Saturday, April 23, 2011

Thanks Easter bunny! Bawk, bawk!

Rabbit sugo with pappardelle. © Ryan Schierling
When my dad was a child, he and a friend decided to go hunting. His buddy had a bb gun, and so off they tromped through field and stream, forest and glen, in search of wild and wily critters. They returned with a rabbit, and I can only imagine my father holding the expired beast aloft by the ears as he proudly presented it to his mother (my grandmother) to clean and cook for them. "No way! Get that thing out of here!" was apparently her response, quashing my father's dreams of ever becoming a big game hunter.

Anyone can have a grandma, I guess, but not everyone has a nonna.

Julie and I have been preparing rabbit and eggs on Easter Sunday for a number of years now. The last incarnation was breakfast – rabbit sausage, over-easy eggs and little bunny-shaped toasts. This year, we decided on rabbit sugo with hand-made pappardelle, a little fancier Easter bunny and Easter eggs.

But where to get bunny here in Austin? We checked Central Market first, but were left feeling a bit sad for the Pel-Freez rabbits and the uncertainty of where they came from and how they got there. Were they factory rabbits stuck in cramped, stacked-up cages their whole life? Were they chock full of antibiotics and who-knows-what-else? Back home, a little bit of internet and a little bit of phone calling directed us to Sebastien Bonneau and his Countryside Family Farm in Bastrop. Bonneau raises rabbits, ducks, geese, chickens and pigeons for meat, and he had the happy bunnies that we were looking for. He was also willing to make room in his busy Sunday schedule for us to pick up the rabbit directly from him.

This is one of those recipes, like ragu, where I imagine there are a core set of ingredients that are necessary (mirepoix, wine, some type of meat). But beyond that, I figure all's fair in love and sugo.

I stayed pretty close to my usual ragu recipe, which includes onion, carrot and celery, garlic, red wine, and whole peeled tomatoes. Tiny brown mushrooms were quartered and sauteed with the mirepoix, along with a rough chop of the rabbit's liver. I added a couple splashes of balsamic vinegar for a sweet brightness, only because the pinot noir I bought wasn't as acidic or fruity as I'd expected. A little bit of fresh thyme and marjoram were added for additional depth of flavor and because they're busting out of our herb garden out back.

The rabbit, which had been brined for 12 hours, was patted dry, quartered, and dredged in a bit of seasoned flour before being browned. The kidneys went to the cats, because they like bunny too. Once browned, the rabbit pieces were added to the sauce, pushed down to cover, and the whole thing simmered over low heat for 3 hours. When the meat was tender enough to pull off the bone, the rabbit was removed, the meat was pulled and put back into the sauce.

Julie made fresh pasta using fresh eggs, semolina and bread flour – a wonderfully simple "Blinding Pasta Recipe" from Jamie Oliver's "The Naked Chef Takes Off." "He makes me feel like an old hand at making pasta," she said after cranking out more pappardelle than we knew what to do with.

(L) Hand-made pappardelle. (R) Simple Life. © Ryan Schierling
The end result was a stunningly rich, beautiful but simple dish that – if you're only going to eat bunny once a year – we think you should try.

Rabbit sugo

1 3-4 lb. rabbit, brined for 8-12 hours
1 large white onion, diced
3 carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
20 or so small crimini mushrooms, quartered
500 ml pinot noir 
1 28 oz. can of whole, peeled Italian tomatoes with juice
balsamic vinegar
fresh thyme, fresh marjoram, 1 bay leaf, fresh flat-leaf parsley
salt and pepper

After brining the rabbit, pat it dry and cut it into quarters. I cut off all four legs and also removed the tenderloins, dredged them in seasoned flour and browned them in oil in a heavy cast-iron Dutch oven. After a few minutes cooking on each side, the rabbit is removed from the pan and the onion, carrot, celery, mushrooms and rabbit liver are added to saute over med-low heat until the onions are soft and the mushrooms have begun to create liquid, about 8-10 minutes.

Add 3/4 of a bottle of pinot noir to deglaze the pan, turn the heat up and bring everything to a boil for a bit. Turn back down to simmer, add tomatoes, a couple good pinches of salt, a handful of fresh thyme, some roughly chopped fresh marjoram, and a couple good splashes of balsamic vinegar. Add the rabbit pieces back into the sauce. Toss a bay leaf in, pour yourself a glass of the remaining pinot noir, and simmer the sauce for 2-3 hours or until the rabbit meat comes off the bone easily.

Once the rabbit meat can be pulled apart, remove it from the sauce, pull the meat from the bones (keep an eye out for little tiny bits of bone or fragments – rabbits are dainty things) and add it back to the sauce. Adjust seasoning to taste, and get your pasta going. If you find the sauce is too thick for your liking, add a bit of pasta water to thin it.

Toss pasta with sauce, garnish with flat-leaf parsley. 


  1. This is one of the most luscious, delectable and down-right YUMMY looking picture I have EVER seen. Want.want.want.

  2. I agree! If it was possible to *live* in this photo, I think I would have to try.


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