July 29, 2013

Roast Rabbit and Pomegranate Risotto


I understand why American people become enamored of Italian culture. Although a reverence for local foods can be found in many places world-wide, the Mediterranean climate allows such traditions to shine through the variety of ingredients available year-round.

In Vermont, we cultivate beautiful vegetables, tend to winter-hardy fruit
trees, pasture healthy animals, and grow an impressive variety of grains. Because our growing season lasts five months at best, we do not have access to fresh foods all the time. As supplies dwindle during the cold months, so do I feel a growing desire to visit the warmer places where these foods grow year-round. 

Certain parts of California may reflect the Italian peninsula's growing season, but the scale on which food is raised does not compare to the small production to which Italy must adhere due to its mountainous geography.

With the Apennine mountains running a spine north-south and the Alps holding the northern part of the country, there are few places to cultivate anything on more than a handful of acres. Hence, even though the growing season here is luxurious, Italian food acquires a precious quality due to its small-scale production. Regional recipes are integral to the cultural paradigm. 

One of my childhood memories of is marked by the truckloads of blood oranges and clementines that make their way North from Sicily. Here in the Po River Valley, my father and I discovered an agritourism that raises rabbits and grows pomegranates, both of which get sent to other Italian provinces so that others may enjoy them. 

In honor of our local foods, we decided to make pomegranate risotto and roast rabbit with white wine and chestnuts. Risotto is a rice dish that hails from Italy and has myriads of regional variations. To make this beloved primo piatto, or first course, with the tangy crimson-seeded fruit that informs the length of Persephone's stay in the underworld, it is essential to remove the seeds from the fruit body, boil them briefly, and spin them through a sieve in order to catch the brilliant juice. This succus becomes the broth with which we cook the rice.

Rabbit meat is rich and lean, but can often profer a gamey flavor unless and retained water is removed first. We seared and rinsed the rabbit before placing it in a roasting pan with garlic and much of the rosemary and sage we collected when we visited the hill village Arqua Petrarca. These herbs, when minced, create a paste that can coat the rabbit and help it to retain its juices while roasting. We poured a quarter bottle of the whine wine made by one of my dad's university colleagues into the roasting pan and sent it on its way into the hot oven. 

Meanwhile, we sliced crescents along the rinds of chestnuts gleaned from Imperia, a nearby town on the ocean. We placed them on a baking sheet and roasted them until the nut meat began to escape from each sliced section. We wanted to peel them immediately, savor some of their sweetness as a prelude to our meal, but we had to allow them to cool. 

Instead, we sampled some of the rye bread we had baked with flour from my family's home town in the Dolomite mountains of Trentino alongside a few of the tangy, tiny black olives that my father picked and pickled in Pienza, Tuscany last year. Bread and olives can provide enough temporary respite to any hungry Italian. 

When we added the chestnuts to the rabbit, gave the risotto its final stir, poured bubbling glasses of Serprino Prosecco from the nearby Euganei Hills, and sat down to dinner, we were satisfied by the process before we ever ate one bite.

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