Hasenpfeffer is also known as braised rabbit in spiced red wine sauce, but the literal translation is “peppered hare.”
We made this dish often when we were first married. That was more than 40 years ago, and rabbit was not as hard to find as it is today. We found some at a local butcher shop, but it came frozen from China, so we took a pass. About a week later, Ditalini found what we were looking for—cut up and frozen rabbit, raised in America—at a high-end grocery store, and we were in business.
- 1/2 lb bacon, chopped
- 1 5-6 lb fresh or defrosted frozen rabbit, cut in serving pieces
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1/2 cup finely chopped shallots (or substitute onion)
- 1/2 tsp finely chopped garlic
- 1 cup dry red wine
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 2 tbs brandy
- 1 tsp currant jelly
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/8 tsp dried rosemary
- 1/8 tsp dried thyme
- 2 tsp lemon juice
Hasenpfeffer cooking in the casserole
Cook bacon until crisp in a large heavy casserole. Remove the bacon and let it dry on paper towels. Put the casserole with the bacon fat aside.
Wash & dry the rabbit, sprinkle with salt & pepper, then dip the pieces in flour. Heat the bacon fat in the casserole on high, then brown the rabbit in the fat, a few pieces at a time. Transfer browned rabbit to a plate. Pour off all but 2 tbsps of bacon fat. Cook the garlic and shallots in the remaining fat. Pour in the wine and chicken stock and bring to a boil, stirring in any brown bits sticking to the casserole. Stir in the brandy, currant jelly, bay leaf, rosemary, and thyme, and return the rabbit and any juices on the plate to the casserole. Add the bacon, cover the casserole, and simmer over low heat for 1 1/2 hours.
Just before serving, remove the bay leaf and add the lemon juice. The sauce should be peppery; you can add more pepper if necessary. You can dip the rabbit and sauce out of the casserole or arrange the rabbit pieces on a platter and pour the sauce over them.
Note: if you have to use smaller pieces of rabbit they will cook faster, so check for tenderness after 1 hour. We were able to find a chopped-up 5-6 lb rabbit, as per the recipe, and we cooked ours the full 1 1/2 hours.
Hasenpfeffer on the plate (the sauce went well with the potatoes, too)
Ditalini’s Aunt Joyce, a first-generation Italian-American and today the matriarch of the della Fagiolis, taught us this authentic gnocchi recipe, brought to the USA from Vittorio Veneto when the family emigrated.
- 5 lbs russet potatoes
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
- salt and pepper to taste
- dash of nutmeg
Ricing the potatoes
Rolling the dough
Cutting the dough
Gnocchi paddle & thumb
Gnocchi cooling by a pot of sauce
Bake the potatoes in their skins until done. Using towels and a sharp knife, peel the potatoes and rice them while they’re still hot. Make a mound of the riced potatoes, then shape a depression in the middle. Add in the flour, egg, and seasonings and knead into a soft, elastic dough.
Cut off sections of the dough and roll them into long tubes about 2/3″ diameter. Cut into 1″ lengths. One at a time, roll them gently across a gnocchi paddle with your thumb and arrange the individual gnocchis on a baking pan dusted with flour. When you’ve rolled all the gnocchi, assuming you used 5 lbs of potatoes, you’ll probably have three baking pans worth. Set them aside to cool.
When ready to cook, bring lightly salted water to a boil and add the gnocchi a few at a time. They’re cooked when they rise to the surface. Remove them with a slotted spoon, drain, and place in a shallow bowl. Spoon Italian meat sauce over the cooked gnocchi, toss with the sauce, and serve with grated Parmesan cheese on the side.
Serving suggestion (with meat sauce & Italian sausage)
I learned about polenta when I married Ditalini. It was what you ate when you were poor, or when you were tired of pasta and wanted something different. Sometime during the 1980s polenta became trendy and today you can find it on upscale restaurant menus.
All it is is ground cornmeal, cooked into a thick mush with salt and water. You can serve it with sauce for an authentic Italian family meal. You can fry leftover polenta in butter and serve it with eggs for breakfast. You can cut slices of polenta, let them cool and harden, and grill them outdoors to serve with Italian sausage, vegetables, or artichokes. It’s great stuff.
- 2 cups polenta meal
- 6 cups water
Bring lightly salted water to a boil, then slowly stir in polenta meal with a whisk. When the polenta is well blended, reduce heat to low, then stir with a long wooden spoon or polenta paddle. Ditalini says you need to stir the polenta frequently as it cooks, and I wouldn’t dare try to let it just sit and cook on its own, though I’ve heard that other people do it that way.
Polenta needs to cook about two hours. It’ll form a crust along the sides and bottom of the pot, and that’s when you know it’s done.
