For four Across the Liberty Bridge, the 5km umbilical cord that connects Venice to the mainland (which many proud Venetians would like to see demolished, by the way), there is a vast area which comes under the political and municipal jurisdiction of the greater region of Venice. It includes the coastal industrial towns of Marghera and Mestre, but also the rural pastures and farmsteads beyond. The easiest meat to come by in this part of Italy has always been rabbit, and it is deservedly prominent in traditional Venetian cooking. Personally, I love rabbit, particularly the gamey wild variety, and it is well suited to rich sauces such as this one here. Rabbit meat has a delicacy that is absent in cultivated livestock, and those who tell you it tastes like chicken are missing the point.
Extra virgin olive oil
1 whole rabbit, jointed (the butcher will do this)
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 medium leek, washed, trimmed and finely sliced
1 large carrot, finely chopped
80g pancetta, finely cubed
2 cloves of garlic, very finely chopped
1 tbsp tomato purée
A small handful of rosemary, chopped, no stalks
A small handful of thyme, chopped, no stalks
A small handful of sage leaves, chopped
Flaky sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
A glass of white wine
500ml chicken stock
120g Parmesan, grated
A large knob of butter 1. Heat a couple of glugs of olive oil in a large, heavy-based pan for which you have a lid, and sear the rabbit pieces on all sides so that they are golden brown. Set aside.
2. Add another glug of olive oil to the same pan and return to the stove-top, reducing the heat to low. Add the onion, leek, carrot and pancetta and sauté gently for around 10mins, until the onion is soft and translucent and the pancetta is starting to get crispy.
3. Return the rabbit to the pan with the garlic, tomato purée and herbs and stir for a minute, with a good pinch of salt and a few twists of black pepper. Pour in the wine. Stir. Add the stock. Stir. Cover the pan with the lid, reduce the heat to low, and leave to simmer gently for about 90mins.
4. The rabbit will be incredibly tender, so very carefully remove the pieces and place them on a chopping board. Using a knife and fork, separate the flesh from the bones. Discard all the bones, gristle, fat and pin-bones, shred the meat and set it aside.
5. Meanwhile, cook the pappardelle in a large pan of boiling, salted water for 2mins less than the packet suggests.
6. Bring the heat up fully on the other pan for about 4–6mins, until the liquid has reduced by half.
7. Return the shredded rabbit to the sauce, reduce the heat to low, then add a heaped teaspoon of mustard and a level teaspoon of cinnamon. 8. Add the drained pasta and stir well for 2mins to coat every strand of the pappardelle and incorporate the sauce fully. Fold in most of the Parmesan and all the butter. Remove from the heat. Taste and add a little more salt and pepper if needed.
9. Now, using pasta tongs, carefully divide the incorporated pasta and sauce between four warmed plates and finish each with a scattering of the remaining Parmesan.