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Hunter's Rabbit (coniglio alla cacciatore) & Rabbit Ragu` (ragu di coniglio)

Vincenzo - 'Il Cacciatore'

This post is dedicated to all the hunters including my father in law, who I unfortunately didn't get to meet as he passed away long before I joined the family.  This photo shows a gentle family man who had a passion for the outdoors and loved to go 'a caccia' (hunting) for rabbits, hares and quails. He migrated from Sicily to Melbourne in the 1950's and along with his brother, friend and Pasqualino the dog, would spend his limited pass time 'hunting and gathering', all of which was then brought home to cook and feed the family. This photo, I have been told was taken at a location kept secret; but like many Italians, day trips to farms in surrounding areas were the places to be. 

There have been many funny stories told about growing up in an Italian family in Australia, which at the time may not have been so humorous, but now we look back and laugh. One particular story now fondly told was when my father in law returned home with rabbits that hadn't yet been skinned. To the children's horror and embarrassment, they were hung on the Aussie Hills Hoist (clothes line) in preparation for the skinning. This was done late at night, so who knows what the neighbours thought!

My husband also shares a passion for hunting and the outdoors, following in his father's footsteps, I guess in a way to keep his father's memory alive and close. His hunting trips however, are very different and spread throughout the year, extending far out of Victoria, which can include a few 'reconnaissance' and overnight stays with his mates to ensure the best location is found. More of a reason to escape from city life than hunt, they load the cars, with tents, cooking utensils, lots of food and the kitchen sink!  Needless to say, the few rabbits and quails that do come home, have ended up in our kitchen already skinned and cleaned and have spared our children the horror.  All I have had to do is cook them using family recipes which have included, 'Coniglio alla Cacciatore' and  'Ragu`di Coniglio'. 

When quail season comes around, 'Quaglie al Forno' or al Sugo is on order, but as this is a delicacy it deserves its own separate post.  Both these meats, if not farmed are generally darker and have a strong gamey flavour and not to everyone's liking. Unlike farmed rabbit and quail, it usually requires marinating the meat overnight in white wine or leaving to soak in water and lemon to remove any impurities. 

This years hunting season has been one of the best, so on a few occasions I have cooked the rabbit two ways.  These recipes I learnt from my mother and they are - Coniglio alla Cacciatore, and Ragu`di Coniglio.  

Coniglio alla Cacciatore (hunter's rabbit)

1 rabbit
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt & pepper (to taste)
3 garlic cloves, sliced
2 bay leaves
1 sprig rosemary, leaves picked 
Dried black olives
Chili flakes or 3 whole dried chili (to taste) 
100ml dry white wine

Prepare the rabbit by cutting into portions, and marinate overnight in white wine, chili, rosemary and garlic to infuse with flavour. The next day, remove and pat dry. Lightly dust the pieces with flour.

Brown rabbit pieces in oil along with the aromatics and season with salt and pepper.  During this time, I also like to add a hand full of black dried olives which adds a lovely flavour to the rabbit. Pour all into a baking dish with white wine and bake covered in oven on a low setting. Alternatively cook on stove with lid on. Keep moist by adding a ladle of hot water. The rabbit is cooked once it separates from the bone.  At this point, remove the lid and allow all juices to reduce.  My father and I like it very spicy, so a fair amount of chili is added.  My husband on the other hand prefers it milder, so I try to strike a happy medium. I also like to add the black olives.  This dish can be eaten on its own or added to polenta.

Ragu`di Coniglio (rabbit ragu)


1 rabbit
2 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion (finely chopped)
1 celery stalk (finely chopped)
1 small carrot (finely chopped)
1 garlic clove (crushed)
1 bay leaf
1 sprig each sage and rosemary, leaves picked and finely chopped
1/2 tbsp tomato paste
1 bottle of passata
100ml dry white wine

Prepare the rabbit by cutting into portions, and marinate overnight in white wine, chili, rosemary and garlic to infuse with flavour. The next day, remove and pat dry. Lightly dust the pieces with flour.

Heat oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan over medium heat.  Add onion, celery, carrot, garlic and herbs, and cook stirring until vegetables start to soften.  Add rabbit and cook, turning until browned all over.  Add tomato paste, stir and then add wine and allow to simmer until evaporated.  Add passata and enough water to cover the rabbit. Season with salt and simmer for 3 hours or until rabbit is very tender and falls off the bone.  Before serving on your favourite home made pasta, pick meat off the bone, ensuring all small bones are discarded. This ragu` was added to my mothers home made orecchiette.


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