This, possibly my favourite ragu', is quite different from most of the other ragu's I usually cook. While they like to sit quietly, bubbling gently on the stove for several hours (the longer the better); rabbit cooks very quickly so despite a seemingly endless list of ingredients, this is a relatively quick sauce to make. The original recipe comes from Jenn Louis' fabulous 'Pasta by Hand', but I have made my little changes here and there, as I am wont to do. The main one being that I ask my butcher to mince the whole rabbit (instead of just loin and belly), therefore doubling the recipe and making use of a whole rabbit. These days, farmed rabbit is neither easy to come by, nor inexpensive, and I love the idea of making a big batch so there are portions in the freezer for rainy days. I can't imagine serving this with anything but home-made potato gnocchi, but together with some fresh egg pasta you would also have a very good meal.
Makes enough for at least 10 serves
100 ml extra virgin olive oil
120 g flat pancetta, diced
80 g yellow onion, very finely diced
80 g fennel bulb, tough outer layers discarded, very finely diced
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
8 fresh sage leaves
4 fresh bay leaves
2 teaspoons dried chilli flakes
100 g bottled tomatoes or passata
1 cup (250 ml) red wine
2 litres chicken stock
900 g medium ground rabbit (from one medium-large rabbit)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
unsalted butter, for serving
Warm the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot (cast-iron is perfect). Add the pancetta and cook it over medium-high heat until the fat begins to render and it is barely brown. Add the onion, fennel, herbs and dried chilli flakes and cook until the onion is soft and slightly caramelised (about 3 - 4 minutes). Stir through the passata, season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, and reduce the heat to low. Cook until the tomato thickens and begins to caramelise (about 5 - 7 minutes). Add the red wine and increase the heat a little, stirring until the wine has almost completely evaporated. Add the chicken stock and simmer very gently until the sauce has reduced to about one-third (around 20 minutes).
Add the rabbit to the sauce and simmer until the meat is just cooked (about 10 minutes). Check the seasoning and divide the ragu' into portions if you won't be serving it all right away.
For each serving, warm about half a cup (125 ml) of the ragu' in a saute pan over medium heat with a tablespoon of butter (per serve). Gently simmer for about 4 or 5 minutes until the sauce is no longer watery and it starts to thicken. Add your gnocchi or pasta to the pan, give everything a good toss to coat, and serve with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.