Saturday, May 22, 2010

Rice Salad with Taggiasca Olives and Ligurian Extra Virgin Olive Oil

I am officially a fan of Ligurian olive oil and Taggiasca olives.

After eating a rich, tasty, hearty rabbit for dinner yesterday, I wanted something light for brunch and made rice salad with leftover Jasmin rice.

The thing is, when I drizzled some of the Ligurian extra virgin olive oil onto the rice, tossed it around a bit and tasted it, it was...wonderful! It felt like a violation to put anything else into it as a matter of fact.

I hesitated to add any other ingredients for fear of corrupting the lovely flavors which for some reason reminded me of stepping onto a layer of virgin snow.

I added some Taggiasca olives first and some salt, and tasted it again.

So far so good.

Then I added some ripe red cherry tomatoes I picked-up at the market yesterday as well as some thinly sliced red onions.

Then I added some chopped basil.

Still really nice.

Then I got more daring and added some tuna, because this is what goes into these kinds of salads usually.

It was tasting all very good and then I wondered about adding lemon juice.

Would this be too strong?

I only added a few drops and tossed the salad around.

Got more daring and ground some black pepper on top.

To be a purist, you'd need to procure tuna packed in Ligurian olive oil, but even with this shortcoming, the rice salad still tasted great.

Jasmine Rice Salad with Taggiasca Olives & Ligurian Extra Virgin Olive Oil


Leftover Jasmine Rice
Ligurian Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Taggiasca Olives
Red Onion
Cherry Tomatoes
Fresh Basil Leaves
Lemon Juice
Sea Salt
Black Pepper

This is a leftover recipe and there are no steps to be followed, but I would suggest tossing the rice with the olive oil first, and then adding the other ingredients. I prefer to put the basil in last because it can get bruised and discolor. The amount of each ingredient is left to the discretion of the cook as some people prefer a stronger onion flavor, stronger lemon flavor and so on. However, if you want to retain the lovely taste of the olive oil, it's advisable to use as little as you can (except for the Taggiasca olives of course!).

Friday, May 21, 2010

Coniglio alla Sanremasca (Ligurian Rabbit Recipe – Sanremo Style)

This is a typical Ligurian recipe. Water or clear broth is more commonly used rather than wine. Vermentino wine is used only in western Liguria. According to Samuele, there are two different schools regarding what kind of wine should be used: Vermentino (white) or Rossese of Dolceacqua (a young red wine similar to the Pinot Noir). This recipe is known as "Coniglio alla Sanremasca" (Sanremo-style Rabbit) and is very well-known in the Riviera di Ponente (western Ligurian Riviera). I used a dry white Spanish table wine in my first attempt, but will be experimenting with other dry whites in the future. Since we're talking about reducing half a liter of white wine, the taste of the wine isn't a hidden flavor but comes to the fore in this recipe.

Last but not least, fresh thyme is mandatory for this recipe, and more important than rosemary, as these herbs grow wild in the Sanremo hillside and are used abundantly in local cuisine.

Does this look right, Samuele?

Coniglio alla Sanremasca (Ligurian Rabbit Recipe – Sanremo Style)

Start: 15:30

End: 18:00

Total Cooking Time: 2.5 hours


Serves 2- 3

1 - 1/2 Rabbit

1/2 Medium Sized White Onion

1 Rib of Celery

1 Carrot

2 Big Cloves of Garlic (Do not peel!)

2 Sprigs of Fresh Rosemary

3-4 Sprigs of Fresh Thyme

600 ml Vermentino Wine* or Dry White Wine

2 Tbsps Small Dark Taggiasca Olives**

1 Tbsp Pine Nuts

1 Glass of Extra Virgin Olive Oil (preferably made from Taggiasca olives too)

2 Big Potatoes (Roasted in Foil)

1 Cup Home Made Beef Broth (Optional)***

Serve with: Diced Roasted Potatoes Flavored with Rosemary, Garlic, Salt & White Wine.

*Preferably from West Liguria or Sardinia. However a dry white wine should work.

**Olives should be small and sweet. They should be the kind that you find preserved in brine and not the oil cured type. Samuele says he uses about 25 olives which is much more than 2 Tbsps. I used 25 olives in mine.

***If you don’t have home made beef broth, use more wine. Commercial bouillon cubes will ruin the delicate harmony of flavors.

Step 1: Ask your butcher to chop the rabbit up into 8- 10 pieces and cook half or it or however much will fit into your clay pot. I am assuming most of you will not have the courage to do this yourself….or you might not have the kind of knife that can do this. Remember to ‘save the liver’ (I am quoting Dan Aykroyd impersonating Julia Childs here)!

Step 2: Braise the rabbit pieces over high heat in a non-stick frying pan for about 10 minutes. The objective here is to cauterize the meat on the outside to seal some of the juices in whilst getting rid of any excess meat juices. The meat should look somewhat ‘compact’ when they’re done.

Step 3: In a food processor, mince the onion, celery and carrot...or chop it up manually like I did.

Step 4: I was told to smash the garlic cloves (still in their skin) with my fist, but I did it with the sides of a knife because I have small delicate hands. If you have nice big fists, by all means please do this with your own fist.

Step 5: Put the extra virgin olive oil with the rabbit meat, onion, celery, carrots and garlic, in a clay pot and braise them on your stove top. I’m guessing that unlike in the first stage where you need to seal the meat juices in, we want to do this now over a slightly slower fire. However, do not lower the heat yet. Keep the heat reasonably high until the morsels of rabbit are golden brown. While the rabbit meat is browning, chop up the rosemary and thyme finely.

