In my American genes it is not even Thanksgiving yet, but I seem to already be doing all things Christmas.
I spent last week end helping my kids make decorations to bring to school.
Which would be ok if:
a) the elementary school project didn't involve making three different decorations using the five senses as inspiration. Which makes it a bit more complicated than dumping a bunch of glitter glue, loose ends from last year's Christmas ribbons and some cardboard toilet paper rolls onto a table* and letting your kid "freely express her artistic inclinations" (although I will admit that the huge Christmas tree they decorate in the entrance with the kids' work gets me teary every year and I am proud of the school's amazing Parent Association that funds great projects with the money they make selling one of the three decorations each child makes);
b) I didn't spend the whole time I am picking glue out of my pre-schooler's hair and wiping glitter off the floor (and chairs, and table and the rest of the house) thinking why the heck they don't make them do their artwork at school since they don't exactly spend their days reciting Homer and solving equations.
This week end I will be helping my mother in law make her famous tortellini for Christmas Eve. I cherish family traditions and have noticed that with the passing of time it is getting harder and harder for her to make the enormous quantities of food she has spoiled her family with for so many years. I want to be able to help her, take some of the weight off of her shoulders; and I want to hand this art down to my own children and their families. I know I will be getting a bag to stash away in my freezer for our Christmas celebration with my family this year. But what I and my children will really be getting out of it are precious memories of these Christmases together, memories they will carry with them for the rest of their lives. I know I cherish the moments I spent with my grandmothers, even more so now that they are no longer here with me.
I have been translating Christmas recipes for a website, sorting through hundreds of pictures of the kids for our Christmas cards and scouring the Internet for gifts because I swore to myself last year that I am never getting stuck in that last-minute shopping frenzy again.
But the truth is all I want to do is slow down and enjoy some turkey and cranberry sauce and think about all the things I have to be thankful for, because there are many. The first being my friend who is organizing a belated Thanksgiving get-together next week end for all us nostalgic expats.
Another one being all those things that make life easier. Like a recipe that can go two ways, depending what you are in the mood for.
(If you were hoping for something a little more soppy, go here (I am also thankful my photography has improved a tad!) and here, to Thanksgivings past).
This is the "sliding doors" of recipes: a small twist of fate and you can get two entirely different meals out of it. A primo or a secondo as they would say here, a first course or a main course. I posted about the latter a couple of years ago. This time I took it a step further.
If you follow the recipe until the meat is perfectly braised (in the link, I finish braising it in the oven, but the stove top will do fine. Just use less liquid for cooking) you will end up with a comforting dish of fall-of-the-bone tender rabbit meat to serve with polenta, mashed potatoes, rice or whatever other vehicle you have in mind to mop up every last drop of the sauce. If you read all the way to the end of the recipe, because like us, you cannot get through the week (or day) without a big plate of pasta, you will enjoy a delicate and delicious ragù.
*Now I know that my grandmother's weren't just thrifty because of the Great Depression and the WW2... before being grandmas they were mothers of pre-schoolers and schoolers, which literally means hoarding every piece of crap a functioning person would normally throw away, because at some point you are going to need it for a school project.
Ingredients (6-8) servings
1 rabbit, cut into pieces
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 large shallots (or 1 onion), finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
3 small stalks celery, finely chopped
2/3 cup of white wine (optional)
about 25fl. oz/750ml vegetable or meat stock
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 sprig rosemary
1 bay leaf
2 sage leaves
In a large pot with lid, heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Rinse and dry the pieces of meat. Season with pepper and salt and lightly coat with flour. Brown the meat all sides to seal in the juices. If it doesn't all fit at once, do this in batches. Take out and set aside. In a food processor, if using, finely mince the garlic, shallot, carrot and celery. Sauté in the same pot, the oil will be full of flavor and little caramelized bits of meat, until soft. Add a little more oil if needed. When the vegetables start getting soft, add in the rosemary, sage and bay leaf.
Put the meat back into the pot (now would be the time to add the white wine) and after a couple of minutes almost cover the meat with the stock. When the stock has heated up, add in the tomato paste, mix and cover. Let simmer on very low heat for at least one and a half hours, the more the better, turning the meat every once in a while.
When your meat looks starts falling off the bone, fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil.
Take the rabbit out and break it into small pieces using a fork or your hands. Don't throw the bones away, you can use them for a delicate meat stock. Put the pulled meat back into the pot and cook in the sauce until the pasta is ready, allowing all the flavors to meld. Adjust for pepper and salt.
When your pasta is ready, drain it and mix it into the ragù.