza Margherita is only one of the many types of pizza on Brandi’s menu. Another winner I had to try was this one with prosciutto, arugula, cherry tomatoes and mozzarella cheese. I’m still dreaming about them both.
Fortunately, I have some great Neapolitan pizza places not far from where I live in New Jersey, including Nomad Pizza in Hopewell (soon to open another place in Princeton by the end of the year!); Porta in Asbury Park, N.J., and Brigantessa in Philadelphia.
If you want to try your hand at making pizza at home though, “Passion for Pizza” has a plethora of recipes from many of the pizzerias listed in the book.
It’s nearly impossible to get the same kind of dark mottled crust from a typical home kitchen, since the temperatures can’t reach the heights of a professional pizza oven.
But it’s still fun to try, and the results, if not the same as your favorite pizzeria, can be delicious anyway.
I recently tried three different pizza recipes from the book, using two different doughs — the “Neapolitan dough” recipe and the “our favorite dough” recipe. We scarfed down the pizza Margherita:
And we loved the pistacchio e salsiccia pizza recipe from Kesté’s in New York (although it could have used a bit of olive oil on top):
And although mine didn’t look as wonderful as this photo from the book, we all loved the pizza with brussels sprouts, mozzarella and ricotta cheese, inspired by Motorino Pizza in New York City. The recipe is below.
1 t. sea salt
2 ounces Brussels sprouts
pizza dough (use your favorite or get the recipe from the book for “our favorite dough”)
2 ounces fresh mozzarella, shredded
1 ounce fresh ricotta
1 ounce Pecorino Romano, crumbled
1 ounce smoked pancetta, thinly sliced (alternatives:bacon or unsmoked pancetta)
1 clove garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
Parmigiano-Reggiano, for grating
coarsely ground black pepper, to taste
extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
Place a baking stone in the oven, and preheat to 500 degrees F. or higher for one hour.
Bring 1 quart water with sea salt to a boil in a 2-quart saucepan.
While the water is heating, rinse the Brussels sprouts in cold water, and remove any wilted leaves. Place the Brussels sprouts in the boiling water, and cook for 2 minutes.
Remove the Brussels sprouts with a slotted spoon, and place them in a bowl of ice water for a few minutes to cool. Pour off the water.
Stretch the pizza dough to a diameter of 12 inches.
Distribute the mozzarella, ricotta and Pecorino Romano over the pizza. Distribute the pancetta and garlic over the pizza.
Peel the leaves from the Brussels sprouts, and place them on the pizza.
Bake the pizza on the baking stone until the crust is golden and the cheese is bubbling.
Remove the pizza from the oven, and place it on a plate. Top with coarsely ground black pepper and a bit of olive oil, and serve
It’s been open only a month and they’re packing them in every night. The widely anticipated opening last month of Brigantessa, on Philly’s East Passyunk Ave., – a hot-spot in the city’s restaurant scene – lives up to every bit of expectations. And why wouldn’t it, when you’ve got a talented, three-time James Beard nominated chef (Joe Cicala) and visionary owners of the hugely successful Le Virtù (Francis Cratil Cretarola and Cathy Lee) backing it. What Le Virtù does exceedingly well for Abruzzese cuisine, Brigantessa does for Southern Italian cuisine in general.
It calls itself a “forneria meridionale,” meaning a place that features Southern Italian wood oven cooking. Living up to its name, the back of the house is dominated by a monster wood-fired oven imported from Naples used for cranking out delicious pizza. Joe spent time there to learn Neapolitan pizza making techniques and earn his “pizza verace” certificate. His attention to detail has paid off. But Brigantessa is more than just another pizza joint.
Brigantessa – whose name comes from the female brigands who fought against Northern Italian domination in the late 1800s – features a very reasonably priced menu with inventive selections not typically found at Italian restaurants in the U.S. When was the last time you ate smoky-infused broccoli romanesco served over a bed of polenta or wood-grilled beans and octopus? Exactly.
The second, wood-fired oven in the back of the house, (this time square-shaped) is used to impart a charred, smoky flavor to many of the restaurant’s offerings. And in a word, they’re all fabulous.
The space has been totally renovated and looks fresh and modern, yet welcoming and homey at the same time. The front of the house features a bar and high top tables, ideal when you just want to pop in for a drink and some spuntini. There’s a huge selection of Italian and local craft beers and a wide variety of Italian wines to accompany the food.
Upstairs is a large dining room, with beautifully gripping photographs of Southern Italian subjects lining the walls, taken by Le Virtù employee Kateri Likoudis.
