Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Rose wine rabbit ragout with Pancetta and Asparagus risotto

For somber reasons my Mother’s day was not all that great, never the less I was determined to make the best of it.  So even if I was not waited on hand and foot, I wanted to have a really nice meal.  Like really, really, really nice, something comforting, yet gourmet, something that you can find on the menu of a good restaurant.  Something, which is not often cooked at home (although I don’t know why).  So with the help of my trusted sous chef (daughter) and newly appointed kitchen “slave” (son), who takes out the garbage and keeps the dogs from hypnotizing me into stone ( they try it every time I walk into the kitchen) I set out to make my own Mother’s day meal.   
Rabbit may just be the underdog (no pun intended) of all proteins.  You will see it on the menu in some of the finer French restaurants, but it is not considered a mainstream ingredient and honestly I rarely find that it is cooked to my liking.  When I think of rabbit, I don’t think of fancy meals, it is a peasant game and should be treated as such.  The classic French rabbit stew calls for white or rose wine and lots of thyme to compliment the gaminess of the meat.  I needed something that would go well with the beautiful ragout sauce so I thought of risotto, which also gets bad reputations because it is considered hard to get right.  The only thing hard about risotto is keeping yourself from eating the whole pot.  If armed with patience and a few basic rules, the delight of risotto can be yours anytime you have 30 minutes.
 Most of the time, rabbit is sold hole and after taking all the meat off the carcass, you will be left with a lot of good bones.  I always prefer to make my own stock and hate to see perfectly good bones go to waste.  In this dish, I think it makes a world of difference.


Rose wine rabbit ragout.
2 lbs of rabbit meat on the bone (you can use the combination of thighs and tenderloin)
1 carrot chopped
1 small onion chopped
¾ cup of celery chopped
5 cloves of garlic chopped
1 lb of white button mushrooms sliced
2 tbs of butter
1.5 cups of apple brandy or cognac
3 cups of dry Rose wine (use a good quality French Rose that you would drink)
3 cups of rabbit stock (recipe follows) or chicken stock
10 thyme springs
¼ cup of heavy cream
Olive oil
Salt and Freshly ground black pepper

In a heavy bottomed pot or a Dutch oven, heat 3 tbs of olive oil.  Salt and Pepper the rabbit meat generously and brown in batches.  Set aside.  Add 1 tbs of olive oil if needed and add the mushrooms, lowering the heat slightly.  Brown the mushrooms and lower the heat to medium-low.  Add the butter, onions, celery, carrot and garlic.  Cook stirring often, until the vegetables are tender.  Deglaze the pan with brandy, scrapping the bottom.  Cook for a minute or two until most of the alcohol has evaporated.  Return the rabbit meat back to the pot, stir and add all the wine and stock.  The liquid should cover most of the meat.   Add a generous amount of black pepper and salt to taste. Top with all the thyme springs and bring to a boil.  Cover, reduce the heat and simmer for 2 hr or until the meat is very tender and is falling off the bone.
Take out all the rabbit meat, shred it with 2 forks and discard the bones and the thyme.  Strain the brazing liquid, discarding all the cooked vegetables.  Return the brazing liquid to the pot and reduce on high heat until reduced by half.  Add the cream, check for seasoning and let the mixture reduce for a few more minutes.  Add the shredded rabbit meat back into the sauce and let stand covered for a few minutes before serving.

Pancetta and Asparagus risotto.
1 lb of Arborio rice
½ pound of pancetta chopped fine (you can use bacon as well)
1 cup of chopped asparagus
1 tbs of olive oil
2 tbs of butter
1 cup of dry white wine
42 oz of rabbit stock (Recipe follows) you can use chicken stock as well – I find it hard to predict how much liquid your risotto will take on, so I prefer to have extra stock just in case.
¾ cup of grated parmesan cheese
½ cup of grated pecorino cheese
For the Gremolata:
½ cup of chopped parsley
Zest of ½ a lemon
Chop the parsley and the lemon zest together to incorporate the flavors better than just tossing together.

