Thursday 14 October 2010

Recipe: Rabbit pot-roast with Parma Ham & Fresh Herbs

Apparently a piedmontese recipe, this is the most delicious method I have found for cooking rabbit. Bar none. It's one of those dishes where the first mouthful is followed by an appreciative silence around the table, as conversation falls away and people devote their full attention to the seductive flavours put before them. In the course of cooking, the ham dissolves to nothing inside the pot-roast rabbit, leaving just a rich and concentrated flavour, that mingles wonderfully with the finely-chopped fresh herbs, while the cooking juices in the pan provide a sauce which is gloriously unctuous.
The only thing to be wary of in this dish is the tendency for the sliced rabbit to fall apart when served, if the process of boning the rabbit has been a little haphazard. If your boning technique isn't first rate, or you're concerned that you won't get perfect slices, then the best thing to do is to let the rabbit cool down once cooked, and only slice it once it is almost cold, when the meat will hold together once more; the old catering trick is then to serve the cool slices on very hot plates, with a spoonful of very hot sauce over the top, both of which re-heat the meat pretty instantaneously.
I have to say, when I served this the other day, and I'd had only half a rabbit to work with, my finished slices fell to pieces pitifully, but the Technical Department said the flavour was so good that the presentation was entirely irrelevant!

For four.

Ingredients: 1 Rabbit, boned (if you can get this done professionally, then it is probably a good idea); 2 teaspoons each of fresh herbs: rosemary, sage, and thyme; 4 slices of Parma Ham (San Daniele is best of course, but any good parma ham will be fine); 3 carrots, peeled; 3 celery sticks; 2 oz Butter; 2 tbs Oil; 1 cup White Wine; 1 cup Chicken stock; Salt & Pepper.


1. Take one of the carrots and one of the sticks of celery and blanch them for a couple of minutes in boiling, salted water. Drain and refresh under cold water.

2. Lay the boned rabbit out flat, neck-end towards you, and season it with salt & pepper. Finely chop the herbs, and spread these evenly over the rabbit, and then cover completely with slices of Ham. Arrange the blanched carrot and celery along the end of the rabbit nearest to you, trimming and slicing as appropriate so that there is an even strip of both carrot and celery all the way along (the idea being that once the rabbit has been rolled and roast, when it is sliced, each slice will have at its centre a piece of cooked carrot and a piece of cooked celery). Roll the rabbit up, and tie tightly.

4. In a heavy casserole, melt the Butter with the Oil, and then brown the tied Rabbit on all sides.

5. Remove the Rabbit from the casserole, and sauté the remaining Carrot and Celery, cut into 1 cm dice, for five minutes or so until they start to colour. Return the Rabbit to the pan, season it generously, raise the heat and pour over the Wine over the Rabbit. Reduce the wine by about half, and then add the Stock. Once the liquid has returned to the boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the pan and leave to cook for an hour and a quarter.

Leave for about ten minutes before slicing, and serve with the vegetables and cooking juices from the casserole.

Postscript: Somebody has very helpfully sent me this fascinating link to a how-to video for de-boning rabbit. Positively mesmerising.

Tuesday 12 October 2010

Autumn Days

Glorious days of golden sunshine, still warm enough to sit on the terrace for morning coffee, and to work in shirt-sleeves in the garden...but definitely cold enough at night that all the doors and windows are closed after sundown, and the four-footeds find the floor tiles too cold for them to sleep on in comfort. Which has led to some confused incidents when both of them have decided to jump onto the bed in the middle of the night at the same time, and then become noisily territorial as they both tell the other one to eff off, at two in the morning. Now sorted, as the older one has his own bed to sleep on, and the younger one has nobody to fight with.

The Booker Prize is announced today. My vote goes clearly to Emma Donoghue for 'Room' - excellent writing. I was dismayed to see that the favourite is Tom McCarthy's 'C', which I confess I struggled to finish. Derivative, clumsy, self-consciously 'clever', inconsistent, and in places just silly...I found myself sighing from time to time as I pushed myself to plough on with the thing. I do hope it doesn't win, although this year's shortlist was so thin in general that I don't trust the judges' judgement at all - not least since they didn't include such gems as the offerings by Helen Dunmore and David Mitchell, both of which I would recommend highly.

This week's major discovery has been Baldo rice - I'd never heard of it before, but the Tecchnical Department came across it recently, and ordered a year's supply online. I think it comes from somewhere in the Po Valley and fortunately, given how much of it is now on the pantry shelves, is superb. Light, with loads of starch, and a character that means that the grains remain quite distinct even once cooked. I've now tried it twice, once in a risotto with limoncino leaves, and then again a couple of days ago in risotto with some chanterelles which we found at the amantea man's shop in San Francesco. Both times, delicious - the second time, even more so, as the risotto was made with a sofritto using fat from the partridges we were given in London a couple of weeks ago (and which the TD plucked and drew, before we put them in our luggage to bring back to Pisa), as well as stock from a spit-roast guinea fowl, which we had on the evening we got back.

Otherwise, a good apricot and cinnamon cake, decorated with crystallised limoncino leaves (yes, a theme emerges - but prompted mostly by my need to give the limoncino bush a haircut, rather than culinary necessity), and a fairly delicious walnut baklava, which I'd never tried to make during all the years actually living in Greece. Pretty delicious, and in fact indistinguishable from that made by the baker who's oven used to back onto the house we lived in back in the seventies.

I think it must be instinctive - as the evenings draw in, the home-and-hearth impulse kicks in, and baking comes to the fore!
Tonight's dinner:

Asparagus & Gruyère bundles in Parma Ham, roast and then served with a Balsamic dressing.

Roast rabbit, boned and stuffed with Celery; braised Broccoli stalks.

Plum Tarts.