March 2020 – Recipes (Tagliatelle with Rabbit Ragu; Bigoli in Salsa; Marinated Courgettes; Milk Braised Fennel; Prosecco and Prawn Risotto; Roast Guinea Fowl; Rosemary and Garlic Mashed Potato)
This was an early – and very happy – experiment in cooking with the Great British Chefs Bookclub, where a Facebook group spends a month cooking from a chosen book (except on throwback Thursdays). This book, “Veneto”, by Valeria Necchio, looked at first sight as if it might not prove too exciting after the February choice of the fantastic “Fire Islands”. However, a closer look showed me that there were treasures here if I bothered to dig for them.
The very first dish I attempted was the the prawn and prosecco risotto, which I must admit I wasn’t entirely convinced about when I first read through it. I didn’t really see that the prosecco could possibly make that much difference. I was very, very wrong. It gives a whole extra lift to the risotto and I recommend you try it as soon as possible. It’s a dish that apparently came into being by accident, when Valeria had run out of the wine she usually uses to deglaze the pan when making a risotto. What she did have was an open bottle of prosecco, which her husband suggested she should use. She did and the results were well worth the extravagance.
Risotto Gamberi e Prosecco
Serves: 4 (generously I would say)
- 1kg king prawns, shelled and cleaned (save the heads and shells)
- 90g unsalted butter
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 360g risotto rice (carnaroli or vialone nano)
- 200ml prosecco
- Fine-grain sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Store the shelled prawns in the fridge while you prepare the fumet (stock). Place the heads and shells in a large pan and cover with 2l of water. Place over a medium heat, bring to a boil and cook for 30 minutes, stirring and squeezing the heads with a wooden spoon so they release their juices. Strain the liquid and place back in the pan. Set it over a low heat and keep it warm.
- Next, melt 30g of the butter in a large heavy-based frying pan set over a medium-high heat. When hot and bubbly, add the shelled prawns. Sauté for about two minutes, season with salt and pepper and then remove from the heat and set aside.
- Set a separate heavy-based pan over a medium heat. Fry the onion in half the remaining butter and, once soft, add the rice. Toast it for a couple of minutes, stirring very frequently so that it doesn’t stick to the bottom. When the rice is opaque and hissing, pour in the prosecco. Allow it to reduce, stirring all the while, and then start adding the hot prawn stock, one to two ladlefuls at a time, adding more as soon as it’s absorbed. Carry on this way until the rice is tender but still al dente, in about 15 minutes. A couple of minutes before removing the rice from the heat, stir in the prawns. Taste and adjust the seasoning; add a last splash of stock if the risotto appears too dense.
- Once done, turn off the heat and add the remaining butter. “Whip” and stir the risotto energetically for a couple of minutes (this will make it creamier and lighter), then serve immediately.
With a brilliantly successful risotto under my belt, and with the encouragement of the author, who joined in with the group with some enthusiasm, I decided that next I would tackle the roast guinea fowl. It’s incredibly simple, and takes very few ingredients (sage, rosemary, oil, a guinea fowl), but what it leaves you with is a tender, falling apart bird, moist and tender and melt-in-the-mouth delicious, flavoured beautifully with olive oil and garlic. It went down an absolute treat with her milk-braised fennel, and the somewhat labour intensive rosemary and garlic mashed potato. This requires you to slice the potatoes very thin (with a mandolin assuming you have one), and then to cook them vigourously in a pan with lots of garlic, stirring it all the while so that the potato eventually disintegrates into a loose mash, absorbing all the water. You then flavour the mash with large amounts of rosemary. It was brilliant with the guinea fowl.
As an extra side dish I made the marinated courgettes, which are sliced, deep-fried until brown and crinkly and then stored in a jar in an oil and white wine vinegar dressing. Easy, quick and delicious and I’ve made them a number of times since. They go well with white fish too.
Something even easier was Bigoli in Salsa, or Bigoli with Anchovies and Onions if you want a translation. I didn’t have any bigoli, and so I used fresh spaghetti instead. Spaghetti is much thinner, but you have to go with what you can get in a small town in the Midlands. Bigoli is a very Venetian thing, it would seem, and as it used to be made with buckwheat, there are suggestions that you could go with Oriental-type buckwheat noodles, assuming you can lay hands on some. As lockdown hand started by then, it was spaghetti for us. In effect you take onions and canned anchovies, season them, and cook them down until they become a gooey, sticky, dark brown sauce which is them served with the pasta.
Finally, I got round to preparing the best of the dishes (to my mind anyway). This was a rabbit ragu to be served with tagliatelle.
The author herself says: “If I could eat tagliatelle with rabbit ragù every week, I would. I don’t, but Mum used to, for Great-Grandma Maria was adamant about making it every Sunday as the first course, followed, most likely, by braised rabbit with stir-fried greens. Then again, they did rear their own rabbits. Rabbits have been farmed for centuries in Veneto, and the tradition continues to this day, with rabbit being widely available in butcher shops and on restaurant menus. Many agriturismi dotting the Venetian countryside serve it, either on its own or, if you’re lucky, as part of an always delightful ragù di cortile (a ‘courtyard’ mixed-meat ragù). Great-Grandma Maria only used rabbit in her ragù. The sauce started with rabbit meat browning in a glistening puddle of butter and pancetta. It was then wetted by wine and broth and a blushing bit of tomato before being simmered patiently for a good while – long enough for Maria to make a batch of fresh tagliatelle to go with it.”
Rabbit Ragù with Tagliatelle
Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
- 1 rabbit, cleaned and boned (yielding about 500g meat), finely chopped
- 45g of unsalted butter
- 30ml of extra virgin olive oil
- 100g of pancetta, minced
- 1 onion, finely diced
- 1 carrot, peeled and finely diced
- 1 celery stick, finely diced
- 3 sage leaves
- 1 sprig of rosemary
- 180ml of dry white wine
- 480ml of vegetable stock
- 45ml of passata
- 15g of tomato purée
- fine salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 450g of tagliatelle, fresh
- 100g of Parmesan, grated
- Heat the butter and oil in a large heavy-based pan set over a medium heat. Once hot, add the pancetta and pan-fry until browned and crisp, about 2 minutes.
- Next add the onion, carrot, celery, sage and rosemary and cook until the vegetables are very tender, 4–5 minutes, stirring often.
- At this point, stir in the chopped rabbit meat and increase the heat to medium-high. Brown it on all sides for about 5 minutes, then pour in the wine, stock, tomato sauce and purée. Once the sauce is simmering, reduce the heat to low and cover.
- Cook the ragù for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally and adding more stock if the liquid reduces too quickly. By the end you should have a red-blushed, thick sauce with meat that almost falls apart. Taste and adjust the seasoning; discard the sage and rosemary, remove from the heat and set aside.
- Next, bring a large pan of salted water to a rolling boil. Lower in the tagliatelle and cook for 3–4 minutes.
- Meanwhile, set the rabbit ragù back over a medium heat. When the pasta is ready, drain it and top with the ragù. Toss until any water has been absorbed and the pasta is well-coated with the sauce.
- Serve with a generous dusting of Parmesan.
I served it with a home-made wild garlic tagliatelle that I’d made earlier in the month as my wild garlic patch was just getting into its stride.