Preparation time: 60 minutes plus overnight marinating
Rabbit meat is low fat and has a delicate flavor. Coniglio con Finocchio e Pancetta, a classic dish from the Marche region in Italy, uses fennel as its partner, which grows wild here. Fennel has a subtle, yet unmistakable anise flavor.
- 1 rabbit, about 3 lbs (1.5 kg), cut into 6-8 pieces
- 6 garlic cloves, 3 cloves finely chopped and 3 finely slivered
- 3 Tbsp rosemary leaves, finely chopped
- 6 Tbsp olive oil
- salt and freshly ground pepper
- 2 large fennel bulbs, about 1lbs (500 g)
- 1 cup (240 ml) water with a slice of lemon to avoid fennel bulb oxidation
- 1/2 cup (115 g) chopped fennel fronds
- 1 large onion, cut into 1 inch (2.5 cm) slices
- 1/2 cup (125 g) pancetta or bacon chopped into3/8 inch ( 1 cm) dices
- 1/2 cup (125 ml) dry white wine
- 1 cup (250 ml) chicken stock
In a small bowl mix the 3 finely chopped garlic cloves, rosemary leaves, salt, and pepper. Add olive oil and make a paste out of it. Rub rabbit pieces all over with the garlic paste. Arrange pieces in a dish, cover it with plastic wrap and leave it overnight in the fridge.
Next day, remove rabbit from the fridge and set aside. Slice fennel bulbs into 1 inch (2.5 cm) slices. Drop them in lemon water to avoid discoloration. Save green fennel fronds. Chop them coarsely and set aside until ready to use.
Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C).
Slice onion into 1 inch (2.5cm) slices and set aside. Heat 3 tablespoon olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta or bacon and sauté them until nice and crunchy. Remove pancetta to a plate lined with paper towels. Set aside. Pat rabbit pieces dry with paper towels removing most of the clinging herbs. Add them to a saucepan and brown them nicely on all sides. Remove rabbit from saucepan and set aside. Add onion to saucepan and sauté for about 5 minutes or until it begins to soften.
In the meantime drain fennel slices from lemon water and dry them on paper towels. Add them to the onion, together with the 3 remaining slivered garlic cloves. Continue to sauté for 2-3 minutes longer. Add white wine and chicken stock to saucepan while scraping all brown bits from saucepan bottom. Bring it to a rapid boil and lower the heat. Taste for salt and pepper.
Place rabbit pieces in roasting pan together with any accumulated juices. Scatter pancetta, fennel, and onion evenly over the rabbit. Bake for about 40-45 minutes or until fork tender. Transfer rabbit pieces from roasting pan to a platter. Cover it with aluminum foil and keep it warm in the oven. If fennel onion sauce seems too dry, add a bit of water or stock to thin it up. Taste for salt and pepper.
Remove rabbit pieces from oven, arrange it on serving plates and serve it with the fennel sauce on the side. Top it with finely chopped fennel fronds.
A nice crusty farm bread is just the right companion to this Italian favorite.