Thursday, February 18, 2010

Rabbit Ragu (Ragù di Coniglio)

The first time I had rabbit ragu I was eighteen years old traveling through Italy on a bus tour sponsored by my high school. I had worked and saved for the opportunity to go on the "eleven cities in sixteen days" tour in my Senior year since I was a Freshman.  It had been the dream of my young life to see Venice, and not only did I see that wondrous city but also Genoa, Stressa, Isola Bella, Milan, Verona, Padua, Florence and Rome, Pisa, Naples, Sorrento, Capri  and the ruins of Pompeii.   Most of our meals were eaten in hotels, breakfast consisted of a continental breakfast of coffee and roll.  For lunch we were on our own, and since I did not have much extra money to spend during the trip I often satisfied myself with a gelato (Italian ice cream) or a bakery treat.  Dinners in the hotel were served American style, and consisted of a potato, a meat and a vegetable. I was so disappointed that we were not being served authentic Italian foods, but the general feeling was that this was the best way to guarantee everyone would like what they were offered as nothing would be exotic or unusual.  Finally, on a trip between Pisa and Sorrento the bus stopped at a local Trattoria for dinner, as we would be arriving in the city of Sorrento too late for hotel dinner service as we were making one stop in Naples on the way down.  I was thrilled to be in a real Italian restaurant, and I was determined to order what I thought was the most ethnically Italian selection on the menu, which happened to be Ragu di coniglio served over pappardelle. It was so delicious I ate every bite, but I think if I knew then that it was rabbit cooked in sauce I would have been appalled.

Fast forward three years when I married a native Italian, who is still my husband thirty five years latter. Through his family I was introduced to a wide repertoire of authentic Calabrian recipes, which is the region he is from in Italy, but never a meal which included rabbit.  It seems ragu di coniglio is eaten in the Campania region, where the Amalfi Coast is located, and where I had my special treat. 

It wasn't until years later, when I fortunately had developed a more sophisticated palate, that I finally found rabbit for sale in an Italian specialty market.  It was exciting for me to finally be able to replicate my first taste of true Italian food, and since then I have served this sauce for special occasions.

Rabbit Ragu
  • Ingredients: 
  • 1 rabbit (2 to 3 pounds ), cut into pieces
  •  salt and ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • Pinch of red-pepper flakes
  • 1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon tomato paste
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 2 cups seeded, chopped San Marzano tomatoes
2 bay leaves
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped sage
  • 1 teaspoon chopped rosemary

A package of  fresh, bone in, cut rabbit as it is sold in the store.

In a dutch oven begin to saute the chopped celery, onion and carrot in the olive oil.

Salt and pepper the rabbit pieces well and lay over vegetables. Place lid on top and cook about 10 minutes, turning rabbit once, over medium high heat.  Cook until the vegetables are soft and the rabbit is slightly browned on both sides. Remove rabbit to a platter and cover and set aside.

Reduce the heat to medium. Add the red-pepper flakes, garlic and tomato paste, stirring for another minute. Deglaze the pan with the wine, turn the heat to high and boil to burn off the alcohol, about 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes alog with their juices, bay leaves thyme, sage and rosemary.

Return the rabbit pieces to the pot, spacing them evenly so they are partly covered by the liquid. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until the rabbit is falling off the bone, about 2 hours. Turn the pieces at least once.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pappardelle until al dente. Before draining, save a cup of the pasta water.  Instead of pappardelle I used a special imported pasta my husband enjoys, which is a two foot long type of ziti, and which is very often served at weddings in Southern Italy.

Turn off the heat on the sauce and discard the thyme sprig and bay leaves. Remove the rabbit from the sauce and let cool; then pull the meat from the bones. Shred some pieces and leave others large. Return the meat to the pan and simmer the sauce low heat, while the pasta is cooking, until the sauce is thickened, approximately 10 minutes.  Taste and season sauce with more salt and pepper if needed.

