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PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 February, 2012, 12:00am
 

When the tomato was introduced to Italy in the 16th century, people used it as an ornamental plant, believing the fruit to be poisonous. The tomato is, in fact, part of the nightshade family, which includes some deadly plants.

Now, of course, it's hard to imagine Italian cuisine without tomatoes. These two dishes use canned Italian tomatoes, which can be of excellent quality. Check the label - the ingredients should list only tomatoes (sometimes with salt and citric acid); don't use the kind that includes onion, garlic or spices.

Rabbit ragu (pictured)

The pig's foot adds a rich, sticky consistency to the sauce. Don't worry about the sauce tasting fishy from the addition of the anchovies - they give depth, but you won't detect their flavour.

1 pig's foot (have the butcher split it in half lengthwise, then cut it into 3cm chunks)

8 rashers streaky bacon

Olive oil, if needed

1 rabbit, jointed

Plain (all-purpose) flour, for dredging

1 medium-sized onion, finely diced

2 large carrots, finely diced

2 celery stalks, finely diced

4 garlic cloves, minced

2 bay leaves

6 whole black peppercorns

3 anchovies in olive oil, drained then chopped

200ml dry white wine

800 grams chopped canned Italian tomatoes

Finely grated zest of one lemon

A small handful of fresh Italian parsley, chopped

Freshly grated parmesan cheese, as needed

Fine sea salt

400 grams fresh pappardelle

Rinse the pig's foot under cold running water. Place the pieces in a pan, cover with cold water, then place over a medium flame and bring to the boil. Simmer for one minute then drain. Rinse the pieces and drain again.

Cut the bacon into 1cm pieces, place in a large pan and heat over a medium flame. Cook until lightly browned, stirring often. Use a slotted spoon to remove the bacon from the pan, leaving behind about 60ml of bacon grease. If there's not enough bacon grease, add olive oil to the pan.

Season the rabbit with salt and pepper, then dredge in flour. Brown the rabbit pieces in the hot fat over a medium flame. Do this in batches so as not to crowd the pan. When the rabbit is lightly browned, put the pieces on a plate.

Add the onion to the pan and cook over a low flame until soft and translucent, stirring occasionally. Add the carrot, celery and garlic and stir to coat with the fat. (If needed, add olive oil to the pan to stop the ingredients from sticking.) Stir in the bay leaves, peppercorns, anchovies, bacon and a little salt. Add the wine, bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until reduced by half.

Put the rabbit back into the pan and add the pig's foot and chopped tomato. Bring to a simmer, then lower the heat, cover partially with the lid and simmer, stirring often, until the rabbit and pig's foot are very tender. Use tongs to remove the rabbit and pig's foot and leave to cool on a plate.

Remove the bones from the rabbit meat, and the meat, skin and fat from the pig's foot. Shred the rabbit meat and cut the pig parts into fine dice. Put all of this back into the pan and simmer until the mixture is reduced to a rich, thick, sauce-like consistency. Add a little salt if needed (you'll be adding more salt in the form of parmesan when serving the sauce). Stir in the grated lemon zest and chopped parsley.

Boil the pappardelle until al dente, drain it, and return to the pot. Ladle in some of the ragu and a handful of finely grated parmesan, and stir so the pasta is lightly coated with the sauce. Divide the pasta between plates, add more sauce to each portion, then serve with parmesan on the side.

Braised honeycomb tripe

If you buy tripe from the butcher, it needs to be cleaned, soaked and blanched, which is a messy process. Supermarket tripe is already cleaned and par-boiled, taking less time to cook.

This recipe is based on one in Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, by Marcella Hazan.

1kg honeycomb tripe, cleaned and blanched

45 grams unsalted butter, divided

60ml cooking oil

1/2 a large onion, diced

1 celery stalk, diced

1 medium-sized carrot, diced

2 large garlic cloves, minced

1/2 tsp chilli flakes, or more to taste

1 tsp fresh rosemary leaves, chopped

250ml dry white wine

250 grams chopped canned Italian tomatoes

250ml unsalted chicken stock, preferably home-made

Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

75 grams freshly grated parmesan, plus more for serving

Slice the tripe into pieces about 1cm wide. Melt 15 grams of butter in a heavy pan (preferably enamelled cast iron) over a low flame, then add the oil.

Stir in the onion and cook until pale golden; then add the celery, carrot, garlic, chilli flakes and rosemary. Cook for one minute, then stir in the tripe.

Add the wine, stir well, then turn the heat to medium high, bring to a simmer and cook for about 30 seconds.

Add the canned tomato and chicken stock and bring to the boil. Turn the heat to very low, cover the pan with the lid, and cook, stirring frequently, until the tripe is tender (two hours or more).

If the mixture seems dry, add more liquid as it cooks; if it seems watery, partially uncover the pan and let it simmer.

When the tripe is tender and the sauce thick and rich, stir in the parmesan and remaining butter. Let your guests add more parmesan if they wish.

Serve with crusty bread and a salad of bitter greens.

Styling Nellie Ming Lee

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