Hare Casserole Val d’Aosta

Lepre in Salmì - Val d’ Aosta

This ancient speciality crops up here and there all over Italy, but its real home is in the Dolomites. It is sumptuously rich and calls for two whole bottles of aged red Barbera, so make it for special occasions. Rabbit or even chicken can be substituted for the hare if you wish. As it is fairly heavy, I like to serve it with a cool starter like prosciutto and figs, and follow it with a crisp salad to cleanse the palate.

Ingredients

  • 1 X 4½ lb (2 kg) hare, gutted and hung for about 8 days, then skinned and jointed, or rabbit or chicken
  • 18 fl oz (500 ml) red table wine or water
  • 2 carrots, scraped and cut into small pieces
  • 4 sticks celery, cut into pieces the same size as the carrots
  • 2 large onions, peeled and thickly sliced
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 2 sticks cinnamon
  • 10 black peppercorns
  • 2 bottles well aged Barbera or other good-quality strong red wine
  • 4 oz (100 g) unsalted butter
  • salt
  • 8 fl oz (250 ml) meat stock
  • 1 large white truffle, cleaned (optional)

Method

Wash the hare, rabbit or chicken in the table wine or water (this removes the sour gamy smell and taste) and lay it in a deep, non-metallic bowl. Discard the washing wine or water. Put the vegetables on top of the meat, then add the bay leaves, cinnamon and peppercorns. Pour over the Barbera wine and leave in a cool place for 48 hours.

Remove the meat, strain the marinade and reserve it. Put the vegetables from the marinade into a flameproof casserole with the butter and fry for 10 minutes. Add the meat, season with salt and brown all over. Now pour in the marinade, cover and simmer very slowly on top of the stove for about 1½ hours or until all the wine has been absorbed. When there is no wine left, add the stock, stir and cook for a further 45 minutes. (If using rabbit or chicken, reduce the cooking time by 30 minutes and 15 minutes respectively.) When the meat is cooked through and all the vegetables soft, remove the meat and strain the remaining contents of the casserole, pushing the vegetables through the sieve. Return the meat to the casserole, pour over the resulting gravy and cool overnight.

Re-heat the casserole in a bain-marie until piping hot. If using a truffle, shave it lightly all over the top of the dish just before serving.

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