During my childhood years, the spring season was always a refreshing reminder of a cold, hard NY winter finally coming to an end. The chance to finally wear less than three layers of clothing and run outside without a jacket.
We would celebrate spring’s offering on Easter with our famiglia, time spent in many kitchens creating dishes I had seen spring after spring, year after year. The main courses consisted of baby lamb and goat roasted on the first grille of the new season… a sweet reminder of the upcoming summer barbeques to come.
The delicious new spring vegetable courses were, fresh peas, asparagus, baby artichokes in a wide variety of preparations (sauteed, stuffed and marinated in vinegar, olive oil, herbs and spices.)
Dan took me to an incredible food spot in New York City during our second-time around courting days called Cafe Luxembourg where we proceeded to order the chef’s pasta special that evening, a braised rabbit and vegetable combo over homemade papardelle egg pasta.
We were both speechless sharing this dish, the flavors of the tender braised rabbit combined with new spring vegetables and the lightness of the paper thin pasta noodles made for a divine meal that left us supremely satisfied and not overwhelmingly stuffed or sleepy full.
That weekend was wonderful, and as I flew home, I noted the ingredients and reached out to the restaurant months later via email asking the chef to please share his recipe. The response was bittersweet as they would have been more than happy to share the recipe but the Chef had moved on as it happens in the city and they did not know where he landed.
I took it upon myself this holiday season to recreate this dish, one that touched our hearts as much as our stomaches during that reaquainting time in our lives.
This is what I have created, a dish we all enjoyed on Easter Sunday. It was lovely, light, delicious and very beautiful to see and eat, savoring all the flavors as we went. Carina and Isabella made the pappardelle egg noodles for this dish by hand (hand rolled and hand-cut), something that Dan and I will hold in our memories and heart as it made this dish all the better for both of us.
The braised rabbit recipe is one I adapted and revised a bit from a recipe I found by Lidia’s Italy.
braised rabbit with herbs & onions
4 plump garlic cloves, peeled
2-3 celery ribs and leaves
2 tablespoons loosely packed fresh sage leaves, (6 to 8 large leaves)
1 small bunch of fresh flat leaf parsley
6 tablespoons or so of extra-virgin olive oil
two whole rabbits (fresh or previously frozen & thawed completely), about 3 lbs. or so, cut into serving pieces
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons all-purpose unbleached flour
½ cup to 3/4 cup white wine
1 tablespoon or so of red-wine vinegar
½ cup veal broth (or a combination of veal and vegetable broth) homemade preferred
for the braised rabbit:
With a food processor, mince the pancetta or prosciutto, garlic, sage, parsley and approximately 2 tablespoons of the olive oil into a fine-textured pestata (like a pesto.)
Pour the remaining olive oil into a deep stock pot and set it over medium-high heat and begin to saute the pestata.
Cook and stir until the pestata has dried a bit and just begins to stick to the bottom of the pan, about 3 to 4 minutes.
Lay the legs or pieces in the pan in one layer, reduce the heat, and cover the pan.
Cook gently for about 10 minutes, allowing the meat to give up its juices and brown very slowly, until all the pieces are lightly golden colored on one side.
Flip them over, cover the stock pot and slowly brown the second side, about another 10 minutes or so. (If the pot is not large enough for all the pieces, work in batches, remove the first batch and repeat with the second until done).
Add all the cooked pieces back into the stockpot, add in the celery ribs and leaves and the white wine; saute this slowly until the wine reduces a bit. Now add the veal or veal & vegetable combo stock and the red wine vinegar to the mixture using a wooden spoon coat the pieces with the stock evenly and adjust the heat until it is cooking at a slow, simmering bubble.
Leave this to cook, for about 30 minutes or more until the pan juices turn to a thick brown glaze, always turning and tumbling the rabbit pieces as it cooks to ensure even flavor and balance (remove from the heat and set aside to cool.) Once cooled a bit, remove the cooked meat from all the bones, careful as rabbit does have very small bones, etc. Place the rabbit meat back into the stock pot with the pan juices, etc. and set aside for adding to the dish later.
NOTE: If the pan juices are too thin or watery at the finish, before adding in the de-boned rabbit meat; place the stock pot with the pan juices on medium heat and simmer to reduce for an additional 10 to 15 minutes or so, stir and check this often as it can stick and burn and ruin the final sauce (this final sauce will be used for the pasta dish.)
fresh pappardelle egg pasta and spring vegetable mixture
3 to 4 large sweet carrots, peeled and cut into small slices
1/2 cup or so of fresh baby brussel sprouts (trimmed and sliced in half)
fresh frozen baby sweet peas (thawed and drained)
2-3 fresh very ripe roma tomatoes, chopped into medium size pieces
1 box of baby frozen artichokes (thawed and drained)
2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
sea salt and black pepper
vegetable stock (homemade preferred)
homemade fresh cut pappardelle egg noodles (see recipe link) for the pappardelle, roll the pasta dough into thin sheets and then cut the wide strips by hand and lay out to dry.
In a large deep skillet, drizzle some olive oil and add a few pieces of the chopped garlic, saute lightly until aromatic. Remove the garlic and discard. Add in the cut carrots and saute for a moment or two until beginning to brown lightly; add a dose of the stock and stir gently and continue to cook on medium heat until the carrots soften a bit and the liquid reduces. Remove the carrots from the skillet and reserve the stock in a small bowl.
Repeat this process with the olive oil and garlic pieces for the baby brussel sprouts and remove when tender and then repeat the process for the baby artichokes; use the reserved stock from the carrots and add more for each vegetable you are sauteing. Set all the cooked vegetables aside in their seperate bowls.
In a large stock pot of boiling well salted water, cook the pappardelle noodles until soft (they cook very quickly as they are freshly made.) Drain out the noodles and palce in a large flat platter and drizzle lightly with olive oil so they do not stick.
In a large medium deep skillet add your desired amount of the rabbit meat and braised meat sauce from the stock pot. Place on medium low heat until it starts to simmer lightly, add in your cooked brussels, carrots and artichokes blend gently into the sauce and let simmer very slowly and lightly.
Add in the fresh peas and chopped tomatoes at the very end, these only need to warm up in the dish for 1 to 2 minutes and they are ready.
Now add the cooked pappardelle to the slowly simmering sauce and add more sauce (or a good splash of additional veal stock if the sauce is too thick.) let this simmer slowly, stirring gently until the noodles are well coated. Remove from the heat and season with additional sea salt and pepper to taste before serving; serve immediately with some fresh chopped parsley for flavor and garnish.
NOTE: Store the remaining rabbit meat in the refrigerator or freezer to add to risotto or future pasta dishes. Reserve and freeze any remaining braising sauce for future dishes as well in a separate container.
Note: Photography by Annette Venditti