Ate some home New Orleans-style Sicilian cooking yesterday at the future in-law's. Mama Gina relaxed the no-meat in Lent rule for the visit of her 89 year-old Aunt Caterina, who's visiting from Endicott, New York. MG stuffed a rabbit. I found this hilarious considering that Easter is almost upon us, (TIC, I told Mama Gina that I was PRAYING that the poor bunny wasn't Flopsy, Mopsy or Peter Cottontail's cousin! And that the Easter Bunny wouldn't get his tail out of joint and ignore me on Easter Sunday! I'd hate to get on his black list just as my conversion to Catholicism was about to become legal!) but the bunny (about a three-and-a-half-pounder) was really good.
Here's the bunny game plan: buy it already dressed, rubbed inside and out with olive oil and then a light sprinkling of salt and black pepper in and out, line both sides of the inside with some prosciutto. Then stuff the bunny's belly with a battuto (sp) of celery, shallots, fresh rosemary, bell pepper and about a pound of dark mushrooms, all mixed with a cup-and-a-half of rough red wine, to which is added two separate additional rabbit tenderloins, first cubed and sauteed with some garlic and anchovy, and a pound of finely diced andouille, cubed and fried until brown.
The cooking time was hard for me to follow: it seemed she preheated the oven to 400 and then baked the bunny for 30 minutes at 375, turning it over at that point and then cooking it for about an hour-and-a-half at 350. Baste it with about half-a-cup of the rabbit stock every 15 minutes, from start to finish.
Rabbit stock. FIRST, before anything else, you bone the rabbit's four little legs and then roast the leg meat and the rabbit's kidneys, liver (mashed up I suppose) in the oven for an hour. Then you place in a stock pot, add 5 gallons of water, a packet of every day herbs (bouquet garni) a chopped onion, four finely chopped cloves of garlic, a small green bell pepper finely diced, a diced carrott and a small stalk of celery, finely diced. Boil for two hours. MG did this step Friday.
After saving a few cups of the stock, Mama G used a lot of the rest to start her white beans, which was served on a side dish as part of the course with the stuffed rabbit. This was a very hearty meal.
Basically the beans were washed in cold water, then drained and brought to a quick boil in the rabbit stock (which received the addition of an herb bouquet, another diced carrot, four more finely diced garlic cloves and a finely diced onion) and then left to soak for an hour in the stock. When the beans were ready to simmer, Mama G added a large handful of fresh Sage wrapped in cheesecloth (which is removed before serving). Simmer around 2 hours or a little more on a low flame. Mama G says you can't clock it exactly because the beans are all different, some are dryer than others and take longer to cook so you judge doneness by tasting for texture and consistency. She also doesn't add salt and pepper until the beans are almost done, she judges quanity by taste.
Aunt Caterina (Aunt Cat for short) is Mama Gina's Mother's sister and Mama Gina's grandmother was the daughter of the cook on the big estate near Partinico. The owners were of the nobility (Barons, I believe) and they had Luigia (MG's great-grandmother) sent to Palermo and Naples for schooling in cooking and kitchen management. There's a strong tradition of cooking in the family and although Aunt Rita eats sparingly, she can be very critical so Mama G left nothing to chance.
The good news is that Aunt Caterina is staying with various relatives through the weekend after Easter.
So there's going to be an endless round of mainly meatless lunch and dinner feasts for the next few weeks! The plan is to take her to the Cathederal for Mass Easter Sunday morning, then to have a big outdoor mid-day dinner (everyone will be assigned a dish or two) at a cousin's home on Severn right at the lake levee.
When the cooking was all over we started with some mushroom and anchovy crostini; a light dish of bucatini (thick spaghetti) with a lightly cooked tomato, sage and onion sauce; then came the rabbit with the beans on the side as the contorno. The tomato, sage and onion sauce, with a cup of Chianti added and reheated, reprised on the rabbit.
This sauce is just basically a mix of strained tomato pulp and juice and a few tablespoons of very green olive oil with some finely chopped onion, which was sauteed in the same very green olive oil, with another cheesecloth bag of fresh sage added - remove the sage when done. This sauce only needs to simmer for about 10 minutes. MG says she sometimes adds some garlic and anchovy to liven up the flavor.
A red Chianti Riserva from Antinori went with the rabbit. Not special, not bad but Aunt caterina would be familiar with it., No need to confuse her with the heavy Puglian reds that Frank, Jr. and I adore so much.
We finished dinner with a plain lettuce salad (oil and vinegar) and then some blood orange ice from Angelo Brocato's before my Frank and I went to his apartment for espresso and grappa.
Mama G says the beans will turn into a soup for Monday and Tuesday and told Frank Jr. to bring me over for dinner one evening.
MG also said that she had asked Saint Joseph to interceed for forgivness for her for serving meat on
a Saturday in Lent and that the rest of the way to Easter (Sunday's included!) it would be fish and seafood only.
Today's menu is going to be Crab-and-Olive Salad followed by a whole baked Sheepshead in a raw tomato sauce (not the tomato, onion and sage sauce she put together Saturday). She lines the Sheepshead's stomach with two lemons sliced thinly, sprinkled with black pepper, parsley and green onion. The top gets a light dusting of cayenne and sweet paprika. The contorno is going to be the lightly fired karduni that I've been craving. Bless her for taking pity!