14th October, 2015
Some time ago I saw a recipe for coniglio in porchetta – a rustic Tuscan dish of rabbit cooked like stuffed, boned pork. I thought it looked marvelous, somewhat like a mini suckling pig …and who could resist that? I was quite keen to try the recipe the next day, but couldn’t find the required fennel or rabbit, so the idea got filed away somewhere in my head. Fast forward about 9 months and game started to appear at the Farmers’ Market which reminded me to try cooking suckling bunny.
I bought a couple of my favourite Napoli sausages from the butcher, to make stuffing and arrived at the Farmers’ Market the next day, sure that the Pheasant Girl at Layer Marney Lamb would have a rabbit for me – she always has three or four. Of course she didn’t, but she did have a small hare (the size of a big wild rabbit) instead and offered me a discount because it was smaller than usual. I hesitated for a second, but thought it might still work, especially as small equals younger, tender and less gamey. I bought a couple of fennel bulbs from Martin at Perry Court, along with my regular vegetables, and rushed home to check the internet for ideas on cooking hare like Tuscan rabbit. I was delighted to find that rabbit and hare are interchangeable and it’s common to cook hare the same way.
Lepre in Porchetta recipe (feeds 3 or 4 depending on the size of the hare):
The main dish:
1 hare with giblets and blood
2 Napoli sausages (casings removed)
6 slices of pancetta or smoked streaky bacon
a dessertspoonful of lard or goose fat
a splash of red wine vinegar
a dessertspoonful of plain flour
sea salt and cracked black pepper
I peeled the stock ingredients, where appropriate and cooked them for 30 minutes in a pressure cooker. If using a normal saucepan then simmer for an hour or so, until the stock tastes good. When the stock is done, strain and allow to cool. I believe the genuine Tuscan broth is simpler than mine, containing not much more than wild fennel stems and garlic.
Chop the giblets and two slices of pancetta or smoked bacon, then mix with the sausage meat and lard to make a stuffing. Stuff the cavity of the hare and use a skewer (or in Tuscany a fennel stem) to close it up. It could also be tied or sewn. Once again I have deviated from the traditional – original recipes for rabbit or hare cooked like pork, involve deboning the animal. I left the bones in for additional flavour.
Season the hare with some salt and pepper, then wrap in 4 slices of smoked bacon or pancetta and put it into a preheated oven at about 200º C for about 20 minutes.
The idea is to brown the meat slightly before adding the stock.
Pour on half a pint of stock (I left a little fennel in my stock) and a splash of red wine vinegar, cover the dish with foil, turn the oven down to 180º and cook gently for 2 hours. Baste the hare every 30 minutes or so and add a bit more stock if necessary. When the hare is cooked, remove it from the dish and wrap it in foil to rest for 30 minutes while you make gravy with the juices.
Slowly stir in the hare’s blood to thicken and add flavour at the end. You must keep stirring while you add the blood or it will clot and go lumpy.
Slice the hare and serve with roast potatoes and seasonal vegetables. Normally hare can taste gamey, but cooked this way it becomes quite refined and delicate.
I recommend drinking a robust red wine like Era Costana Crianza with hare and other game.