Coniglio alla ligure (Ligurian-Style Rabbit)

Rabbit is another one of those foods that many people seem to feel squeamish about. Perhaps because the live animal is so cute and furry, the thought of eating them strikes people, particularly North Americans, as strange or even disgusting. That’s too bad, because rabbit is actually one of the most delicious of meats, much like chicken but a bit firmer fleshed and more flavorful than most chicken you will find these days.

Rabbit can be used to make just about any chicken dish (and vice versa) but there are any number of recipes specifically for rabbit (and its wild cousin the hare) in Italian cookery. We have already featured coniglio alla cacciatora, or hunter’s rabbit, the original Tuscan dish that morphed into ‘Chicken Cacciatore’ when it crossed the Atlantic, and here is an equally tasty spezzatino from Liguria, the region of Italy that encompasses the ‘Italian Riviera’:

Ingredients

Serves 4-6 people

  • 1 medium-sized rabbit
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • White wine
  • A bay leaf
  • A sprig of fresh rosemary
  • A sprig of fresh marjoram or thyme
  • A  handful of black olives, perferably of the Gaeta or niçoise variety
  • A handful of pinoli nuts

Directions

Make a soffritto of the onion and garlic, gently sautéed in olive oil.

Add your rabbit, cut it up into serving pieces. (See this post for instructions.) Allow the rabbit pieces to brown lightly in the soffritto and absorb the flavors of the onion and garlic. Season well with salt and pepper.

Then pour in a good splash of red wine, and turn the pieces around so they are all covered well. Add a bay leaf, a sprig of fresh rosemary and a sprig of fresh marjoram (or thyme) and cover the dish, turning down and regulating the heat so that the dish simmers gently. Allow the rabbit to braise in the wine for 45 minutes to an hour, turning from time to time and adding some water or broth as needed to keep things moist but not soupy, making sure that there is enough liquid at the end to make a nice sauce.

About halfway through, add a handful of black olives and another handful of pinoli nuts.

Serve immediately, napping the rabbit pieces with the exquisite sauce. I find that this dish goes particularly well with steamed or mashed potatoes.

Notes

You may surprised at the rather long simmering process. The rabbit will often be ‘done’ in as little as 20-30 minutes, but if you cook it longer, you will find that the meat will be much tastier, having fully absorbed the flavorings, and more tender. The typical olives are small, blacks ones called olive taggiasche in Italian, grown along the Ligurian Riviera and used to make the fine, light Ligurian olive oil. They are very similar to the niçoise olives, which can used as a substitute, as can any similar black olive like the Gaeta variety. The wine should ideally also be Ligurian but any medium to light bodied red will do fine. If your rabbit comes with liver and kidneys, as they often do, you can cut them up and add them about halfway through the cooking process, along with the olives and pinoli nuts. Some recipes add celery to the soffritto.

And if you cannot bring yourself to eat rabbit, a cut-up whole chicken can be prepared in just the same way and is almost as delicious.

The dish is also called coniglio alla sanremese, after San Remo, of course, site of the famous music festival, on the coast very close to the French border. Started in 1951, it is still an annual ritual that is almost mandatory TV viewing in Italy. Perhaps the closest thing in the US would be the Superbowl, except it appeals equally to both women and men. The festival launched the careers of several famous Italian singers, including Andrea Bocelli, Laura Pausini and Eros Ramazzoti, but it is meant as a composition for composers, not singers, and features original songs. The festival has attracted the participation of some well known non-Italian singers, including Stevie Wonder, José Feliciano, Roberto Carlos, Dionne Warwick, Petula Clark and Connie Francis.

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16 Responses to “Coniglio alla ligure (Ligurian-Style Rabbit)”

  1. Diane
    25 February 2013 at 00:04 #

    A couple of years ago a friend had been shooting and asked if I would like some rabbits. I gladly accepted but was rather surprised when he gave me 20 of the beast. He had shot 76 in an hour to clear them from a farmers land. Well by the time I had skinned all 20 my arms were dropping off but I had no trouble in sharing them with friends once the main jobs were done. I brined them over night then they were ready for the freezer not that they lasted very long as they were soon eaten.

    • 28 February 2013 at 08:35 #

      20 rabbits, incredible! But I can imagine they went quickly. A delicious creature.

  2. 24 February 2013 at 19:45 #

    I haven’t had rabbit – in decades. And certainly not prepared this way. I was always told it was tricky and that rabbit overcooks easily – and I hate to do the little guys an injustice. But this just beckons. Long ago, My “Uncle Emilio” kept rabbits and we would go over and visit and hold them. Silly me – I thought they were pets…

  3. Anonymous
    19 October 2010 at 15:15 #

    Dear Frank,
    For some simes I follow your site.Let me tell you ,I am a dutch girl. Girl is not the right word because I am sixty. With a lot of pleasure I read your articles. Last day I made the carbonnade a la flamande. I invited my boys and they found it delicious.My english is not very good, but I want to say something about your recipe. I did all the way you describted it,for me it was a recipe I know allready, but in a forgotten way.
    What you say in your site that people add gingerbread, I can say to you that that is a way to thicken your sauce,it is not idiot or rare,it is a way how we learn to cook this recipe.
    In Holland we don't know gingerbread ,but we know ontbijtkoek.What is the difference, I don't know for sure.
    Maybe it is the same. But don't laugh ,it is an original way to thicken your sauce,and in the combination with the beer it is wonderfull. You have to give it a try.You also told in your recipe to add half as much onions than the beef. So I started to puzzle what you meant, I looked on the internet and searching I found a song from Patsy Cline,called : Half as much. A nice song to hear. So I thank you for the recipe and also for the song ,it was a nice way to bring everything together

  4. 11 October 2010 at 20:38 #

    Thanks, folks! Nice to see we have a few rabbit-ovores as readers, lol! Not to mention Eros fans… :)

  5. 9 October 2010 at 20:52 #

    Oh Frank, you always charm us with your dishes and stories. Wish I could experience both the rabbit & the concert in person! Best from Santa Barbara.

  6. 9 October 2010 at 11:39 #

    Not a big fan of rabbit, but can certainly see the passion in this dish, and how delicious it must be…Well done, thanks for sharing such a prize.

    Rico-Tried and Tested Recipes

  7. 9 October 2010 at 08:26 #

    I love your coniglio alla ligure! I usualy cook rabit like your first part of the recipe, but I let it in oven for about 60min, in a clay pot, with lid on. Is absolutely delicious!
    and some music
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r461Aa5ZDCM

  8. 9 October 2010 at 07:38 #

    Beautiful recipe, as usual. Bravo Frank!

  9. 9 October 2010 at 07:36 #

    like many game birds, braising is such a good choice…. haven't had rabbit is a while, this is one heck of a way to enjoy the little feller…

  10. 9 October 2010 at 05:33 #

    This is one of my favourite dishes…and you explain it here wonderfully….Ah, the Italian Riviera !!! Paradise on Earth (with some Chianti, claro!)

  11. 9 October 2010 at 05:32 #

    I love rabbit, but haven't cooked it in quite a while. Thanks for the reminder.

  12. 9 October 2010 at 03:27 #

    I have a pet and it's a rabbit. This new to me really but my mouth is watering right now lol=)

  13. 8 October 2010 at 20:22 #

    My husband used to dress rabbits for his grandma for .50 cents a pop. I'll cook this for him he will get a kick out of it. B

  14. 8 October 2010 at 18:14 #

    A perfect main course with Eros Ramazzotti music in the background….now I'm craving both the dish and his songs!

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