The cooked rabbit pieces

Toss the pasta with the sauce, adding small amounts of pasta water, if necessary, if the sauce is too thick.

Divide pasta among bowls and top with grated Locatelli romano cheese.  Serves 4 hearty and delicious portions!  

Every time I eat this I am transported back to my teens savoring my first taste of what I thought was a sophisticated Italian dinner.  Now I know that it was really a very rustic specialty dish of the region, but absolutely delicious non-the-less, as most Italian food is!  I hope you will consider trying it if you can find rabbit in your local store or on the menu in your local trattoria!

Today is Michael Lee's first anniversary of her blog's "Foodie Friday" event!  Congratulations ML!  It has been wonderful to collect many fantastic recipes and ideas from Foodie Friday over the past year and I look forward to many more years of delicious fun!  Please visit the Designs By Gollum blog and see ML's contribution as well as links to all the participating blogs in Foodie Friday.

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Ciao Chow Linda said...

Hallelujah that you found that trattoria so many years ago and ordered that rabbit and pappardelle dish. You ordered (and made) a winner. I haven't made a rabbit dish in years but would love to try this recipe.

Catherine said...

Wonderful recipe! And so nice to read about your trip.

Betsy from Tennessee said...

Hi Pat, That looks delicious... Isn't it wonderful to have such great childhood memories??? My mom mad the best cheese rolls in the world --and I've never had any like them--nor did I learn to make them myself. (She died in 1991.)


Nancy Jane said...

I loved the back story to this recipe. Now that I know it's rabbit I would be hesitant to try it, but if I had it as a teenager, I'm sure I would have adored it. Have to admit, it does look awfully good...

Allie and Pattie said...

What memories you've brought back. I've been blogging about my childhood summers at my grandparents' home in Vicenza- VERY close to Padova. My grandmother frequently served rabbit made with various light sauces. Here in the States, I have yet to see it offered in markets and since moving to NC from NY, I am finding that many of the freely available ingredients I took for granted now have to be ordered. I must now go on a hunt for rabbit! Thank you
xoxo Pattie

Old Kitty said...


Your trip to Italy sounds so lovely. I was 17 going on 18 when I visited Italy - and I recognise a few towns/cities you've been to. I had such a fantastic time! Oh to be that young and carefree and travelling in Italy (on a coach trip where my friends and I were the youngest ones in the group of fabulous elderly people!!!).

This was before my vegetarian life but unfortunately ever dinner was veal with tomato sauce or veal spaghetti or veal... anyway...! :-)
The gorgeous gelato made up for all that. And I was introduced to something called a "Cappuccino" and an "expresso"! I still remember the tour guide woman saying over the tannoy as we were on the coach "please don't be offended by the tiny cup of coffee. The espresso is a very strong, very concentrated form of coffee. And yes, the milk on a cappuccino is meant to be that frothy".


My favourite pic here is how you've arrange your celery onion and carrot! It made me smile. I scrolled down very fast past the bunny meat - sorry!! But the end result look utterly, utterly yummy! Now if only I can find a veggie alternative to bunnies! :-)Awww! LOL!

Oh but that lovely blog - Designs by Gollum" Pat!!! It's GORGEOUS. Those peanut butter bars look so good I can just lick the screen and have a bite. LOL! Oh wow. Thank you so much.

Take care.


Kathy said...

Oh Pat, how romantic and exciting and adventurous. I think every teen has a dream to visit Europe and just get swept away with it all. This dish looks and sounds so delicious, I have never tried rabbit but will now. I did a spaghetti dish too. Happy weekend, hugs, Kathy.

Tracy said...

Such fun hearing about your high school trip, Pat! :o) This is a great recipe. I don't eat meat anymore, but I an still recall flavors and such, so this we be a very good dish, very elegant too. My meat-eating hubby would like this! ;o) Happy Weekend, my friend ((HUGS))

Carol@ Writers Porch/ Book House said...

