Hello! My name is Rebecca May Johnson, I am a writer and cook and this is my Substack. This week’s newsletter is about two markets, how one dish leads to another (in this case, beginning with a rabbit), two pasta recipes, and notes on eating. Lots of cooking!
A tale of two towns
Someone I met recently told me she asks the butcher at her local market to keep a rabbit aside for her, and he does. The market she visits is in a town ten miles away from me, and takes place on Saturday; the market in my town is on Friday. In late March, I too asked for a rabbit from the same butcher when his van visited the market in my town. I hoped he would bring rabbits to the market where I live, but was not sure for this reason: the vegetable seller who also visits both towns offers a much wider variety of produce at the market in the town where the other person’s rabbits are acquired. He does not sell aubergines where I live, whereas he does in the other town: “I can’t sell aubergines here”, he said to me once. Likewise, the Italian cheese and cured meat van visits the other town, but not my town, which saddens me as sometimes I would like to buy their produce without having to get up early and drive or catch the train to the other town on a Saturday morning.
However, the butcher did have a rabbit when he visited the Friday afternoon market in my town, and it cost five pounds. I asked him to cut it into pieces and he did. I thought about making fried rabbit dredged in seasoned flour served with scotch bonnet sauce, but the moment did not present itself, so I froze it. Back from Rome last Monday and missing the food, I turned to Rachel Roddy’s rabbit cacciatore (Hunter’s style) recipe from her first book, Five Quarters : Recipes and Notes from a Kitchen in Rome. I followed her instructions, and it produced a wonderful gravy scented with rosemary, and made addictive with a dash of vinegar and olives. Vinegar in a sauce is one of my favourite things (see also Cantonese sweet and sour dishes, caponata, pork cooked with bay leaves and red wine vinegar, buffalo sauce, and vindaloo). I served the rabbit cacciatore with small fried potatoes and cicoria ripassata from the allotment – cicoria is boiled quite thoroughly in salted water, squeezed out, then fried with olive oil, a dried chilli and garlic. If you grow things, I recommend planting cicoria from seed this spring-summer. Slugs don’t eat it, it lasts over the winter, if you cut it to the root it sprouts new leaves and it is – as far as I can tell – almost impossible to buy in UK shops. It could be grown in a deep pot, too.
We did not eat all of the rabbit, and a day later, I picked the meat from the bones and made a pasta dish. My flavourings and method echoed that for the first dish, with the addition of some chopped cooked plum tomatoes from a jar and a mix of fresh soft herbs from the allotment that returned from last year: tarragon, fennel tops, parsley, and chervil. A few days later I made another sauce that, while containing no rabbit, expressed several other elements of the first pasta in a new way. Neither of the pasta recipes could have come into being without the rabbit cacciatore coming first – one dish led to another.
Recipes and eating notes below.