Friday, February 25, 2011

finally, the story of the mad italian chef

I have never ordered soufflé in a restaurant.

Most restaurants that do soufflés are in the price range that puts them in the “dinner out with family on special occasions” category. Even when I can persuade my mother of the merits of dessert, there's no way that my father would ever agree to wait the required thirty minutes. Soufflés are usually made to serve two, so even when I splurge on dinner out alone, it’s too much dessert to eat by myself. Finally, it does seem a bit silly to pay for something I can whip up pretty easily at home.

But I’ve eaten soufflé in a restaurant – as long as a restaurant kitchen counts.

I spent a summer as a stagiaire in the pastry kitchen and garde-manger of a big hotel in Hong Kong. The summer after that, I had a rotation in the hotel’s Italian restaurant. 

The dessert menu at the Italian restaurant was notable for its white chocolate soufflé, an enormous, airy golden cloud that came with four different sauces. Not a choice of different sauces, but a silver salver with four gleaming silver sauceboats: chocolate, vanilla creme anglaise, raspberry, and orange, presented for the diner to dress the soufflé to taste.

I watched waiters carry soufflés out to the dining room. Sometimes I was tasked with filling the sauceboats. Then I met the Mad Italian Chef.

The Mad Italian Chef had been brought in to make changes to the food after the hotel decided to renovate the Italian restaurant. While the managers and bigwigs met with architects and discussed color schemes, draperies, and furniture, the Mad Italian Chef was on a mission to overhaul the menu. He embarked on a recipe-development spree almost immediately upon his arrival.

Two things became rapidly evident: one, he needed an assistant he could send on scavenger hunts in the other hotel kitchens for ingredients, and two, he needed an editor to proofread his menu proposals. Given that my sole fixed job duty consisted of scraping enough asparagus for each day’s lunch and dinner service, both assignments fell to me.

The Mad Italian Chef was glad enough to have a kitchen minion to send on quests for baking soda or maple syrup, and grateful that he could leave the task of correcting his typos to someone else, but he kept our interactions polite and perfunctory.  This wasn't a surprise. Chefs don’t usually devote much time or attention to stagiaires unless they screw up. 

During the course of one particularly mad ingredient goose chase, however, it came out that I’d spent a semester abroad in Rome. Suddenly, I had the Mad Italian Chef’s attention. His spoken English wasn’t much better than that of his Cantonese sous-chefs, and he was delighted to have a kitchen minion he could yell at in his native tongue.

So, in addition to scraping asparagus, chasing down ingredients, and correcting typos in menu proposals, I spent the summer as a general assistant to the Mad Italian Chef. I lent a hand during recipe testing, took notes during menu planning, and kept track of the toque he had a habit of misplacing. 

The Mad Italian Chef had a temper, but he also had a merry impulsive streak. He took a shine to a dinner guest, and I watched him whip up an off-the-menu concoction with vin santo zabaglione and fresh berries as a complimentary dessert. He put bellinis on the menu for a bigwig's dinner party and roped everyone into peeling white peaches for puree. By the time he decided on the exact proportions of puree to liqueur to prosecco, the multiple rounds of taste-testing had made the entire kitchen crew tipsy. 

During one dinner service on a slow night, he disappeared to the pastry station and when he reappeared some time later, he had the dessert chef in tow. Between them, they carried two white chocolate soufflés and a salver of sauceboats. 

The dessert chef set these soufflés in all their airy, golden glory on the counter. The Mad Italian Chef set down the salver. Producing two spoons from his jacket pocket, he pushed one of the soufflés towards me and told me to dig in before it deflated.

It was delicious, and the sheer unexpected delight of eating a soufflé too big for me to finish – right in the middle of dinner service (!) – carried me all the way through the next day’s wild goose chase.

No surprise, then, that I wanted to come up with a white chocolate soufflé of my own. I know the dessert chef at the Italian restaurant used a roux base for his soufflé, but I like the simplicity of eggs, sugar, and chocolate. My version is a little on the eggy side, but the texture is light and creamy, and the white chocolate flavor really shines through. 

I think it's pretty impressive, even without the sauceboats.

White Chocolate Soufflé

(Recipe not for one. Soufflés don’t keep.)

Prep first. Get out two big bowls and one big balloon whisk or electric mixer. Wash everything in hot soapy water and dry thoroughly.

Preheat the oven to 375F. Butter and sugar a soufflé dish.