Great post Pat! I did not know Italians eat rabbit. I have eaten rabbit stew and also rabbit and gravy.It was really good. :)

The Muse said...

greetings! ah yes, a meaty staple. not many have tasted rabbit. and although it has not been eaten as much here of late, when i was a child it was a staple. i cannot say it looked as good as yours :)

my beloved's dish is at mysterymeatloaf hope you can visit!

Gracie said...

In my region rabbit is so very common, and we truly indulge in the spicy savour this meat have...

Claudia said...

What a wonderful post - bringing past, present, marriage, food, travels all together. My great uncle Emil kept rabbits. When I was little, I thought they were pets. Silly me.

Donna said...

It must have been fabulous to tour Italy...something I've always wanted to do. The Rabbit Ragu looks delish!


Anonymous said...

It looks so delicious. I had jugged hare in an Italian restaurant in Oxford years ago -very tasty.

My grandmother used to make a rabbit stew as it was easy to catch rabbit.

PEA said...

You do realize the Easter Bunny won't be bringing you any chocolates now!! hehe My dad was a moose hunter and many times he'd come home with a moose and rabbits so I was raised eating rabbit meat which mom would put in stews. I'm copying your recipe, it sure does sound very delicious.

What a wonderful trip you were able to go on while in school. I can well imagine the fun memories you have of all those beautiful places. xoxo

Poetikat said...

Pat, I'm following you through Networked Blogs on FB now, so that should make it easier to keep up.

I can't help but think of the little rabbits that show up in my yard when I read this, but you should read my most recent Blast From the Past post which is entitled, "I had rabbit in Belgium".


nanny said...

What fun to read about your trip...I love Italy so much! My daughter and I did a 13 day England, France, Italy, Greece tour and I want to go back and spend much more time in each place. I lived it Vicenza as a newlywed, many years ago and my love for Italy has never weakened!! Great recipe!

Judy ~ My Front Porch said... most certainly looks delicious! I think I have had rabbit stew once or twice...unknowingly, until after the fact. I actually thought it was chicken.

Your high school travel adventures sound most interesting!

Annalisa said...

A wonderful post and what a great recipe!
Lovely memories about your travel to
Have a lovely weekend

Vee said...

Rabbit? Oh my. Okay, would it work with chicken? My uncle-in-law raised rabbits to...well, he raised them. Then he offered them to us many times. We couldn't. Just couldn't. I'm not sure why. He was Italian was my uncle-in-law, but I never saw him eating anything this delicious looking. Usually, it was a baked rabbit with potatoes and vegetables.

Kathleen said...

You ate the Easter bunny?? OH no!
You are adventurous for sure..I couldn't...snails, octopus, nope..Give me a good meatball and I am happy!
How about haggis, do you eat that??

Sue said...

I had a hard time finding Taylor Pork Roll in the South so I'm assuming there is no way that I would ever find Rabbit....Squirrel maybe...rabbit not a chance.

Just a little something from Judy said...

How fortunate you were to be a part of such a memorable and educational trip in your young lifetime. I read through your post thinking how valuable the cultural insights were that you received on a trip like that one.

As for the rabbit, our good friend owns a big market stand where rabbit is a delicacy. I understand why you would enjoy this recipe. It has so many good ingredients in it. As for me, I just don't know if I could do that...but, maybe.

This was an interesting post once again.

guild-rez said...

When it is good time to come for dinner;)
Living in Germany for many years and vacationing in Italy I enjoyed Rabbit Ragu very often.
Now we have rabbit at least once a month for dinner.
Thank you for sharing your recipe and great pictures!!

Joyce said...

Oh but I can only eat chocolate covered bunnies and only at Easter:) Thanks for your comments on my sue chef and yes they grow up so fast. Yesterday he arrived and now he is 3 and talks in sentences and it is so much fun baking with him and playing in my FLOUR together. Life does not get any better:) I don't want to blink because then he will be taking the oath of office as the President of USA:) I should live that long God willing! Let him be well and happy as my Italian GM use to say.

steviewren said...

