It all started a few years ago when I was out for dinner with my family on the night before Easter. I ordered the rabbit. I ate the Easter bunny on the night before Easter. Two years ago, my birthday fell on the day before Easter. When we went out for dinner that night, I did it again. What can I say? I can’t resist a theme. So, rabbit was on the menu for our Easter dinner this year. The only problem was that the recipe calls for ground rabbit, and after too many phone calls to count to butcher shops and meat counters around town, I learned that I can’t get ground rabbit in Austin. I bought a whole rabbit from Countryside Farms at the farmers’ market, removed the bones, and chopped the meat myself. But first, I started by making the cavatelli a couple of days in advance. It was easier than I expected and really, really fun. Boiling water was mixed into semolina flour with salt and olive oil in a stand mixer. The dough was then kneaded by hand briefly and then left to rest for 30 minutes. With small pieces of dough at a time, long ropes were rolled by hand and cut into half-inch lengths. Those half-inch bits of dough were rolled off the thumb on a ridged gnocchi board. The dough is just stiff enough to curl up around your thumb and form a little curved shape. It was like the dough just knew what to do all by itself. I stored some of the cavatelli in the refrigerator that was going to be used that weekend, and the rest was placed on a sheet pan and set in the freezer. Once firmly frozen, the cavatelli can be transferred to a bag to store in the freezer. Making the rabbit ragu was simple once I had the rabbit meat prepped and ready. I did skip the pancetta in the recipe and started by cooking the onion, fennel, rosemary, sage, thyme, bay leaves, and red pepper flakes. Pureed, canned tomatoes were added and left to simmer before red wine and chicken stock were added and simmered until reduced. The chopped rabbit cooks quickly and was added at the end and only cooked for 10 minutes. To serve, enough ragu for each serving was heated in a saute pan with some added butter. Cooked cavatelli were added to the sauce to finish cooking and become coated. Parmiggiano-Reggiano was sprinkled on each serving.
The semolina cavatelli are sturdy but tender at the same time. They hold their shape well but take on a nice texture after being cooked. The only thing better than making the pasta, was eating it. The ridges and curled shapes held the ragu well, and I was delighted with the rabbit in the sauce. I still have more cavatelli in the freezer that might get paired with a simpler tomato sauce next time. And then, I’ll be coming back to the book to try all the other dumpling shapes.
Recipe reprinted with publisher's permission from Pasta by Hand.
This recipe, featuring semolina, makes a sturdy dumpling. The texture is firmer and more toothsome than ricotta cavatelli, similar to malloreddus, which are also made from semolina, though the cavatelli are a little denser and made without any saffron. Semolina cavatelli pair well with sauces rooted in southern Italian staples, such as tomato, lamb, beef, and seafood.
400 G/1 3/4 CUPS WATER
865 G/5 CUPS SEMOLINA FLOUR, PLUS MORE FOR DUSTING
2 TSP KOSHER SALT
1 TBSP EXTRA-VIRGIN OLIVE OIL
Bring the water to a boil over high heat. In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook attachment, combine the semolina flour, boiling water, salt, and olive oil. Knead with your hands or on medium speed for 10 minutes, until fully combined and the dough is mostly smooth. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and dust with semolina. Cut off a chunk of dough about the width of two fingers and leave the rest covered with plastic wrap. On a work surface very lightly dusted with semolina, use your hands to roll the chunk into a log about ½ in (12 mm) in diameter. Do not incorporate too much more semolina into the dough, adding just enough so the dough does not stick to the surface. Cut the log into ½- to 1-in (12-mm to 2.5-cm) pieces. With the side of your thumb, gently push each piece against a gnocchi board or the back of the tines of a fork, rolling and flicking the dough to make a curled shape with an indentation on one side and a ridged surface on the other. Put the cavatelli on the prepared baking sheets and shape the remaining dough. Make sure that the cavatelli don’t touch or they will stick together.
(To store, refrigerate on the baking sheets, covered with plastic wrap, for up to 2 days, or freeze on the baking sheets and transfer to an airtight container. Use within 1 month. Do not thaw before cooking.)
Bring a large pot filled with generously salted water to a simmer over medium-high heat. Add the cavatelli and simmer until they float to the surface, 1 to 3 minutes. Simmer for 1 to 2 minutes more, until al dente. Remove immediately with a slotted spoon and finish with your choice of sauce. Serve right away.
SAUCE PAIRINGS: Traditionally, semolina cavatelli are paired with Tomato Sauce, Rabbit Ragu, Lamb Ragu, or Beef Ragu.
Makes 3 cups (720 ml)
Rabbit is as common in Italy as chicken is in the United States. At Lincoln, this ragu is a staple. We buy whole rabbits and use every part: the bones are made into stock, the fore- and hindquarters are used for an entree, and the loins and bellies are ground for ragu. Often we also use the livers, heart, and kidneys when making ragù; they add great richness and flavor. If finding ground rabbit meat is challenging, check with a local farm, Italian market, or specialty butcher, and ask specifically for medium-large grind (if the rabbit is finely ground, it will cook too quickly and toughen). This sauce is well worth the effort.
3 TBSP EXTRA-VIRGIN OLIVE OIL
2 OZ (60 G) PANCETTA, PROSCIUTTO, OR BACON, FINELY CHOPPED
1/4 CUP (40 G) FINELY DICED YELLOW ONION
1/4 CUP (45 G) FINELY DICED FENNEL BULB
1 SPRIG FRESH ROSEMARY
3 FRESH SAGE LEAVES
2 SPRIGS FRESH THYME
2 BAY LEAVES
1 TSP RED PEPPER FLAKES
1/4 CUP (50 G) CANNED WHOLE PEELED TOMATOES, PUREED AND STRAINED
1/2 CUP (120 ML) RED WINE
4 CUPS (960 ML) CHICKEN STOCK
1 LB (455 G) GROUND RABBIT LOIN AND BELLY, MEDIUM-LARGE GRIND
KOSHER SALT AND FRESHLY GROUND BLACK PEPPER
UNSALTED BUTTER FOR SERVING
DUMPLINGS OF YOUR CHOICE, JUST COOKED
GRATED PARMIGIANO-REGGIANO CHEESE FOR SERVING
In a large heavy-bottomed pot, warm the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and cook until the fat renders and the pancetta barely begins to brown, about 4 minutes. Add the onion, fennel, rosemary, sage, thyme, bay leaves, and red pepper flakes and cook until the onion and pancetta are soft and slightly caramelized, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes and stir to combine.
Turn the heat to low and cook until the tomato thickens and begins to caramelize, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the red wine, raise the heat to medium-low, and cook until the wine is almost completely evaporated, 2 to 4 minutes. Stir in the chicken stock and simmer very gently until the sauce is reduced to about one-third, about 20 minutes.
Add the rabbit to the sauce, stirring to break up any lumps, and simmer just until the meat is soft, tender, and cooked through, about 10 minutes. Rabbit is lean, so it does not require much cooking time.
Season the sauce with salt and pepper and discard the herb sprigs and bay leaves.
(To store, transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 2 days, or freeze for up to 1 month. To thaw, place in the refrigerator overnight or until fully thawed.)
To finish dumplings with the ragu, for each serving, warm 1/2 cup (120 ml) of ragu in a saute pan over medium heat and add 1½ tsp to 1 Tbsp butter per serving, depending on how naughty you feel. Gently simmer about 4 minutes, until the bubbles get large and the sauce is not watery along the edges of the pan. Add the cooked dumplings and simmer for 1 minute to let the dumplings absorb the flavor of the sauce. Spoon into serving bowls and top with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Serve right away.
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