Separate eight eggs. Put four of the yolks in one bowl; put all eight whites in the other. (Leftover yolks can be used for pasta or mayonnaise.)

Add two tablespoons of sugar to the bowl of egg yolks. Set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, or transfer the mixture to a heavy-bottomed saucepan set over very low heat. Whisk steadily until the mixture thickens to custard. Stop when the whisk starts to leave trails in the mixture.

Working quickly, stir in six ounces of finely chopped white chocolate, an ounce or two at a time, until the mixture is thick and almost taffy-like in stickiness.

Add two tablespoons of sugar to the bowl of egg whites and beat until stiff. (You should be able to tilt the bowl without the egg whites sliding.)

Gently fold a little of the egg white into the mixture to lighten it, then fold in half the remaining mixture, and then the rest. Spoon the mixture into the soufflé dish.

Bake for forty to forty-five minutes, or until the soufflé is light and risen, but still wobbly in the middle. Carve out portions with a big spoon. Serve immediately. Raspberry coulis is a nice accompaniment.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

getting my hands sticky

I have no interest in no-knead bread.

Don't get me wrong. I love the counterintuitive logic of no-knead bread. As creative thinking in food chemistry goes, it's brilliant, and I can't deny that anything that gets people baking their own bread instead of buying spongy plastic-wrapped stuff at the supermarket is a Good Thing.

As long as I'm the one handling yeast and flour, though, the bread will be kneaded. Call me a masochist, but it just doesn't feel like baking bread if I can't get my hands sticky.

And I do mean sticky. Maybe I didn't play with enough paste and Play-Doh as a child, but for whatever reason, I find wet, recalcitrant doughs more interesting than their well-behaved cousins.

The "wetness" of a dough is its hydration - that is, its flour-to-water ratio by weight. A dough with half as much water as flour is at fifty percent hydration; a dough with equal parts water and flour would be at one hundred percent hydration. The higher the hydration, the stickier the dough.

At eighty percent hydration by weight, focaccia is one of the wettest bread doughs around. Furthermore, focaccia is made with a lean dough – just flour, water, yeast and salt – meaning that it lacks add-ins like fat or eggs, which make dough easier to handle. (Doughs with such extras are known as rich doughs. Challah is made with a rich dough, as is brioche.) It's probably no surprise that many recipes for focaccia begin with references to heavy-duty stand mixers.

Focaccia is a very old bread, however, and the dough has a long history of being worked by hand. The process requires patience, but there's a pleasure in feeling the dough develop as you knead, in learning to gauge when it's ready by touch. The effort shows in the results, too. Maybe I am a masochist, but I think bread just tastes better when you've gotten your hands all sticky.

Rosemary Focaccia
I tend to bake by volume, but bread is finicky. I've offered measurements by volume, and in metric and imperial weights, but for best results, use the metric weights.

(Makes one small loaf – enough for two large or three smallish sandwiches.)

Before you begin, secure your hair and roll up your sleeves. Turn off your phone or set it to voicemail. Scratch any itches that need scratching. Your hands will be coated in sticky, goopy dough for the better part of the next half hour, and you're not going to be a happy camper if you have to stop and scrub your hands midway through the process to deal with something else.

Clear off your countertop and wipe it down well. Measure out a teaspoon of olive oil into a small bowl; set aside.

In a mixing bowl, stir together one-and-three-quarter-cups (two-hundred and fifty grams, eight point eight ounces) all-purpose flour, one teaspoon (five grams) instant yeast, and half a teaspoon (four grams) salt.

Pour in a little over three-quarters of a cup (two hundred mililitres) of lukewarm water. Stick a hand in the bowl and stir until you have sticky, lumpy dough.

Turn the dough out on your countertop. Kneading time for this dough is about fifteen minutes, possibly longer. Take breaks if you need them.

This is not an easy dough to knead. This dough will start out goopy, with a taffy-like sticky quality.

For the first ten minutes, you won't be kneading so much as smearing the dough all over the countertop and scraping it back together. It will stick to your fingers and palms like crazy. This is all normal.

After ten minutes, the dough will probably start to feel a little less goopy and a little more elastic. It won't gum between your fingers quite so badly. Keep going.

At fifteen minutes, the dough should be less of a mess on the countertop and more of a cohesive blob. As you knead, it should pull away from the countertop. Keep going.