Lay out a dishtowel and invert the pot over it so that the cooked polenta falls onto the towel. Shape the polenta into a loaf with the edges of the towel, then fold the edges of the towel over the polenta and let it cool.
To serve, slice off pieces of polenta and transfer to a plate. We normally top the polenta slices with polenta cheese (yes, there is such a thing) or mozzarella, then spoon Italian meat sauce over the top. Leftover polenta gets saved for breakfast or for an Italian family barbecue.
Polenta with Italian meat sauce, cheese, sausages
This is the real stuff, a family meat sauce recipe from the Veneto region of Italy, handed down to my wife Ditalini from her family, the della Fagiolis. I’m sure the recipe changed as it adapted to life in the United States, but when Ditalini and I visited the old folks in Vittorio Veneto back in the 1980s, we thought their sauce tasted just like ours, so it can’t have changed too much!
Browning meat, onions, garlic
- 1 lb ground beef
- small roast or 1 lb Italian sausage (optional)
- 1 large onion
- 6-7 large cloves garlic
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 2 regular (14.5-oz) cans tomato sauce
- 1 small (6-oz) can tomato paste
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- 1/2 tsp dried basil
- pinch of sugar
Brown the ground beef in a frying pan over medium heat, drain off any fat, and save. Brown the Italian sausage (or roast), drain fat, and save. While the meat is browning, peel and cut up the onion and garlic, then saute same in olive oil in a large stock pot over medium heat, stirring with a wooden spoon. Once the onions and garlic are slightly browned, add the browned meat to the stock pot. Add the tomato sauce and tomato paste. Use the empty tomato paste can to add three cans’ worth of water to the sauce (that’s 18 oz if you already threw the can away). Last of all, add the salt, pepper, spices, and sugar, then stir. Let the sauce come to a gentle boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for a couple of hours. Half an hour before serving, remove the lid and let the sauce continue to simmer (this will thicken it).
Use as much garlic as you like – there’s no such thing as too much. The pinch of sugar helps neutralize the tomato sauce’s acidity. You can make the sauce using only ground beef, but it’s better with two kinds of meat (we use either Italian sausage or a small beef roast).
Serve with gnocchi, polenta, or any kind of pasta.
We love pasta carbonara, but it’s so rich we have it only once or twice a year. Ditalini bases her recipe on one from Mario Batali.
Pancetta and other ingredients
- olive oil
- 8 oz pancetta or bacon
- 1 lb spaghetti or other pasta (fettuccine works very well)
- 1 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (or Parmigiano Reggiano)
- 4 large eggs, whisked
- black pepper
Bring salted water to a boil, add pasta. While it’s cooking, cut up the pancetta and fry in a little olive oil (you can use bacon instead, but skip the olive oil since it will cook in its own fat). When cooked, remove from heat and save the fat (if using bacon save about half the fat). Drain the pasta when cooked al dente, saving 1/4 cup of the water, which you can now mix with the pancetta or bacon in the pan. In a large pot or bowl toss the cooked pasta, the pancetta with water & fat, 1 cup of the cheese, and the eggs (which will cook from the heat of the pasta). Season with black pepper, shake the remaining 1/4 of cheese over the top, and serve.
Notes: Pancetta gives the dish a crispier, saltier flavor. Bacon gives it a smoky, less salty flavor. Some recipes, including Mario Batali’s, call for separating the eggs, tossing the pasta with just the egg whites, then putting a raw yolk in the middle of each serving. Ditalini does not do that … she tosses the pasta with the whites and yolks, and we think most Americans would shy away from eating a bowl of pasta with a raw yolk in the middle.
Ready to eat!
Last night I felt like making a curry with some chicken breast filets, so I did a quick sweep of the cupboard and fridge and pulled out these items:
Looking over available ingredients
I had two different kinds of red curry paste, a Thai style and a jar of Patak’s hot curry paste. I also had a jar of Patak’s hot lime relish, which I’d been meaning to try. I knew I’d use the onion, eggplant, and grapes, but wasn’t sure about the cherry tomatoes.
I eventually settled on the Thai red curry with onion, chicken, eggplant, and some grapes to give it a contrasting cool and sweet taste. I served the hot lime relish on the side, as a garnish.
Here’s the chicken and onion cooking in the curry mixture:
- 2 or three skinned chicken breast filets, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 onion, sliced lengthwise
- 1 can coconut milk
- 2 tbsp red curry paste (Thai or Indian)
- 1 med eggplant, cut into bite-sized pieces
- several green or purple seedless grapes
Sauté the sliced onion in a little vegetable oil, add chicken, cook over medium heat. When partly cooked, remove the onion and chicken from the pan, add half the can of coconut milk, and whisk in the curry paste until well blended. Add the rest of the coconut milk, whisk, then the onion and chicken. Cook over medium heat, covered, for a few minutes, then add the eggplant and cook covered for a few minutes more. When the chicken and eggplant are cooked, remove the cover and add grapes. Simmer uncovered for two or three minutes. Serve over white rice, with a little hot lime paste on a side dish to be used as garnish.
