Use a large, heavy plat à sauter. Lacking that, begin in a large skillet, transferring everything to a casserole at the time of moistening.
Salt the pieces of rabbit and color them in the hot olive oil, adjusting the flame to medium after a couple of minutes. Add the onion and the garlic cloves immediately after turning the rabbit pieces over, shifting rabbit and onions regularly to prevent the latter from browning. When the rabbit pieces are sufficiently colored, sprinkle with sugar, turn the pieces over, and a minute later sprinkle over the flour, lowering, at the same time, the flame. Displace all the contents of the pan, turning the rabbit pieces over two or three times during a period of about 5 minutes—the flour should be lightly colored. Sprinkle over the saffron and cayenne and continue turning things gently around and over until all the elements are saffron-stained. Turn the flame high and pour in the white wine, scraping the bottom of the pan at all points and repeatedly with a wooden spoon until all adherent material has been dissolved into the sauce. Add enough water to the boiling sauce to just cover the contents of the pan, return to a boil, and cook, covered, over a very low heat, at a bare simmer, until the rabbit is tender, but still slightly firm—about ½ hour for a young rabbit.
Remove the pieces of meat to a platter and strain the sauce through a sieve, working the debris vigorously with a wooden pestle to purée the onions and garlic—only the garlic hulls should remain in the sieve. Scrape the purée from the underside of the sieve and stir it into the sauce. Return the rabbit pieces to their cooking vessel, add the tomatoes and the cucumbers (see below), distributing them regularly and shaking the pan to settle the contents. Grind over pepper to taste and leave, covered, in a warm place while finishing the sauce.
Skim off any fat that has risen to the surface of the sauce. Bring it to a boil, pull the saucepan a bit to the side of the flame, adjusting the heat so that a light boil is maintained at one side of the surface. Skim (skin) each time a skin forms on the still surface area, gently gathering it to the edge with the tip of a tablespoon, lifting it free and discarding it. After 15 or 20 minutes, the sauce should be fat free; if it still seems light-bodied (it should be relatively so) or overabundant, reduce over a high flame, stirring all the while with a wooden spoon, to the desired consistency.
Pour the sauce over the rabbit and garnish, shake the pan gently, bring to a simmer, and leave, covered, over very low heat for about 10 minutes—long enough for the pieces of rabbit to be thoroughly reheated and for the flavors to intermingle. Sprinkle with the sautéed liver (see below) and the basil, the leaves torn into tiny pieces rather than chopped with a knife (if tiny-leafed variety, leave the leaves whole). Cover and leave, off the heat, for another 5 minutes, permitting the basil to expand. Accompany with a rice pilaf.
Stew the tomatoes, salted and peppered, in
Peel and rinse the cucumbers. If they are small, the seeds still unformed, they may be cut crosswise into ½-inch lengths. Larger cucumbers should be split either into halves or quarters, depending on their size, seeds removed and cut into ½-inch to 1-inch lengths, depending on thickness (the dictates of the nineteenth century still oblige the professional cook to pare them in the form of large olives—the waste of time and cucumber involved makes no sense in the home kitchen unless one’s guests are addicted to mechanical decoration). Plunge them into heavily salted water and simmer for no more than a minute—they should not be cooked, only ever so slightly softened—drain and put them to stew gently in
Cut the liver into small pieces or thin strips and toss, seasoned, in hot butter for a few seconds—long enough to turn the pieces gray; they should remain pink inside.
Copyright © 1974 by Richard Olney. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.