Stop when you can pull your palms away from the dough without it sticking. Gather the dough into a rough ball, and coat it with the teaspoon of olive oil you measured out earlier.

Place the dough back in the bowl. Go scrub your hands, and then cover the bowl with clingwrap. Leave the dough until it doubles in size. (If you leave it in a warm place, this will take about an hour. If you leave it in a cooler place, it can take anywhere between two and three hours.)

Cover a baking tray with a sheet of parchment paper. Gently ease your dough out of the bowl and place it on the baking tray. Shape it into a rough rectangle, about 7 x10 inches; tuck any stray bits underneath to keep the loaf neat. Measure out another teaspoon of olive oil, and smear it all over the dough. Leave uncovered for an hour to an hour and a half.

Preheat your oven – turn it up as far as it will go. (Mine tops out at around 500F.)

Use your fingertips to press dimples in the top of your focaccia. Pour over another teaspoon or two of olive oil. (The more oil you use, the chewier your crust will be.) Scatter with fresh rosemary needles and sprinkle with sea salt.

Turn the oven down to 450F. Transfer the baking tray to the oven. Keep a close eye on the focaccia - it's done when it turns a rich, golden brown all over, which will take somewhere between fourteen and seventeen minutes.

Remove the baking tray from the oven. Transfer the bread to a cooling rack. Allow to cool fully before slicing.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

cooking is just a socially acceptable excuse to play with boiling oil

I had a fairly concise to-do list for my visit to Boston.

Drop by a proper kitchen supply store and pick up a bench scraper. Eat cheese from Formaggio Kitchen. Make another attempt at the white chocolate souffle recipe that I've never quite managed to get right.

My to-do list didn't say anything about boiling oil.

Then again, my to-do list didn't take into account a full pint of goosefat, a convenient surfeit of potatoes and onions, and the encouragement of culinary partners-in-crime.

Blame Matt for the first item. He made cassoulet from scratch - the kind that calls for roasting an entire goose - and ended up with an enormous quantity of rendered fat. Blame Isobel for the second - the offerings from her winter CSA had started to pile up, and she had the beginnings of a root cellar in her pantry. Blame a whole host of friends for the third.

And then I suppose I should take a share of the blame myself. After all, I did utter the words "goosefat French fries."

It was only an idle thought. After all, French fries are fussy enough and messy enough to require deliberation and preparation. There should be carefully-selected potatoes and a thermometer to check the temperature of the oil. The planning process shouldn't go from "Goosefat - potatoes and onions - leftover herbs - French fries!" to "Where's the peeler? And get me the biggest, sturdiest pot we've got!" in the space of a minute.

Except when it does. In fact, the whole process didn't take more than thirty minutes from the first peeled potato to the first batch of fries - with remarkably tasty results.

(Thanks to Alex for the photos.)

Herb-and-Onion Goosefat French Fries: A Picture Guide

Rinse, peel, and cut potatoes for a heap of fries, and put them through two changes of cold water.

Slice onions into thin curls.

Sweep the kitchen for the biggest, most solid pot available. Set it on a burner. Heat up the goosefat. Add rosemary and thyme to perfume the oil. Drain the potatoes. When the oil is bubbling, start frying.

Watch with greedy anticipation as the fries color. Wait with slotted spoon in hand to fish them out.

Drain the fries when they turn deep golden brown.

Salt generously, and enjoy the heck out of them while they're hot!

Note: While this is a fun party trick, do not attempt it while intoxicated, and don't let anyone else try it either. Friends don't let friends fry drunk.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

"già la mensa è preparata..."

It had been a beautiful party, though no-one would remember that. White asparagus in hollandaise, a fish course of turbot with crispy sweet onions, tiny chops, only three or four bites apiece, in a cranberry demiglaze.

Every element was planned: crystal saltcellars, lemon mousse, American bourbon. There was no dancing, no band. The only music would be after dinner.

The fifty-third birthday celebration of Katsumi Hosokawa, chairman of Nansei, a Japanese electronics company, takes place at the Vice-President's estate in an unnamed South American country eager to woo foreign investors. Hosokawa, truth be told, is largely indifferent to the prospect of his fifty-third birthday, and has no plans for investments in countries not known for their political stability. He is, however, a fervrent lover of opera, and he has been enticed to attend the celebration by the promise of a performance by Roxane Coss, the famous American lyric soprano.