Earlier this week, I was privileged to eat at Brigantessa with Domenica Marchetti and Helen Free, good friends who came up from the D.C. area, and were as eager as I to try the new restaurant’s offerings.
Here’s a sampling of some of the dishes we ate, but the menu is far more expansive and so were the plates on our table. Unfortunately, some of my photos were just too blurry to include here.
These tangy “long hots” stuffed with house-made sausage and sprinkled with cheese were a delicious and different take on the ubiquitous peppers and sausage.
Braised artichoke hearts served with bread crumbs and crispy fried capers never tasted so good.
Don’t miss the sarde “in saor” with fennel and onions – sardines in a sweet and sour treatment.
Of course we had to sample the pizza and the one we ordered was just what you’d expect of the best Neapolitan pizza – a soft, pliable crust charred a bit on the outside and chewy around the edges. Add house-made fior di latte mozzarella, fragrant prosciutto and bits of arugula and you’ve got a concoction that you can’t stop eating.
The pastas we sampled were equally tempting, including these cappellaci dei briganti, served with a rich meat ragu and pecorino cheese.
Sorry for the poor photo, but this pasta was not just delicious, it was sensational. It’s pappardelle made from black chick pea flour and served with a sauce from whey-braised lamb (After making the mozzarella, Joe puts the whey to good use) and sprinkled with fennel pollen. Forget any preconceptions linking Italian food to only red sauce. If ever you could taste Southern Italy in one perfect mouthful, it was this dish, redolent of rosemary and the flavors of Abruzzo.
The pièce di resistance (or should I say “pezzo di resistenza”) was this dreamy dish of ricotta gnudi, showered with a shaving of white truffles. The ethereal pillows just melted in your mouth and made you wish that truffle season was 12 months a year. But the beauty of eating here is what’s so great about eating at the best trattorie in Italy – you taste what’s in season, at the height of its freshness.
Full as we were, we couldn’t leave without sampling some desserts. I would say this was overload, but then again, how could you not be tempted by these sweets prepared by pastry chef Angela Ranalli (Joe’s wife). From right to left you’re looking at crunchy Moorish-style Cannoli with a fragrant filling made with ricotta, and flavored with rosewater, pistachio, and orange blossom water; tortino al rhum – an Italian rum cake in a terrine; an assortment of Italian cookies and candies, including a crunchy Sardinian almond candy, and candied rose petals; and last but not least, house made gelato covered in white truffles (you heard me right!).
We left there totally sated but looking forward to our next visit.
In the meantime, I can make one of Joe’s pasta dishes at home to remind me of the wonderful evening spent at Brigantessa. For those of you who live far from Philadelphia and can’t get to the restaurant, try this recipe at home. It might be a little tough getting the whey, but don’t let that stop you from using milk to marinate the lamb. Black chick pea flour is nearly impossible to find in the U.S., but Bob’s Red Mill makes regular chick pea flour that you could substitute.
Black Chick Pea Pappardelle, Whey-Braised Lamb, fennel pollen Recipe from Joe Cicala at Brigantessa printable recipe here Pasta Ingredients:
3/4 cup black of chickpea/garbanzo flour
1 cup of “00” flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
3 extra large eggs at room temperature
1 teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil Directions:
the “well” method, place the flours on a work surface, and create a
volcano in the center. Add the eggs and oil, and mix with a fork, slowly
incorporating the flour.
Once the mixture is somewhat
homogenous, kneed for five minutes by hand until the dough becomes firm
and smooth. Let rest for one hour covered in the refrigerator. Using a
pasta machine, roll out the dough from the largest setting to the second
to smallest. Cut the dough into 1-inch strips approximately 6-inches
long. Cook in salted boiling water for three minutes or until tender.
Add the cooked pasta to a pan with the ragu and toss. Serve with
pecorino cheese, and dust with fennel pollen. Ragu Ingredients:
1⁄4 cup of extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
1 rib of celery, finely chopped
1⁄2 Medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1⁄2 Medium carrot, finely chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 pounds of lamb shoulder cubed
1 cup of dry white wine
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs of rosemary
1/2 gallon of whey or 1 percent milk Directions:
a large pot, sweat the vegetables in the olive oil and butter over
medium heat until translucent. Add the lamb cubes, and turn the heat up
to medium-high in order to slightly brown the meat. Deglaze the pan with
white wine and add the herbs. Reduce the wine until nearly dry, and add
the whey. Simmer for one hour or until the lamb is tender enough to
shred with a wooden spoon. ■