Cacciatore Roman style

Why am I always amazed at how much Instagram and social media really influences our needs and wants. My daily feed is literally full of irresistible photos of fantastic food, and so not only  am I very influenced by it but always hungry going through it, and wanting to make it myself ! and then in turn sharing what I have just prepared. The most recent of these notifications came from the wonderful Ed Smith of rocket and squashSmith supported the photo with "just a hint of heat craved here, a murmur a tickle a buzz."It certainly tickled my tonsils .The recipe in question, from his most recent book Crave, was for a cacciatore, and suggested swapping the more customary chicken for rabbit.It all happened so quickly the next thing I knew I was in my butchers purchasing a rabbit and 
having it cut into 8 portions. 

Lean, nutritious, and climate friendly, rabbit can offer us an escape from the industrial meat supply chain. Rabbit meat is rich in vitamins B12 and E, while also having a higher concentration of most minerals. One mineral it is lower in compared to other meats is sodium, making rabbit even more appealing to people with high blood pressure. You can find higher levels of phosphorous and calcium in rabbit than in chicken.High in protein, low in cholesterol. My go to is normally a little Dijon mustard, white wine, herbs, and cream, and hey ho lapin à la moutarde is prepared, fragrant, tender, and mildly gamey, tell me what's easier or more delicious. I made a stock from the bones, then shredded the meat with some of that stock in a food processor for a comforting dish of ragu with tagliatelle. A cinch.
The environmental impact from raising rabbits is low. Rabbits produce six pounds of meat on the same feed and water as cattle consume to produce only one pound, resulting in a smaller overall carbon footprint. ... need I say more, rabbit is sustainable food? Beyond the health benefits of eating rabbit, it's quite delicious and extremely versatile.Interestingly during times of financial difficulty like 

the previous 2 World Wars and the Great Depression, most families raised both chickens and rabbits in their backyard.
Where does the naming convention cacciatore, which in Italy is more traditionally referred to as “alla cacciatora,” come from? The authors explain that “cacciatora” means ‘hunter’s wife,’ and in times past she would have had to rustle up a bubbling hot-pot from anything her hunter hubby dragged home from a hunt. Over the years it became an expression for a stew of mixed meats, usually cooked with tomatoes, wine, and herbs. In Rome, however, ‘alla cacciatora’ implies meat stewed with rosemary, vinegar and a wee bit of anchovies for umami, with not one tomato in sight. This dish probably dates all the way back to ancient Rome when tomatoes had not been brought ashore from South America and often foods were flavored with herbs, vinegar and a dash of garum, the pungent anchovy sauce. The hunter’s catch could be rabbit, chicken, lamb, guinea fowl (which is our favorite as it has so much flavor) or even a meaty fish such as swordfish or monkfish.” There you have it, you thought you knew chicken cacciatore. An Italian classic, right? well now you have perfect chit chat for your next dinner party where this impressive yet easy recipe is the centerpiece.

Here are some regional variations on the theme of cacciatore

  • The Northern-Italian Cacciatore recipes are rich in mushrooms and juniper berries.
  • In Tuscany, the meat is braised along with fresh tomatoes and black olives, then basted with 1 tbsp of white wine vinegar.
  • The Roman recipe alla Cacciatora (as above) requires anchovies and often is prepared without tomato sauce. 
  • In Sicily, it is common to cook the meat with tomato sauce, bell peppers, capers, and anchovies.
  • Besides these examples, the Italian Cacciatore recipe has tons of regional variations and family recipes!
Rabbit Cacciatore
This is the simplest of recipes and one to be practised and played with and elaborated, the additions of dried oregano, mushrooms, juniper, pancetta and olives are all worth trying.

1 rabbit (900g approx.) cut into 8 pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons rendered pork fat* or 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves unpeeled and lightly crushed
Two sprigs rosemary
A good sprinkling of chilli flakes
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
500ml chicken stock
75 white wine
4 canned anchovy fillets (if salted rinse well, if in oil don’t rinse)

Season the rabbit pieces generously all over with salt and pepper. Heat the pork fat or oil in the biggest lidded frying pan or casserole you have (or use 2 if you can’t fit all the rabbit comfortably into 1 pan) and add the garlic and rosemary.
Fry for 2 to 3 minutes over a medium heat until you can smell the herbs strongly; this will flavour the fat. Remove the herbs from the pan before they have a chance to burn and set aside for later. Fry the rabbit pieces on all sides for about 10 minutes, browning all over, until they are a rich golden colour. Be patient and don’t turn them too often; let them brown on one side and then turn to the other.
Pour in the vinegar and wine and bring to the boil. Allow the liquid to reduce for a few minutes, then add the anchovies and the reserved herbs and stir them into the liquid. Put the lid on the pan and reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Cook for 1 hour or until the meat falls easily from the bone. This will depend on your type of meat so allow enough time for it to get really soft. Check the pan every so often and add a little hot water if it looks dry. Adjust the seasoning as necessary and serve on soft polenta or with a side of creamy mashed potato.


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