Rabbit a Stimpirata (Sweet and Sour Rabbit)
In southeast Sicily, when the olive season closes and the air turns cooler, restaurants begin serving rabbit braised in stock and seasoned with salty capers, olives, vinegar, and honey. Pine nuts and golden raisins make the dish truly Sicilian. Braising rabbit is the best way to prepare it. It's a lean animal that doesn't take well to dry heat like roasting. In this dish, the rabbit marinates for a couple of hours, then simmers for 45 minutes. At about $12 a pound, rabbit is pricey, but worth making at least once for a special occasion. If you like this sweet and sour sauce, substitute bone-in chicken thighs for the rabbit another time. The next day, toss shreds of leftover meat and sauce with wide noodles.
1½ cups red wine
1 onion, peeled thinly sliced
3 bay leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
1 (2½-pound) rabbit, cut into 6 pieces
1/3 cup golden raisins
½ cup flour
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 ounces pancetta, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/3 cup pine nuts
15 green olives, smashed and pitted
2 tablespoons capers
2 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon honey
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1. In a non-reactive bowl, combine the wine, sliced onion, 1 bay leaf, 1 teaspoon of salt and a pinch of pepper. Submerge the rabbit in the marinade and refrigerate for 1 to 3 hours.
2. Place the raisins in a small bowl and soak in warm water.
3. Remove the rabbit from the marinade and pat dry with paper towels. In a wide shallow bowl combine the flour, ½ teaspoon salt and a pinch of pepper.
4. In a large wide saucepan, warm 4 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium-high heat. Cover the rabbit pieces in the flour, shaking off excess. Sear in the hot oil, in batches if needed, until golden, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate.
5. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and the pancetta to the pot and cook until the pancetta shrinks slightly, about 1 minute. Add the chopped onion, celery and garlic and sauté until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook until combined, about 1 minute. Drain the raisins. Add the raisins, pine nuts, olives and capers and cook for 5 minutes more. Return the rabbit to the pan, add the stock and enough water to barely covered. Bring to a boil, then simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.
6. In a small saucepan over low heat, dissolve the honey into the vinegar. Remove from the heat.
7. Add the vinegar mixture to the rabbit and simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes more. Transfer the rabbit pieces to a bowl. Gently boil the sauce to the desired consistency, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Return rabbit to the sauce and coat until heated through. Serves 4. —Jill Santopietro for The Boston Globe.