What could be more autumnal (season of mists and mellow fruitfulness and all that) than….a long, hot Sunday morning at the beach, snorkeling and paddle boarding? In Malta, October so far has been a change-over season I’d called autumn into summer, rather than one that echoes the fashion houses’ category ‘AW 2012’. I like to think it’s autumn though as it’s less than a week before clocks go back. I am yearning for deeper flavours and food that takes time in ovens. This rabbit dish does that but without belching heat out from long-slow cooking; it’s designed to let you take a leisurely Sunday morning out and come back to a quick flit in the kitchen. It can be prepped the night before – it’s all the better for it – and needs only half a bottle of white wine poured over and one hour in the oven.
Rabbit was something I grew up on in the UK, though I think I was alone among school friends in having it on the home menu. Both my parents had rural upbringings and shooting rabbits for farmers and having them for free was commonplace. As a child, I remember one particularly tough rabbit that took just about every cooking method to not reach anywhere near tender! Even the pressure-cooker (a real 1970s’ piece of kitchen equipment) failed as the last resort. We’d have a little ditty to accompany rabbits like that:
[quote]rabbit hot, rabbit cold, rabbit young, rabbit old, rabbit tender, rabbit tough, don’t you think we’ve had rabbit enough?[/quote]
Ironic then that I end up spending my adult life in Malta, where lo and behold, rabbit (fenek) is a national dish. The Maltese have a name for ‘going out with a group of friends or family for a rabbit meal’ usually at a village bar – it’s a Fenkata. Rabbit is generally cooked here with red wine, tomatoes, oregano and some other veg thrown in and preceded by a plate of spaghetti with minced rabbit and its kidneys. This recipe makes a subtle, but nonetheless full-flavoured rabbit casserole and, with luck, if you’ve a tender number, it will cook in the hour. No pressure cooker required! Recipe below photos.
Recipe: Autumn Rabbit with Bay, Mushrooms & Olives
1 rabbit (approx. 1,500 kg), jointed
8 garlic cloves, some peeled, some not
1 large, red onion, sliced
8 small, or cherry tomatoes
handful of black olives
350 g mushrooms of choice, sliced thickly
1/2 bottle white wine
salt & pepper
2 tbsp honey
1 dessert spoon, Dijon mustard
4 tbsp white wine or herb vinegar
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Season rabbit and place in an oven-proof casserole dish (no lid needed for cooking). Slice the onion finely and skin tomatoes (leave in boiling water to soak, slip skins off), and then add to the rabbit along with olives, garlic cloves, bay and thyme sprigs. Mix up the marinade and pour over the rabbit and chill overnight or for a good few hours before cooking. When ready to cook, pre-heat oven to 175°C. Pour over the wine and cook for an hour, turning rabbit half way through the cooking time and adding the sliced mushrooms. Lower heat to around 150°C. Check rabbit after an hour; if drying out and not yet tender, add a little water and cover to finish cooking.
Serve with oven-roast, herb potato wedges, and/or crusty bread to mop up the sauce.
All images © Liz Ayling 2012