Have your stock simmering on low heat….except for the wine, which should be at room temperature, all the liquid going into the rice, should be hot, otherwise you will end up with an unevenly cooked risotto. In a large skillet heat the olive oil.  Add the pancetta and cook until crispy and all the fat have been rendered.  Lower the heat; add the butter and the asparagus.  Cook for only a few minutes, just so that the asparagus begins to soften, you do not want it to become too soft.  Set the pancetta and the asparagus mixture aside, leaving all the fat in the skillet.  Add the rice, stir to coat in the rendered fat and toast for a few minutes, until the rice begins to smell nutty.  Adjust the heat to medium, add the wine and stir using a wooden spoon.  Season with salt and pepper.  Stir until most of the liquid is absorbed, then begin adding stock, a few ladles at the time.  Stir slowly and make sure that most of the liquid is absorbed before adding more.  They say, it takes 22 minutes to cook a risotto, for me it takes anywhere between 25 and 30, for al dente.  Keep adding stock and stirring until the cornels are plum, rice looks creamy and the cornels are cooked but still have a bite to them.  A properly cooked risotto should not look stiff, but spread gently when plated.  When you are happy with the rice texture, stir in the cheeses and serve immediately.

To assemble the whole dish, plate the risotto, toping with the rabbit ragout and a few spoonful’s of the sauce (it will pool around the risotto on its own).  Garnish with the gremolata and serve immediately.

Rabbit stock.
Rabbit bones
Approximately 10 cups of water or whatever your large stock pot fits
2 tsp of tomato paste
1 small onion
1 carrot
2-3 ribs of celery
5 garlic cloves
Handful of parsley
3-4 thyme springs
1 bay leaf (fresh if you have it)
2 tbs of black or mixed peppercorns
Salt (I like to keep the salt in stocks to a minimum, allowing for proper seasoning later when used in sauce)
Preheat the oven to 450F.  Smear the tomato paste all over the rabbit carcasses, place on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil and roast for 35-45 minutes until the bones are nicely browned.  Combine the bones, water and all of the ingredients in a large stock pot.  There is no need to peel or chop the vegetables as they will be discarded at the end anyway.   Bring to a boil and simmer on low, uncovered for 3 to 5 hrs (or until your patience runs out) skimming the shmutz of the top once in a while.  Strain the stock through a fine mesh.  Freeze in plastic containers if not using right away.



This was delicious!  Happy Mother’s day to me and to all of you Mothers out there!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Caprese salad with a twist.


It is the strawberry season and since I missed the picking last year, I decided to make up for it this time around.  I can’t help myself; I get caught up in the picking experience.  I can do it for hours, kneeling on the patch, stuffing my face with perfectly ripe, still hot from the sun strawberries, one for me… and one for the box… As always, I over picked, grossly….and even after making a batch of jam ( which I will post very soon) I have a lot of strawberries left, which means it is time to get creative.    This is the recipe inspired by one very similar in the “Around my French table” book.  Adding strawberries to a caprese salad seems strange as strawberries and tomatoes never cross seasons, so at least one of them would be less than stellar…but I got lucky, I happened on very good buffalo mozzarella, some very decent heirloom tomatoes (actually local but from a greenhouse), I just planted my own basil and could already spare a few leaves and of course the strawberries were perfect.   Try it, the combination is unusual but interesting, and makes a very good snack or an appetizer…

Strawberry Caprese salad.
Traditional Cparese salad is made with buffalo mozzarella but regular cow-milk fresh pulled cheese is good as well.  I also like mild goat cheese here for a very different twist…
Good quality, very ripe tomatoes cut into thick slices
Fresh buffalo mozzarella cut into slices
Fresh basil either chopped or torn
Fresh strawberries sliced
Lemon zest
Salt
Fresh Pepper
Extra Virgin olive oil

Toss the strawberries, lemon zest and half of black pepper, let stand a few minutes.  Assemble the salad by stacking tomatoes, mozzarella and basil.  Add strawberries on top of the basil.  Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and black pepper.