Rabbit ragù with tagliatelle

Tagliatelle with rabbit ragu


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If I could eat tagliatelle with rabbit ragù every week, I would. I don't, but Mum used to, for Great-Grandma Maria was adamant about making it every Sunday as the first course, followed, most likely, by braised rabbit with stir-fried greens. Then again, they did rear their own rabbits.

Rabbits have been farmed for centuries in Veneto, and the tradition continues to this day, with rabbit being widely available in butcher shops and on restaurant menus. Many agriturismi dotting the Venetian countryside serve it, either on its own or, if you're lucky, as part of an always delightful ragù di cortile (a 'courtyard' mixed-meat ragù).

Great-Grandma Maria only used rabbit in her ragù. The sauce started with rabbit meat browning in a glistening puddle of butter and pancetta. It was then wetted by wine and broth and a blushing bit of tomato before being simmered patiently for a good while – long enough for Maria to make a batch of fresh tagliatelle to go with it.

Making fresh pasta was part of the Sunday ritual in rural Veneto. No woman would ever get married, let alone be allowed in the kitchen, if she didn't know how to tame a ball of dough. Maria used to stretch her dough with a rolling pin (baco da taiadele), cut the tagliatelle by hand, and hang them to dry around the kitchen like frilly fringes. No pasta machine in her kitchen.

I wish I could say the same. These days, I not only rely on a pasta machine, but I often depend on a good fresh pasta supplier, too. The rabbit sauce however, has no shortcuts: its therapeutic properties rest in the cooking as much as the eating. Taking a half Sunday to bring it all together seems like a luxury sometimes, but it all feels very worthwhile the moment we sit down to lunch.

Heat the butter and oil in a large heavy-based pan set over a medium heat. Once hot, add the pancetta and pan-fry until browned and crisp, about 2 minutes
Next add the onion, carrot, celery, sage and rosemary and cook until the vegetables are very tender, 4–5 minutes, stirring often
At this point, stir in the chopped rabbit meat and increase the heat to medium-high. Brown it on all sides for about 5 minutes, then pour in the wine, stock, tomato sauce and purée. Once the sauce is simmering, reduce the heat to low and cover
Cook the ragù for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally and adding more stock if the liquid reduces too quickly. By the end you should have a red-blushed, thick sauce with meat that almost falls apart. Taste and adjust the seasoning; discard the sage and rosemary, remove from the heat and set aside
Next, bring a large pan of salted water to a rolling boil. Lower in the tagliatelle and cook for 3–4 minutes
Meanwhile, set the rabbit ragù back over a medium heat. When the pasta is ready, drain it and top with the ragù. Toss until any water has been absorbed and the pasta is well-coated with the sauce. Serve with a generous dusting of Parmesan
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