As I noted at the start, a lot of Italian food reflects the coldness of a mountainous environment. After the war, food was scarce, and unusual meats had to be hunted down. In the Alpine region, which suffered the longest, Rabbit was often a staple diet. Another was Polenta, a maze meal that can be roasted, baked or fried and has a neutral flavour. It is very cheap to make, and sustained many families throughout the hard post-war years.
Rabbit is available from most good butchers in the UK, although you may have to pre-order it. It tastes just like chicken, but a little richer. I am giving this recipe a danger rating of three severed fingers.
So, to start, you need:
- One Rabbit, dead, skinned and gutted.
- One slab of Polenta
- One handful of baby button mushrooms
- One lemon
- Two tomatoes
- Chicken stock
- White wine
- Plain flour
First, take a red chopping board and put it over a damp piece of kitchen paper, on a work top. Make certain it is stuck down fast. Take a meat cleaver or heavy knife and CAREFULLY cut the rabbit into quarters. Take a hot pan and add a little oil to it. Coat the rabbit in flour and fry gently until it is golden. Add it to a deep baking tray. Move the red chopping board to the wash up area. Replace it with a green board. Chop up your Polenta into roast potato sized pieces. Chop the celery into smaller pieces, and the lemon into quarters.
Pan fry or deep fry the Polenta just until the edges turn golden and crispy. Add it to the tray. Add the celery and the lemon. Wash the mushrooms to remove any loose soil and grit, then add them to the tray.
Boil a kettle and add the boiling water to a deep bowl. Cut a cross into the top of each tomato and place them in the bowl. After a minute the skin will peel off. Once they are peeled, add them to the tray.
Add a small glass of white wine and half a pint of chicken stock poured evenly over the Rabbit, Polenta and vegetables. Cover the whole tray tightly with metal foil and place in the oven. Bake it slowly for three hours. After each hour, add a little chicken stock if it is going dry.
By the time it is cooked it should be tender and falling off the bone, ready to enjoy. Just be aware that rabbit bones are smaller and more brittle.
Enjoy a good, Alpine, autumn/winter night's supper.