Coniglio alla cacciatora


My great grandfather, Carmine Battaglia, came over from the wee town of Salle, in Abruzzo (that’s the calf of the boot, for the visually inclined) at the tender age of 16 in 1906. I never knew Grandpa Battaglia — he passed when I was just an infant — but the stories about him are legendary. A man of lusty appetites, he fancied himself quite the ladies’ man (though the ladies perhaps did not see things quite the same). At the dinner table, he would consume not only the meat from a chicken, but noisily crunch down the bones as well.

He also notoriously loved his wine and whiskey. In fact, the family would often say that his car wasn’t capable of making it up Broadway hill in my hometown of Schenectady, NY, to the house, as Cappie’s bar was halfway up. He was an avid hunter, which in itself is not a bad thing, but in combination with his drinking had unfortunate results. When he’d return home from the hunt short one of his dogs, he’d say that it got "gun-shy," which no doubt any creature would be after being shot by a crazy, drunk paisan’.

Still, he managed to bring home the occasional rabbit (at least, I hope they were rabbits), and when he did he would prepare them, aptly, in the hunter’s style, or alla cacciatora. This quintessentially rustic Italian preparation has been popularized with chicken in restaurants everywhere, but really lends itself to any small game. Since we prefer to keep our dog, we decided to get our rabbits the new-fashioned way: at the meat market.

Rabbit is not commonly cooked in American homes these days, and finding it can be a challenge. Luckily, when I called Golden Gate Meats to inquire whether I would need to special-order it, I was told that they always have it in stock. Perfect.

Now, when you attempt to butcher a rabbit of your own (and you will have to), you may think you have found yourself on the set of Alien Autopsy. The instinct is to dissect it much like a chicken, but this is no fowl. Do yourself a favor and procure a copy of the excellent Essentials of Cooking by James Peterson and follow the exceedingly lucid step-by-step instructions there.

Not long ago, my aunt decided to make Giada De Laurentiis’ chicken cacciatore recipe after seeing it on the tube. From the first Proustian bite, she was transported back to childhood and Grandpa Battaglia’s rabbit. The only difference, I’m told, true to his lusty nature, was that he had a heavier hand with the red pepper. That is one trait I myself have inherited.

Coniglio alla cacciatora
Adapted from Chicken Cacciatore, Giada De Laurentiis, Food Network

2 rabbits, quartered and trimmed
Flour, for dredging
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 large sweet onion, diced
several cloves garlic, finely minced or crushed
3/4 c. dry white wine
3/4 c. chicken stock
1 28-oz. can chopped tomatoes
3 Tbsp capers, rinsed and drained
2 Tbsp dry oregano
2 Tbsp fresh oregano, chopped
good pinch red pepper flake
salt and pepper

Season the flour with salt and pepper, and dredge the rabbit pieces, shaking off any excess flour. Let rest on a drying rack for a few minutes. In a wide, deep skillet, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil until shimmering. Add the rabbit and brown on all sides. Remove the rabbit.

Add the bell pepper, onion and garlic and saute until softened and the onions are translucent. Add the white wine and simmer until reduced by half. Add the stock, tomatoes, capers, red pepper and oregano, and bring back to a simmer. Season to taste. Add the rabbit and simmer all together until the rabbit is cooked through and the sauce is thickened, about 20 minutes.

Serve on a heated plate with a grating of Parmigiano Reggiano.

  • I really love rabbit. I grew up with it being fried though, like fried chicken. Here in Hawaii it’s not possible to find. I even went into a meat supply place and asked at the window. The three women behind the window broke into hysterics, thinking I was making a joke. They’d never even heard of eating rabbit. I’ve seen it (& ordered it) on exactly one menu here: The Volcano House on the Big Island. They specialize in game, though.
    The best rabbit I’ve ever had was at a now gone restaurant, Sergio’s on College Ave. in Rockridge. It was served with a sauce that was somewhere between cacciatora and puttanesca with potatoes in the sauce. All served over soft polenta. It was amazing.

  • So relieve to hear we will not be served Reese alla cacciatora anytime soon 🙂
    I’ve been surprisingly impressed by Giada’s recipes when I’ve tried them. Glad to hear this is another keeper.

  • Being a sort of enthusiast when it comes to cookbooks, though only a beginner when it comes to cooking, I immediately followed the link to Essentials of Cooking, sensing that it might be a worthwhile addition to my collection, and looking at the amazon website, it seemed very nice.
    The name seemed familiar to me, and I remembered that I did have a book with a way to butcher a rabbit explained, so I took at look. Turned out it was the Danish version of Essentials of Cooking (Called “Gastronomisk Grundbog”, for any Danes out there, and can be had at Bilka or Føtex quite cheaply).
    For a beginner like me, getting a huge number of illustrations for the almost trivial tasks of a professional chef is a great help, and I really like this book. The translation is decent, though it does have some ‘Americanisms’.
    Do you have any other recommendations of books essential to a beginner in cooking?

  • My 1979 edition of Joy of Cooking doesn’t show how to butcher a rabbit, but it does have an illustration of how to skin one. How to skin a squirrel is on the next page. My later 1985 edition has neither.
    Still, I think Joy of Cooking is an essential cookbook to have in your library. It does a great job of explaining things and giving definitions of terms.
    A more modern book Mark Bitman’s How to Cook Everything is also good for the beginner.

  • Thanks for the tips on other good technique cookbooks, and I’ll be sure to check out Sergio’s (is it still there?).

  • Sergio’s is gone. The food was very good. We told the owner’s wife, it reminded us of Il Latini in Florence. She exclaimed that Sergio had worked there. I see from internet search that they move out to San Ramon. Sergio’s Trattoria

  • kudos! traditional cacciatora is made with rabbit. i absolutely love this dish. i wish rabbit was cheaper to make b/c i would make it more often. Fabulous recipe!

  • Most of Italy dislikes hot chilli heat, a mere hint suffices. With two exceptions: the regions of Abruzzo (the calf as you say)and of Calabria (the toe)where they searing killer heat!

  • This is a very Southern (Italy) Cacciatora recipe with its capers, tomatoes and oregano: oregano is never used and capers rarely used in the Northern Italian cuisines where a Cacciatora (Hunter’s wife dish) is likely to include mushrooms picked by Mr Hunter in the woods, maybe some pancetta, parsely, sage and rosemary for herbs, and often no tomato at all. The tomatoes and bell pepper suggest this is a summer dish while the sprinkling of PR cheese from Emilia-Romagna in Northern Italy must be a personal touch!

  • Since two of the three branches of my family come from Abruzzo and Calabria, it stands to reason I love chili peppers so!