Step 6: Lower the Heat. Remove the garlic and add the rosemary and thyme as well as the dry white wine and the liver. Add some salt, cover the clay pot and keep it simmering for about 40 minutes, slowly turning the meat sometimes.

Step 7: Add the pine nuts and olives. Continue simmering and turning the meat for awhile. If the white wine has evaporated you should add some home made beef broth. If not, add more white wine.

Step 8: Remove the liver, chop it up and then return to the clay pot. You won’t be covering the terrine or frying pan after this point and you will be continuously stirring it so that it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the clay pot until all the wine has evaporated and there is a nice glaze on the meat.

Step 9: Remove from heat and let it rest for about 5 minutes before you serve it with some diced roasted potatoes flavored with salt, olive oil, rosemary, garlic and white wine.****

****Peel and cut the potatoes and dice them up. Toss them in extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, rosemary, pieces of garlic with their skin on and crushed, and put them in a casserole lined with oven paper. The temperature depends on how crispy you want them, but I prefer to cook mine at 250C for 45-60 minutes. After roasting the potatoes for 30 minutes add some dry white wine (the same one you’ve used to cook your rabbit) and then roast them for another 30 minutes or until they look right to you. For more tender potatoes reduce the cooking time to 30-40 minutes. Add the wine after 15-20 minutes. For crispier potatoes I suggest you cook them for a full 60 minutes.

This was my first try and I can’t say I’m 100% happy with the results, but I can say wholeheartedly that it tasted very nice even though I haven't mastered this recipe yet.

A few notes...

First of all, this takes 2.5 hours to prepare so don't start roasting your potatoes until the rabbit is simmering gently inside your clay pot. You can even start preheating the oven at this point and the potatoes will be done well before the rabbit is.

I used half a rabbit as a whole rabbit would not fit into my clay pot. If one person isn't a big eater, half a rabbit will be enough for two people. The recipe will work for a whole rabbit.

I also needed to get the clay pot heated up slowly as I was cauterizing the rabbit in the frying pan. You need to heat these things up slowly or they can crack!

I threw all the ingredients into the clay pot carelessly, but I think it would be better to braise the onion, carrot, celery mixture first, and then add the pieces of rabbit and garlic to the clay pot.

I used 600 ml wine which was a little too much. It took a long time to let it evaporate and glaze over. Adjust the amount of white wine you use depending on the size of your clay pot. There should be enough to keep the rabbit simmering but there is no need to cover the rabbit with white wine. Samuele's original recipe says the cooking time is about 1 hour. I really used too much wine.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Package from Italy

I have to admit, I'm quite excited.

I have been remiss with my blog because I was learning to be a Game Operator, but when I was chatting with my supervisor we decided that although our work was important, there was nothing more important in life than food.

The wonderful thing about the Internet is that you can talk to people who don't even live remotely close to you. Samuele currently lives in Pisa, but he hails from San Remo, that lovely little city on the Mediterranean coast of western Liguria. Anyway he saw in my profile that I liked to cook and he told me he and his wife were really into cooking too.

We started discussing how to cook rabbit since rabbit is something I haven't quite mastered cooking. You see - even though rabbit is almost a staple in Spain and you can buy it in any old supermarket, it's not something they eat anymore in Japan. If you tried to find rabbit at a butcher in Tokyo these days, I'm not sure you could find any.

I'm not sure when they stopped eating rabbit in Japan, but in the days when there was a ban on eating anything with four legs due to religious (Buddhist) reasons, they made an exception for the rabbit and categorized it as a 'bird'. In Japanese you have special words for counting different types of things, so you wouldn't count pencils and paper in the same way. Horses and sheep are counted in a different way and so are birds. To this day, even though the Japanese don't eat much rabbit anymore (maybe they do in the countryside, but I have never seen rabbit being served there), they are still counted in the same way as birds, even though children would count them in the same way as other small four legged creatures such as dogs and cats.

There's of course the reservation about eating rabbits. I don't believe my mother ever cooked rabbit. The reality is that when you have a pet rabbit, you don't really want to think about eating any other rabbits and I used to keep them as pets. That said, I used to have a pet rooster, but that didn't stop me from eating chicken. In fact when I was a kid, fried chicken (the way my mother used to make it, marinated overnight) was one of my all time favorites.

Anyhow, I digress.

I told Samuele I didn't have much experience cooking rabbit and wasn't really impressed with the one attempt I made a few months ago. He then told me about his favorite rabbit recipe. I told him certain ingredients were impossible to get in the small coastal city of Spain where I lived. His recipe required Vermentino wine,Taggiasca olives and extra virgin olive oil from the same kind of olives. He explained that these olives produced a sweet and aromatic oil very different from the spicier oils produced in Southern Spain and I just couldn't use Spanish olives and olive oil and he'd send them to me.

Was I going to say no? No way!

When he went back to San Remo for Easter, he purchased the goods in his home town and after the busy period following the holidays calmed down a bit, packed them in a box and sent them to me. It took awhile, because for some reason post between Italy and my area of Spain have bad karma and things sent from there have almost always not arrived. I think it helped that this was sent registered mail. For example, Ilva from Lucullian Delights was kind enough to send me a packet of Creme of Tartar, but it never arrived. I think someone thought it was cocaine and stole it. I sure hope they enjoyed snorting up Creme of Tartar because the thief deserved to have Creme of Tartar up his nostrils.

I'll be cooking the rabbit dish as soon as I can find time and hopefully it will be soon.