A Recipe for Wild Rabbit Ragu and Gnocchi

gnocchi

I have never been much of a rabbit hunter. Every one of the rabbits I've shot in my life have all been taken when I was either pheasant hunting or grouse hunting. I've always viewed them as just a bonus when out hunting other species. I wish I knew more about hunting bunnies because I do love eating them. (If I could hunt them in my backyard, though, I’d be a legendary rabbit hunter. It seems like they're always in my garden or digging a den under my daughter's play house.)

So, while I didn’t shoot any rabbits myself this year (I spent the majority of my hunting time chasing deer and ducks), I did end up with four rabbits in the freezer. One of the funniest things in my life is that I receive some fairly odd phone calls and text messages from friends and family about wild game. My father-in-law phoned to ask if I wanted the rabbit he caught in a live trap under his deck. A coworker sent me a text stating that her dog had just killed a rabbit in their yard, and did I want it. (So far that dog has secured me three rabbits.)

It only takes a couple of minutes to skin and gut a rabbit, and they're so damn tasty that I really can't pass one up. Now I figured it was time to do something with all of them. I'd seen an English chef named Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstahl make bunny burgers once, so I figured, why not grind the meat and try that? Then I came across a recipe for a rabbit ragu and I just had to give that a go. The recipe originated with Jenn Louis in her book Pasta By Hand. I changed a few things and the results were amazing. After grinding the rabbit and simmering it in the sauce, the meat practically melts in your mouth. This ragu is a little watery by design, so that when you add the gnocchi, its starches thicken the sauce.

INGREDIENTS

3 tablespoons olive oil
2 ounces Guanciale or bacon
¼ cup diced onion
1 leek, diced
1 large carrot, diced
1 sprig fresh rosemary
½ tsp rubbed sage
2 sprigs fresh thyme
3 bay leaves
½ tsp ground fennel
1 tsp red pepper flakes
½ cup tomato sauce
½ cup red wine
4 cups of rabbit stock, or chicken stock
1 pound ground rabbit
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound gnocchi (you can buy these at most grocery stores or you can make you own using this recipe)

METHOD

In a large heavy pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat and start cooking the guanciale (or bacon) to render out the fat. After the guanciale starts to brown a little, add the onions, leeks, and carrots, and cook for 4-5 minutes. Stir in the rosemary, sage, thyme, bay leaves, red pepper flakes, and fennel. Cook for 3-4 minutes more until the onions are soft. Pour in the tomato sauce and cook the sauce until it starts to thicken, then add the red wine. Cook the sauce until the red wine is almost all evaporated, then pour in the stock. Continue cooking until the stock has reduced by a third. Add the ground rabbit and stir until all the little bits are broken apart. Simmer the sauce for about 10 minutes. This will yield about six cups of ragu.

When you are ready to serve the dish, heat two cups of sauce over medium high heat, then stir in two tablespoons of butter. When the butter is incorporated, add the cooked gnocchi and continue cooking for 2-3 minutes until the sauce thickens. Serve with parmesan and some fresh parsley.