Walking through the West Side market, a naked rabbit caught my eye. Of course the sign saying "a bunny for your honey" may have really been what got my attention. This rabbit looked so fresh and inviting. I had only cooked rabbit once before - I decided it was time to try again. I brought it home not really knowing what I might do with it. I pulled a couple of cookbooks of the shelf that I thought might have a rabbit recipe and sat down to peruse. Some of them called for boned rabbit. I did not get this bunny boned and I was not about to attempt it. I think my first stab at it would have produced about a half cup of meat. If you have ever seen a skinned rabbit you know that there are no big fatty breasts or meaty thighs. So I stuck to recipes that used a whole rabbit cut into pieces. I did a little internet research as well.
One of the most intriguing recipes was from Michael Chiarello's Tra Vigne cookbook. Chiarello says when he owned Tra Vigne he served more rabbit that any other restaurant in America. Sounds like he must know what he is talking about when it came to rabbit so I looked over his Braised Rabbit with Winter Vegetables. It sounded wonderful. It also sounded like I might spend 4 hours at the stove. I am not shy about spending that much time on a recipe but this particular day I did not have the time. So I ended up with a blend of recipes, a little Chiarello and a little Emeril and a Rabbit Ragu over Extra Wide Noodles.
I started with a Michael Chiarello tip and threw the bunny, which I had cut into 6 pieces, into a zip bag with a couple of tablespoons of balsamic vinegar and let it sit for about 15 minutes while I cut up vegetables. I then browned it in some olive oil letting it get good color on both sides. I set it aside in a bowl while I worked on some diced veggies in the same pan. I sautéed a cup each of onions, carrots and celery until well caramelized. I added 3 cloves of minced garlic and a pound of sliced baby portabella mushrooms and sautéed everything a little longer until the mushrooms had released some moisture and were changing color. I added a cup of red wine and when it had almost evaporated I added a 2 tablespoons of tomato paste and a cup or so of canned San Marzano diced tomatoes.
I threw everything into the pressure cooker, along with 2 fresh bay leaves and 3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme, and cooked for 20 minutes under high pressure. I released the pressure and removed the rabbit pieces, bay leaves and thyme stems. While the rabbit was cooling slightly, I turned the heat on under the sauce to reduce further. When the rabbit was cool enough to handle I removed the meat from the bones and added it to the simmering sauce. I threw some locally made extra wide pappardelle style egg noodles into some boiling water. To finish it off I add 2 tablespoons of butter to the sauce that now had reduced somewhat and been reunited with the rabbit meat. Plates were piled with drained pappardelle noodles and then a ladle of the thick ragu. My honey loved it. And my daughter couldn’t wait to take leftovers for school lunch to amaze and gross out her friends.