In the kitchen I originate very little. I’m an homage cook. I replicate and modify. One dish I’m proud of is a modified arrabiata pasta. Very modified. Extremely modified. Actually, it has little to do with arrabiata. The story:
One year my wife and I had a long lunch in Montepulciano, the one in Tuscany known for noble wine–literally Il Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. After touring the wine caves we asked 3-4 people where we could get a good lunch and found ourselves served a “bis”–two orders of pasta divided between two people. (You can also do a “tris,” a tris for two, a tris for three or four.) One pasta was light, satisfactory, and forgettable; the other was penne with sausage, tomato, and red pepper. A bomb. And I mean a bomb in the best possible way.
Around this time we frequented a restaurant back home that served a pasta with sausage and leeks. When we came home from Italy after Montepulciano, I combined the two recipes. More than a bomb. Think atomic bomb.
Not creative cooking, really. More like genetically modified, recombinant DNA cooking. Which brings me to: rabbit.
Not most Americans’ favorite dish. And it’s too bad. Not too bad for American rabbits, who get to enjoy a longer, fuller hopitive life. But too bad for those people who forego the dish for sentimental reasons.
There is probably a recombinant aspect to this recipe. Mainly it is an homage to Trattoria Mario in Florence, where I met Teresa, a strong and generous and efficient server who greeted us many times and on two occasions pulled me into the kitchen when I asked about the food and recited recipes. Herewith: what I think I remember about what she said about rabbit roast.
Wash your deceased bunny and pat him/her dry. In a roasting pan with a few tablespoons of olive oil on the bottom of the pan, roll the rabbit around for a coating, an anointing. Lay the pieces in the pan. Shown above are leg quarters, arguably the best pieces. Buy a whole rabbit and you’ll also get the back, called the saddle. If you don’t mind bones it’s very good eating. Fussy, but good.
Next: Salt and pepper. A couple cloves of diced garlic. A handful of fresh rosemary. Roll the pieces again to distribute the garlic and rosemary among the pieces and around the pan. Add a few more tablespoons of olive. Given their wild, athletic DNA, there’s not a lot of fat on a bunny, even the domestic models.
Into the oven preheated to 350, pan uncovered. Cook 15 minutes on each side, gently browning. Then add white wine (you want a quarter inch of so of wine in the bottom of the pan), also a couple bay leaves. Cover and cook at a lower temp. I go low–265 degrees. Check on it at 60 minutes.
Still wet? It should be. Turn the pieces, cover, and continue. Not wet? Add wine. Or broth. (I think Teresa said broth.) Not a lot. After two hours you’ll notice the early stages of sauce. (Oh, the goodness.) Ultimately you’re going to gradually cook the roast dry-ish, so after two hours of cooking, don’t drown it. You won’t need to. Check on it in 30 minute intervals. I turn the pieces twice.
Toward done-ness the rabbit will brown. (Oh, the goodness.) Don’t let the pieces stick. Today I kept these pieces covered the whole time. Total time in the oven, 4.5 hours. Half hour at 350, four at 260.
Set it on the counter to cool. These pieces will fall off the bone. Like a roasted chicken, they will be good at room temperature. And good with whatever you love. I’ll want a boiled and seasoned vegetable. It’s spring when I write this, so maybe also a cool rice dish–rice with chopped tomato and arugula, for example, also served at room temp.
On leg quarters there will be a few little bones, beebee size. Watchful eating recommended.
Like so many things we eat, there is pleasure on the palate and love in the invoked memory of people we associate with our food. Teresa, this one’s for you.