I was strolling the Charlottesville farmer’s market when a sign caught my attention. “Frozen Bunny.” I blanched just a bit, but I was fascinated—by the vendor (who refers to their meat in adorable terms?), by the beer cooler full of vacuum-packed rabbit legs, and by the memory of rabbit ragù. I impulsively decided to attempt it. Even though I’d never cooked with rabbit before and was more than a little intimidated. To soothe my nerves, I asked the vendor how to prepare it. His descriptions of frying it like chicken didn’t help. But I did enjoy the tomato he threw in with my $6.00/pound rabbit.
Once home, I stuck the paper bag wrapped meat in the freezer and tried to forget my foolishness. But the memory of the thyme scented meat in that velvety sauce… I had to give it a whirl.
Amazingly enough, by piecing together recipes that sounded right, I was able to land on a fairly close approximation of what I ate in Urbino at La Balestra Antica Hostaria.
4 rabbit legs
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
8 basil leaves, sliced
a generous handful of fresh thyme, stems removed
¼ cup white wine
chicken stock (about 6 cups, you won’t use it all)
Brown rabbit legs in olive oil, until gently caramelized (about 8 minutes). Place onion, carrot, celery, basil leaves, thyme in food processor and pulse until it forms a pestata, a paste. Scrape the vegetables into the pot with the rabbit and toss until the pestata has steamed and is drying out. Add the wine, and scrape up the fond (the brown bits at the bottom of the pot). Add hot chicken stock to the pot, to cover the rabbit about halfway, partially cover, and let simmer gently. As liquid reduces, add a couple of ladles full of stock at a time, flipping the rabbit while you are at it. Simmer in this way for an hour and a half. Cover and let cool. Remove rabbit from the pot, and set the liquid boiling so that it reduces to a sauce with the thickness of a light gravy or tomato sauce (but it should be golden from the chicken stock). Finely chop the rabbit meat, and add it back into the reduced sauce. Check for seasonings, toss in a few more thyme leaves, and serve over fresh tagliatelle.