The first and only time I served a whole, intact rabbit was several years ago for Easter dinner (insert humorous comment about serving a bunny on Easter). The adults at the table were freaked out; fortunately no kids had been invited! But despite my setback, I stand by serving rabbit as springtime approaches.
Rabbit and lamb both remind me of warming weather, plants blooming and birds returning. Talking about this in February may seem odd, but not in Southern California. Rabbit can be found at many poultry farm stands. I get mine at the Original Farmers Market at 3rd and Fairfax in Los Angeles. They are more than happy to divide a rabbit into 8 pieces, which this recipe uses.
While this rabbit is not prepared in the typical style of a pork preparation, i.e. stuffed, it retains what I think is most important about the traditional dish: fennel. Whether fresh fennel or fennel seeds, it’s that licorice aroma that makes the flavor rich and unforgettable. Adding pancetta and prosciutto gives the lean rabbit lots of extra flavor.
This recipe makes a light main course for 4 people. Pair it with some nice roasted rosemary potatoes and a light Italian red wine.
- 1 cleaned rabbit, cut into 8 pieces; retain the liver and rough chop it
- ¼ lb thick slice pancetta, diced
- ¼ lb thick slice prosciutto, diced
- 1 fennel bulb sliced into thick rounds with fronds reserved
- 2 cloves garlic, smashed
- ¼ cup dry white wine
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Salt & pepper
- Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Salt and pepper the rabbit pieces: liberally sprinkle over each piece.
- In a sauté pan over medium heat, add a tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil. Sauté several rabbit pieces at time until golden brown all over. Repeat in batches until done; remove each batch to a plate.
- Lower the heat to medium-low and add the pancetta. Stir occasionally and cook until golden brown and the fat is rendered into the pan.
- Add the reserved liver and stir and breakup into the pancetta until dissolved. Add the prosciutto and allow it to crisp up as well.
- Add the white wine to deglaze the pan and then add the fennel rounds, the smashed garlic cloves and a touch of salt and pepper. Sauté until the fennel begins to soften. Leave a good amount of bite in the fennel since it will be baked further.
- In a baking dish with a cover, place the rabbit pieces with the meat and fennel mixture spread between them. If the mixture is very dry, add a little water so you have a little broth at the bottom of the pan.
- Bake until internal temperature of the rabbit reaches 160-degrees. Insert an insta-read thermometer into the thickest part of the rabbit to test.
- Serve a leg and a loin piece to each guest and top with cooked fennel and meats. Dress with some of the fennel fronds.