Pat, what a wonderful story! I'm amazed at your determination at such a young age to work and save for four years for that trip.

Pasta that is 2 feet long? Wow!

I've had rabbit once before. I remember is as being good, but my palate isn't as sophisticated as yours and my brain often gets in the way...I guess I'm wimpy that way.

My Carolina Kitchen said...

Pat, I've been really looking forward to your Italian rabbit. It looks fantastic and I know personally I would love it.

What a fabulous trip for a senior. It must have been very exciting for you.

Dishesdone said...

Glad you showed what it looked like, I think I could taste that now after seeing how delicious it looks! but seeing it on a menu, I probably wouldn't have ever tried until your post! It looks fabulous, and I love that pasta, looks so good!

Nice memories you have :) Your school went on much better trips than mine!

My name is PJ. said...

It looks wonderful - but I'm a dweeb and could not eat a rabbit. That whole idea isn't even grounded in any kind of reality because I will eat a chicken or a cow...and they're cute too.

You would have to cook it for me and not tell me what it was until after I ate it....just like the way you were introduced to it.

But it looks wonderful and I lovvvve good Italian food.

Do you call sauce 'gravy'? Some of my friends from NYC do....

diane said...

What a wonderful exciting trip you had as a teenager and how romantic to marry an Italian. Ihad an Italian boyfriend from Napoli when I was a teenager but ended up marrying a Swiss boy . The rabbit ragu sounds delicious. My mum used to cook rabbit for us often but stopped when our country introduced diseases to get rid of them.

CatHerder said...

never tried it, unfortunately never will..just a mental block thing with small family and hubbys family grew up eating it...after hearing my moms story of her dad using one of the rabbits they raised that she had bonded with, it just kinda turned me off...i bet its good though.....(my father in law LOVES rabbit)...have not been to Italy yet..have relatives shooting for Ireland and Scotland first..

Linda Lou said...

What wonderful memories of your first trip to Italy you shared...I have never had rabbit in my young 56 years, but this recipe sounds so awesome I may have to try it!

Mahovina said...

Hi Pat,
I found your blog today and would
like to come here from time to time.
I love Italian food! My husband
is from Dalmatia in Croatia and
food and language there are
influenced by the Italian culture.
Regards from Germany!

YankeeSoaper said...

What a wonderful memory of your first trip to Italy. We just love rabbit, and your ragu looks and sounds simply scrumptious!

Proud Italian Cook said...

Hello Pat, Although I honestly never have had rabbit your photo's have inticed me! Love all your ingredients and your choice of pasta! I love how food transports you back to wonderful memories, and what great memories you have of that special trip.

Le Crunchy Mama said...

Oh my goodness, that looks delicious! That pasta looks TO DIE FOR!!

Oliag said...

Reading this has brought me right back to my vacations in Italy...This looks absolutely delicious...

The Quintessential Magpie said...

Pat, this sounds like an amazing dish! And how neat that you worked and saved your money to go on that trip. I'm sure that made it all the sweeter. I would try that dish if you were cooking.


Sheila :-)

Liz Watkin said...

I tried this recipe and it was so delicious! Will definitely do it again. FYI you didn't add broth to your ingredients but mentioned it in the method, just thought you might like to know.

Love the blog!

Unknown said...

Hi, I'm trying this recipe in hopes of finding a rabbit ragu as wonderful as the one I ate - question: in the directions you say to add the tomatoes, BROTH, bay leaf, etc. but there is no broth on the ingredient list ...should there be? Thanks!

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

Dear Liz and "Unknown"

I am sorry I wasn't clearer in my description. I meant to say the tomatoes and their juices" instead of broth. My apologies! I edited my text. Thank you for pointing out the error.