And here’s how it looked when it was all done (you’ll have to look hard to see the rice … I like lots of curry on top):
Ready to eat
Crouton's Smashing Potatoes (served with roasted pork tenderloin and peas)
There are plenty of smashed potato recipes on the net. Here’s how we make them in Crouton’s kitchen:
- 6 small to medium red potatoes
- 1 head garlic
- olive oil
- kosher salt
- freshly ground pepper
First, the big picture: the potatoes cook twice. You boil them before smashing them, then, to add insult to injury, you roast ‘em. But don’t worry, it’s no effort at all, and you can do everything but the final roasting well ahead of time.
Smashing the potatoes (garlic/olive oil mixture in bowl to the right)
Start with the garlic. Peel a head of garlic (you should try this technique … it really works) and chop finely. Place in a shallow bowl of olive oil (about 1/4 cup), add salt and pepper to taste. Let sit so that the flavors get into the olive oil.
Boil the potatoes in salted water for 30 minutes. Place potatoes in cold water afterward until they’re cool enough to handle. One at a time, place potatoes on waxed paper on a hard surface, then press down on them with your hand (you can put a folded dishcloth between your hand and the potato, as shown in the photo). You want to smash them just a little, so that the skin breaks and a few cracks form in the potato … that way the flavored olive oil will get into the cracks.
Turn each smashed potato over with a spatula and brush the top side with the olive oil/garlic mixture. Then, with the spatula, transfer each potato to a baking tray lined with aluminum foil, turning them over again so that the brushed side is down. Spoon more of the olive oil/garlic mixture over the top of each potato.
Ready to roast
Roast potatoes in a preheated oven: 400°F for 30 minutes convection or 450°F for 30-35 minutes conventional. Take them out when they start to turn golden and crispy.
Our son Baguette, daughter-in-law Truffle, and grandson Pesce are here for the week, along with our daughter Escargot and her boyfriend. We celebrated with a few favorite recipes, and I couldn’t resist taking photos. Here are the most appetizing ones IMHO:
Dry-rubbed beef brisket on the smoker
Smoked dry-rubbed beef brisket
Truffle’s pork tenderlion with spätzle
Grilled ribeyes & artichokes
Ditalini’s Mandarin orange salad
The deMenthes & guest
Some of these recipes are already on the blog:
The rest I’ll get to soon: Ditalini’s Swiss chard with bacon and feta cheese (shown with the smoked brisket, above), Truffle’s pork tenderlion and home-made spätzle, and Ditalini’s Mardarin orange salad.
By the way, the object under the beef brisket in the first photo is a pig’s ear. We got it for Baguette’s dog at a butcher shop but it was so gross-looking we decided to smoke it. Once smoked, it was so gorgeous we were tempted to eat it ourselves … the dog thought so too, and devoured it in minutes.
I smoked the brisket on Tuesday, July 2nd; Ditalini was in charge of the Swiss chard, corn, and beans. Truffle cooked pork tenderloin and home-made spätzle on the 3rd. Baguette and I boiled, seasoned, and grilled artichokes the night of the 4th, along with those beautiful ribeye steaks. This morning, the 5th, Ditalini baked a Dutch Baby.
If eating well is a form of patriotism, we’re practically up there with the Founding Fathers!
Later this morning I’m going to photoblog the deMenthe family’s 4th of July feasts. That, along with this entry, will (I hope) signal an end to my long absence from Crouton’s Kitchen.
A long time back I promised to post Ditalini’s Dutch Baby recipe. Dutch Baby is a form of pfannekuchen or pancake, but this recipe is, I believe, simplified and Americanized. Ditalini would like me to note that she learned this recipe from a friend, Melanie Martin.
With this recipe I’m adding a breakfast category to the recipe index. In time I’ll add more breakfast recipes. But enough about that. Let’s get to the Dutch Baby!
Dutch Baby fresh from the oven
- 1 cup flour
- 4 eggs
- 1 cup milk
- 1/3 cup butter
Preheat oven to 450°F. Put butter in a 9″ by 12″ casserole, briefly place casserole in oven to melt the butter, remove from oven. Using a blender, mix the flour, milk, and eggs. Pour batter on top of the melted butter in the casserole (do not stir). Put it back in the oven for 25 minutes. The finished Dutch Baby should be golden brown and lumpy.
Serve with anything you’d normally put on pancakes: powdered sugar, syrup, butter, fruit, etc. You can also mix blueberries or apple slices into the batter before baking.