I know rabbit might not be for everyone, and many of you will be thinking of this:
And not of this:
But I can assure you that rabbit meat is delicious… a bit like chicken (looks exactly like it…) but gamier. I recently spent a week at my parents’ house in Paris where rabbit meat is as common as chicken’s and was presented with two rabbits to cook for dinner. I had never cooked it and did not have many ingredients so decided to go for something I know how to do well: a wine stew. I mean you can never go wrong with wine and meat… add some butter and it’s heaven!
For this recipe you will need (enough for five people)
– Two rabbits cut in smallish pieces (ask your butcher to do it, it’s usually in six pieces)
– Two carrots, minced.
– An onion, chopped.
– 300 grams of mushrooms, roughly chopped (preferably a mix of nutty mushrooms).
– Two bunches of thyme.
– Half a bottle of wine (pour the rest into a glass and drink it to get over the fact you’re eating a cute bunny).
– A lot of butter
Start by adding a knob of butter to a pan and brown the rabbit pieces. Reserve and do the same with the mushrooms in batches so they brown but don’t become mushy. Put them aside with the rabbit and add more butter to the pan. Add the onion and carrots and sweat them for 5-10 minutes. When they become soft, turn up the heat and add the wine and the thyme. You can also add a bay leaf at this point.
Let the wine reduce to half and then add the rabbit and the mushrooms. Make sure they are covered and add water if needed. Season with salt and pepper and let cook for at least 45 minutes on very low heat, with a lid on. When the meat looks like it’s cooked and almost falling off the bone take the lid off to let it reduce. Right now is the time to prepare the polenta. If you are experienced you can have a go at polenta flour which has too cook for 45 minutes with constant turning and gives you an arm ache and possibly some burns. If you are not an experienced Italian grandma, grab a good quality semi-ready polenta and follow the instructions. When the polenta is almost cooked add some cream or ricotta cheese and some parmesan. Season with salt and pepper and serve the stew over it.
The next day, if you are lucky to have some stew and polenta left, serve them together. If like me all you had is polenta, fry it in a pan with some butter until it’s crispy. For the courgette, slice it really thinly (with a peeler or a mandolin) fry it for 2-3 minutes in some butter and sprinkle it with salt, pepper, good olive oil and goat’s cheese. And there you go: a really easy and healthy second meal after the indulgence of rabbit and wine.
(Sorry for the low quality pictures, I only had my phone)
It is common knowledge that beer is one of Belgium’s national treasures. So of course, once I moved here I started a hunt for good places to drink it. I have three criteria for a good place: selection, atmosphere and bar snacks. I’ve already found two gems who fill these criteria beautifully: the Moeder Lambic bars. They are sister bars and share the name, but they have very different characters in their own remarkable ways.
The original one is in St Gilles and it’s cosy, wooden, smelly and often crammed. It’s a traditional beer house, and filled with locals, Scottish bums, tourists as well as beer connoisseurs who traveled here especially. The first time I visited and asked for the menu, the waitress proudly exclaimed that she was the menu. And then she asked a range of questions before coming out with a beer specially tailored for me. It was lovely. Me and Mr Tjockis ordered three rounds this way before leaving, and it still only set us back 17 euros. The feel of the place is very local, with people chatting away with you as soon as you’ve grabbed a chair – for better and for worse. When I came back with Mr Meatball we sampled one of their beer cheeses. It was nutty and lovely, and served with malted barley.
Malted barley is completely new to me. You feel a bit like a bird nibbling away on little pieces of dry barley with your cheese and beer, but it actually works rather well. For me something about their flavour brings back dreamy memories of cycling around on dusty roads through newly cut hay. It’s like rose-tinted glasses on demand, as you sit in a rainy and cold asphalted Brussels.
They also serve malted barley in the Bourse branch of Moder Lambic. This place is rather different though: large and modern, though still cosy. It is also conveniently located close to the city centre. The menu – which detail their 46 (!) beers on tap is structured around aroma, bitterness and flavour. This makes picking easy for those who don’t necessarily know what they want. And you need to be well-versed in beer to know here: you’ll hardly find any of the standard Belgian beer brands on the menu, and the spectacular alcohol levels of some of the most famous exports are rare.
The snacks are also succulent: apart from the small bowl of malted barley that accompanies the beers, the cheese & bread selection is extensive. They also serve cervelas with pickle, which is a moreish pale Belgian sausage. Most snacks are sharing-sized, which is perfect when you just fancy and nibble over those delicious beers. And the staff know their stuff: try order poorly matching beer to a particular snack and you’ll be dutifully corrected and given a more appropriate recommendation.
Put simply: these places are both lovely, and they are perfect places for a gourmand as well as a gourmet to sample the best of Belgian beers. You find Moeder Lambic in St Gilles here:
And the Bourse one can be found here:
I live with a dramatic Sicilian, and predictably, everything he touches turns into kitchen gold. I’ve stopped taking pride in my home cooking, as everything I make pales in comparison to the humble little dishes Peppe throws together. My favourite soup of his so far is very simple: it has courgettes, potato, onion and garlic. The secret is that it is thickened and made savoury with parmigiano, and has tons of aroma thanks to Peppe’s mother’s own olive oil.
I’m somewhat of an olive oil skeptic, as I feel it’s being used and abused all the time where it doesn’t quite belong. You need look no longer than Jamie Oliver for examples of that, and to illustrate my point I’ll just point you to this hilarious, simple montage from his shows. However, if strong olive oil belongs anywhere surely it is in Sicilian cooking. Of course, sourcing home-made Italian olive oil might be near impossible, but as long as you invest in a very good quality bottle, you should be on the right way. And spending a bit on the parmigiano and olive oil is worth it: coming home to this after a long night at the office and a damp walk home in uncomfortable shoes feels like the most wholesome experience ever.
- 3 large potatoes
- 3 courgettes
- 2 yellow onions
- 1 garlic clove
- half a cube of vegetable stock
- Good quality olive oil
- Grated parmigiano
- A blender to blitz the soup in the end
Start by slicing the onions, and then fry them with a generous splash of olive oil in a deep-bottomed pan. Add the whole, peeled garlic clove after a few minutes, and fry on medium heat whilst you peel and chop the potatoes, and chop the courgettes (keep the peel on). Add the courgettes and potatoes together with the stock cube, and add just enough water to make sure everything is covered. Boil for about 20 minutes or until all the vegetables have softened considerably, then take off the heat and spoon out a little bit more than a coffee mug’s worth of water (you can save and freeze this as stock to use on some other occasion). Take to the side and blitz with a blender for about a minute, or until you have a smooth, rather thick soup. Add salt and pepper to taste. When done, serve in bowls with a generous sprinkle of parmigiano and a few additional drops of olive oil, as well as some crusty bread.