Pan-Roasted Rabbit Riviera-Style with Herbs, Walnuts, and Olives

Coniglio in Tegame alla Rivierasca

When we yearn for aromatic cooking we turn to the Riviera, and it never lets us down. I had this rabbit in the town of Chiavari, after having spent the latter part of the morning at the small but splendid outdoor market it holds daily in a handsome piazza. The bay leaves, rosemary, and thyme; the walnuts; the olives—as I list the ingredients I can hear the singsong cadences of the musical Genoese dialect.

The liver enriches the taste of this rabbit—which has moved to the front rank of my favorites—to a significant degree. If you can buy rabbit with its own liver, that will give you exactly the flavor accent you need. If not, you can come close by using chicken livers.

Ingredients

  • A 3 to 4-pound rabbit
  • ½ cup red wine vinegar
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • A large yellow onion, cut into thin slices, about cups
  • 2 whole bay leaves
  • Coarsely chopped rosemary leaves, 1 tablespoon if fresh, 2 teaspoons if dried
  • ½ cup chopped celery
  • Thyme, 1 teaspoon if fresh, ½ teaspoon if dried
  • cups dry red wine
  • cup shelled walnuts, mashed in a mortar or ground fine
  • Salt
  • Black pepper ground fresh
  • The rabbits liver or 3 fresh chicken livers
  • 20 unpitted Italian Riviera or niçoise olives

    On the Night Before

  • Cut the rabbit into 8 pieces, and put the pieces in a bowl with enough water to cover and ½ cup red wine vinegar. Refrigerate overnight.

Method

Cooking the Rabbit

  1. When ready to cook the rabbit, retrieve it from its marinade, wash every piece thoroughly in cold water, and pat dry with kitchen towels.
  2. Choose a sauté pan or skillet that can subsequently contain all the rabbit pieces in a single layer without overlapping. Put in the olive oil and turn on the heat to medium high. When the oil is hot enough to sizzle the moment the meat is put in, slip all the rabbit pieces into the pan. Brown them well on one side, then turn them to brown the other side. When they have been nicely browned all over, use a slotted spoon or spatula to transfer them to a deep platter or bowl.
  3. Put the onion in the pan and cook it, stirring frequently, until it becomes colored a pale gold. Lower the heat just slightly, and add the bay leaves, rosemary, celery, and thyme, turning them over for about a minute.
  4. Return the rabbit pieces to the pan, turn them over three or four times during 1 minute, then add the wine. Let the wine bubble away completely while using the wooden spoon to scrape loose the browning residues from the bottom of the pan.
  5. Add the walnuts, sprinkle with salt and grindings of pepper, turn over the contents of the pan once or twice to coat them well, then turn the heat down to low and cover the pan. Cook at a gentle pace, occasionally turning the rabbit pieces over.
  6. Bring water to a boil in a saucepan and put in the liver or livers. Cook less than 5 minutes, draining the liver while it is still slightly pink. Chop it very fine, using either a knife or the food processor.
  7. When the rabbit has cooked for about 30 minutes, add the chopped liver to the pan, turning over the pan’s contents once or twice. Continue cooking, always at low heat and with a lid on the pan, for 45 minutes or more, until the meat feels very tender when poked with a fork.
  8. When the rabbit is done, put in the whole olives, turn the contents of the pan over for about 1 minute, then serve at once from a warm platter.
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