Dinner proceeds flawlessly, and Roxane's performance is everything the audience could hope for. Then the evening is rudely interrupted by a group of revolutionaries seeking to overthrow the government. They have come to kidnap the President, but the President is not in attendance - he changed his mind at the last minute, because he didn't wish to miss another episode of his favorite soap opera.

Flustered, the revolutionaries keep the entire assembly hostage while they draw up fresh plans. After deliberation, they decide to release all but the wealthiest and most influential attendees. Their demand is simple: all the hostages will go free if the President comes to take their place. Without the President, however, they will hold the hostages indefinitely.

Though the premise might sound like that of a plane flight novel, Ann Patchett's Bel Canto is no thriller. Instead, what unfolds is a graceful, operatic tale, a tragicomic story of language, music and the community that slowly develops as the hostages and revolutionaries learn to live together. It's the story I've chosen for the Winter 2011 edition of Novel Food.

Though food is not a central theme of the story, it plays a crucial role in setting the stage. The refinement of the menu at the birthday celebration comes in sharp contrast to the rough fare brought to the hostages by a Red Cross mediator the next day. As the hostage crisis becomes more of a hostage monotony, the outside world loses interest, and the food delivered to the Vice-President's estate reflects the change in attitude.

Prepared sandwiches and casseroles give way to sandwich fixings, which are then passed up in favor of boxes of vegetables and raw chickens - "pink and cold, their stomachs greasing the counter" - much to the consternation of the Vice President-turned-butler-and-housekeeper. By the time Simon Thibault, the French diplomat, takes the role of directing meal preparation, the situation has evolved into something entirely outside the realm of a classic hostage-captor setup.

Though I dearly love the scene with the Vice President, as he bewilderedly wonders how raw chicken might be transformed into dinner and tries to find someone - anyone - among the hostages (or the revolutionaries) who can cook, it was ultimately the first meal after the dinner party that drew my interest:

Roxane, Hosokawa, and Hosokawa's interpreter Gen are sitting together when the meal is distributed. The food itself doesn't sound particularly appetizing: "sandwiches and cans of soda, wrapped slices of dark cake and bottled water." The sandwiches are made of "heavy slabs of bread," with "a piece of meat, orangish-red with sauce or watery peppers," and they leave pools of orange oil on their paper wrappings.

The hostages are too hungry to care. Roxane, who ruefully admits to being particular about her food, eats as though she were starving. Gen briefly ponders the exact nature of the meat in the sandwiches, and then decides that he is hungry enough for the answer to be irrelevant.

Unfortunately for Gen, he is not only an interpreter, but an excellent interpreter, versed in many languages, and as the sole person present who can communicate with all the hostages, the revolutionaries find him invaluable. He's interrupted mid-sandwich when his assistance is required. 

"Forgive me," he said in English and Japanese, wrapping up what was left of his meal and putting it discreetly beneath a chair in hopes it would still be there when he returned. He had especially wanted the cake.

Even as he assists, interpreting Spanish questions and instructions into French German, Greek and Portuguese, Gen's mind is elsewhere. When General Benjamin, one of the revolutionary leaders, asks him where he learned so many languages, he has no desire to explain. His thoughts are with the sandwich and cake left beneath his chair.

Poor Gen. The story (rather frustratingly) doesn't say if he ever did get his cake after the generals were through with their demands, and so I decided I'd have to bake one to make up for the possible deficiency.

"Wrapped slices of dark cake," isn't much detail to go on. A search of South American desserts didn't turn up any cakes fitting that description, and while it could have been something prosaic like chocolate cake or gingerbread, I wanted something a bit more fitting for the setting and the mood.

Pastel tres leches is a cake popular throughout Latin America, a sponge cake soaked in a mixture of sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, and cream. The novel references many operas, however, including Bizet's Carmen, which is set in Spain. I decided to model a cake on pastel tres leches, but lift a little inspiration from Spanish desserts.

This cake uses a batter inspired by magdalenas (the Spanish equivalent of the French madeleine), flavored with orange zest. The cake is brushed all over with plain evaporated milk,and then topped with a glaze made with dulce de leche, a soft caramel made using sweetened condensed milk, popular throughout South America.

The end result is soft and moist, gently perfumed with orange, and agreeably sticky. It's probably too messy to be wrapped in slices as part of a hostage's box lunch, but it could be delivered whole, and sliced to serve on arrival.

Gen, I think, would deserve seconds. Interpreting is difficult work.

