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Rabbit a stimpirata (Sweet and sour rabbit)

(food styling by karoline boehm goodnick; erik jacobs for the boston globe)
By Jill Santropietro
Globe Correspondent / February 4, 2009

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Serves 4

In southeast Sicily, when the olive season closes and the air turns cooler, restaurants begin serving rabbit braised in stock and seasoned with salty capers, olives, vinegar, and honey. Pine nuts and golden raisins make the dish truly Sicilian. Braising rabbit is the best way to prepare it. It's a lean animal that doesn't take well to dry heat like roasting. In this dish, the rabbit marinates for a couple of hours, then simmers for 45 minutes. At about $12 a pound, rabbit is pricey, but worth making at least once for a special occasion. If you like this sweet and sour sauce, substitute bone-in chicken thighs for the rabbit another time. The next day, toss shreds of leftover meat and sauce with wide noodles.

1 1/2 cups red wine
2 onions, 1 thinly sliced and 1 finely chopped
3 bay leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
Pepper, to taste
1 rabbit (2 1/2 pounds), cut into 6 pieces
1/3 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup flour
6 tablespoons olive oil
3 ounces pancetta, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/3 cup pine nuts
15 green olives, smashed and pitted
2 tablespoons capers
2 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon honey
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1. In a large bowl, combine the wine, sliced onion, 1 bay leaf, 1 teaspoon of the salt and a pinch of pepper. Submerge the rabbit in marinade and refrigerate 1 to 3 hours.

2. In a small bowl, combine the raisins with warm water to cover them; set aside.

3. Remove the rabbit from the marinade and pat dry with paper towels. In a wide shallow bowl combine the flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and a pinch of pepper.

4. In a flameproof casserole over medium-high heat, heat 4 tablespoons of the olive oil. Coat the rabbit pieces in the flour mixture, shaking off the excess. Add half the rabbit to the hot oil, and cook 2 minutes on a side or until golden; transfer to a plate. Cook the remaining pieces in the same way.

5. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil to the pan. Cook the pancetta, stirring occasionally, for 1 minute or until it shrinks slightly. Add the chopped onion, celery, and garlic. Cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes or until the onions soften.

6. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 1 minute. Drain the raisins. Add them to the pan with the pine nuts, olives, capers, and remaining 2 bay leaves. Cook for 5 minutes more.

7. Return the rabbit to the pan, add the stock and enough water to barely cover the rabbit. Bring to a boil, cover the pan, and simmer for 30 minutes.

8. In a small saucepan over low heat, heat the honey and vinegar until the honey dissolves; remove from the heat. Add the vinegar mixture to the rabbit and continue simmering, uncovered, for 15 minutes more. Transfer the rabbit pieces to a bowl. Discard the bay leaves. Gently boil the sauce to reduce it slightly. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper, if you like. Return the rabbit pieces to the sauce and cook for a few minutes until heated through.