Braised Rabbit with Olives, Homemade Egg Noodles, and Kitchen Psychology

February 10, 2011
By Holly Jennings

You’ve never made homemade noodles before, and you forgot to pick up dried egg noodles at the store as a back-up. You’re intuitive about all things savory, and the cooking techniques associated with them—braising, sautéing, stewing, roasting, poaching. When it comes to baking and dough in general, you’re less certain. So in your nervousness, coupled with a tendency toward perfectionism (bad combination), you follow the noodle directions to the letter, leaving your commonsense at the kitchen door. After rolling out the dough until it is paper-thin, you roll it up into a scroll, cut it into ¼-inch sections, and then place the pinwheels on a cornmeal-dusted tray as directed, where they are to dry for at least one half-hour before boiling. Then, three hours later, when it’s close to dinner time, you begin to unroll the noodles. You discover that the dough has become quite comfortable as a wheel and doesn’t want to budge. With patience you get most of them unrolled, though you do end up with some broken or double lengths and a few wheels.

This is what I found myself doing one Saturday last month, just as our guests Melanie and Matt were to arrive. If only the cookbook author had said to unroll the pinwheels of dough before placing them on the tray to dry. But, after all, it’s impossible to account for the strengths and weaknesses of every home cook. And this is how you learn, I thought, and become familiar with and eventually intuitive about a new cooking terrain. (The whole episode reminded me, appropriately enough, of a book my mother used to read to me when I was small called The Noodle-head Epaminondas. It is about a boy who followed directions to the letter, but didn’t have commonsense to apply them to the right context.)

No matter. The egg noodles—hilopittes in Greek—and the rest of the dishes I made from the DCCC pick, The Food and Wine of Greece by Diane Kochilas, including several meze options and the main course, Braised Rabbit with Olives, were delicious and, even with the small hiccup with the noodles, came together effortlessly and quickly. And who cares if some noodles are shorter or thicker than others when you’re among friends? We served one of the best red wines I’ve had in a long time: a wonderfully dry and full-bodied yet smooth red wine from Nemea in the Peloponnese. While it’s not the wine the author recommends for the rabbit dish—she recommends a red from Náoussa, a region in Macedonia—it is the only Greek red wine that my local wine shop was able to procure. As an introduction to the wine of Greece, it made a very good impression, and we enjoyed it with the rabbit. Dessert was my boyfriend’s tarte tatin served à la mode Greek-style—with a dollop of thick Greek yogurt.

If you’re new to eating rabbit, you will find similarities in the meat’s appearance and texture with chicken breast meat, but the flavor is more interesting, satisfying, and well, “meaty,” but in a subtle way. When marinated and cooked until tender, it is succulent. Pairing it with olives seems to be a classic treatment. (I’ve eaten a delicious rabbit dish prepared with green olives and white wine at a Portuguese restaurant, and the Spanish prepare rabbit with olives and wine as well.)

Served with Diane Kochilas’s rustic and toothsome Homemade Egg Noodles, Braised Rabbit with Olives is hearty, robust and full of sensuous flavors from a sun-drenched land: dark kalamata olives, dry red wine, olive oil, oregano, and garlic. Very welcome indeed on a cold, dark January evening in Vermont. Make sure to have some good crusty bread on hand to sop up the abundant, flavorful sauce.

About the rabbit: For this recipe, I butchered a whole rabbit, but in some stores rabbit may be available frozen in pieces. I liked the idea knowing how and where my rabbit was raised. (It’s from Tanglewood Farm in Middlesex, Vermont.) For the pricing of “knowing,” I had to be up to butchering a whole rabbit because that’s how they’re available at the food co-op near me. I’m not even that good at breaking down a whole chicken, but at least there is a familiar reference point for that task. Though I was nervous, almost noodle-nervous, it was easier than I thought it would be. For guidance, I used illustrated how-to’s from Saveur and from an old edition of the textbook On Cooking. The most finicky work is deboning the rib bones, which are almost as delicate as fish bones. In fact, rabbit bones are in general fairly delicate, so be conscious of this when eating it.

About the recipes: I wrote this story a few weeks ago, when the club was still in the midst of cooking from The Food and Wine of Greece, but delayed posting it in the hope that I would have received permission from the publisher to include the recipes for the rabbit and egg noodles by now. No more waiting around, with refried beans and pozole waiting to be made.  If I receive permission from the publisher to post them, I will re-post this story with the recipes so that I can share them with you. They are delicious.

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