Orange-Scented Dulce de Leche Cake

(Makes one eight-inch cake, which will serve somewhere around eight to ten hostages and revolutionaries.)

Start with the glaze. If you have ready-made dulce de leche on hand, skip the next few paragraphs. If not, read on.

A common way of making dulce de leche is to submerge an unopened can in a big pot of water and heat it for several hours until the contents caramelize. It can also be made in the oven. For relatively small quantities, however, it can also be done in the microwave.

To make the dulce de leche glaze using a microwave, pour six tablespoons of sweetened condensed milk into a microwave-safe dish. Cover the dish. Cook on low heat in one-minute intervals, stirring after every interval, for five minutes. Cook on low heat in thirty-second intervals, stirring after every interval, for another five minutes. Continue to cook the mixture in thirty-second intervals, stirring after every interval, until it is golden brown in color.

Combine the dulce de leche (about four tablespoons) with half a cup of evaporated milk, and whisk until the mixture is smooth and free of lumps. (If necessary, pop it back in the microwave for a minute or two.) It will be thick, but pourable.

For the cake, start by preheating the oven to 350F. Butter and flour an eight-inch cake tin.

In a small mixing bowl, sift together one cup (five ounces) pastry flour and one teaspoon baking powder. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together half a stick (two ounces) butter with four tablespoons of white sugar, two packed tablespoons of brown sugar, and a half-teaspoon of salt.

Grate the zest from one small navel orange, and measure out one teaspoon into the bowl. (Leftover zest can be used to garnish the finished cake.)

Separate two eggs; place the whites in another mixing bowl, and add the yolks to the butter and sugar. Beat the mixture until it becomes smooth and creamy.

Beat the egg whites until they reach stiff peaks. Measure out a half-cup of milk.

Fold a third of the flour into the butter mixture; stir in a third of the milk, then fold in a third of the egg whites. Fold in another third of the flour, stir in another third of the milk, then fold in another third of the egg whites. Repeat again with the remaining flour, milk, and egg whites.

Spoon the batter into the prepared tin; give the top a shake to smooth out the mixture. Bake for twenty-two to twenty-five minutes, or until a toothpick or knife stuck in the center comes out clean.

Remove the cake from the oven. Cool in its tin for ten minutes, then turn the cake out on a baking sheet or light cutting board. Pierce its underside all over with a skewer or small knife, then brush with four tablespoons of plain evaporated milk. It should absorb fairly quickly. Set the cake tin back over the cake, then flip the baking sheet over so that the cake is back in the cake tin, right-side up.

Pierce the top of the cake all over with a skewer or small knife, then brush with four tablespoons of evaporated milk, letting it run down the sides.

Brush the top of the cake with four tablespoons of the dulce de leche mixture. Once the mixture has been somewhat absorbed, pour over the remaining mixture. Allow to cool completely in the tin before covering with cling wrap and transferring to the fridge to rest overnight.

Let the cake to come to room temperature before serving. It's moist and quite fragile, so it's best to ease slices out of the tin rather than trying to turn it out on a platter.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

year of the rabbit (ragu)

The Chinese zodiac is potentially hazardous to mad culinary minds.

While Chinese New Year has an extensive, exhaustive, exhausting list of "lucky" foods - daunting even without all the regional and cultural variations - its guidelines appear to be silent regarding the fortune-bearing properties of consuming any of the twelve animals that mark Chinese calendar years. It's an unfortunate omission, one that prompts all sorts of wild speculation.

Would eating chicken at the start of the Year of the Rooster bring extra luck? Or would it be particularly unlucky? If it were lucky to consume rat at the start of the Year of the Rat, would there be a sudden spate of rodent consumption every February? And if you somehow managed to tap into an alternate universe and slaughter a dragon, would you be the luckiest of all?*

This year is the Year of the Rabbit, and lucky or not, I couldn't pass up the chance to prepare rabbit as my token nod at Chinese New Year festivities. (No dumpling-folding this year.)

You see, the Chinese New Year period is a state holiday in China, and rather than subjecting myself to a nightly symphony of firecrackers, I disappeared to Boston for a few days of real cheese, easily-acquired baking supplies, and traffic that's not quite so maniacally bent on scaring pedestrians to death.

So long as I was in Boston, I wanted an excuse to fit in a visit to my favorite butcher. Cue the rabbit.

While there are definitely sources for excellent local meat at the various farmers' markets, there's nothing like a good butcher to fashion a cut of meat just the way you want it. My favorite butcher in Boston is Sulmona's Meat Market in the North End, a family-owned business where it's not uncommon to see a little old Italian lady instructing the staff in rapid-fire Italian on exactly how she'd like beef slices cut for involtini. They make their own Italian sausages (both sweet and spicy), and sell a beef-pork-veal mixture (ground to order) that is excellent for meatballs and meatloaf. Crucial for my purposes, they also carry whole rabbit.

Early Thursday afternoon, I left Sulmona's with a neatly packaged rabbit, trimmed and cut into six pieces, plus a pound of sweet Italian sausage for later consumption. The rabbit was destined for ragu, which I planned to serve over fresh pappardelle. This was my token nod at Chinese New Year: noodles are popular because they symbolize longevity, and pasta, after all, belongs to the same family as noodles.

This is a fairly simple, unassuming ragu. It uses leeks rather than onions in the base for a sweeter, milder flavor, and the tomato is light rather than assertive, allowing the faintly gamey flavor of the rabbit to shine through. Served over pasta or polenta, it makes for a satisfying winter dinner, even if you're not trying for extra luck.

That said, if you do somehow open a portal to an alternate universe and slay a dragon, let me know, would you? I wouldn't mind doing roast saddle of dragon for next year's festivities.

Rabbit Ragu

Contrary to popular belief, rabbit does not taste like chicken. It is similar to chicken in that it is white meat without a strong flavor, but what flavor it has is distinctly its own. Furthermore, when braised, it takes on a texture closer to that of pork than poultry, so if you can't get rabbit, a braising cut of pork might be a more appropriate substitution, albeit with a longer cooking time.

This goes well over buttered polenta or fresh pasta.

(Serves one with a lot of leftovers. Freezes well.)

First, you'll need a rabbit weighing about three pounds, preferably with liver and kidneys intact. Feel free to name it if your sense of humor resembles mine. (This one was Roger. The previous one was Peter.) Ask your butcher to cut it into six pieces for you, or do the job yourself with a heavy cleaver.

Decide how you feel about offal. If it's really not your thing, place the liver and kidneys in a small pot with half an onion, a rib of celery, half a carrot and a bay leaf. Cover with water and leave to simmer. (You'll use this liquid to add extra flavor to the sauce.) If you're fine with offal, cut the liver and kidneys into small pieces and set aside.

Rinse and pat the rabbit pieces dry. In a large, heavy-bottomed pot with lid, heat a little mild-tasting vegetable oil. Brown the rabbit pieces; transfer to a plate and set aside.

Wash and julienne one large leek (or two small.) Finely dice three ribs of celery and two small carrots. In the same pot you used to brown the rabbit, sauté three slices of finely cut pancetta until the fat renders out. If you're not afraid of offal, add the cut-up liver and kidneys at this point. Add the leek and cook until it softens, then add the celery and carrots. Season with a fat pinch of salt. Add two bay leaves and a sprig each of fresh rosemary, sage and thyme.

Add half a can of tomato paste (about three or four tablespoons) and enough water to thin the mixture. Cook, stirring occasionally, making sure to scrape up any browned bits stuck on the bottom.

Arrange the rabbit pieces in the pot – make two layers if they won't fit in one. If you opted to turn the offal into stock, grab a strainer and strain the liquid right into the pot. If not, add a little more water, just enough to cover.

Bring the mixture to a simmer, then put the lid on the pot. Cook, checking back once every half-hour or so, until the rabbit is tender enough that the meat can easily be prised away from the bone with a fork.

Ready a cutting board. Remove a piece of rabbit from the pot, set it on the cutting board, and use a fork (and your fingers, if necessary) to pull the meat off the bones. Return the meat to the pot, and repeat the process with the other pieces. Rabbits have some very small bones that are easy to miss, so work carefully and take your time.

Turn up the heat slightly, and with the lid off, let the mixture reduce, stirring occasionally, until it reaches the consistency of sauce. Use a wooden spoon to break up any particularly large chunks of meat. Add salt and ground black pepper to taste.

Ladle the ragu over fresh pappardelle or buttered polenta. Serve with a dusting of finely chopped parsley, and pass grated Parmigiano-Reggiano at the table.

*Probably not a recommended course of action. Meddle not in the affairs of dragons, for you are crunchy and taste good with ketchup.