We all travel — and as we do, we learn to accept certain truths about eating in the world: if you want the Parisian waiter to be nice to you, don’t order the cheapest bottle; if you want a good coffee in Rome, go where the locals go; if you have the seafood paella, you’d best prepare for the consequences. That restaurant with the spectacular view? The food will be awful and, if it isn’t, you can be pretty sure the bill will be.
Just occasionally, it doesn’t work that way. Sometimes that Parisian waiter will cosset you, make sure you have a great time, despite your poor taste in wine — and that’ll be the best night of your trip. Sometimes you will have a seafood paella that will be good enough and fresh enough to restore your faith in shellfish and in Spain. And just by Piazza Navona, where it seems no native Roman has been for centuries, there is an espresso bar that’ll serve you as good a cup as any you could have in that city. When these things happen, we soften, we let our guard down, we are reminded why we love to travel in the first place.
A day at the beach on a Greek island. We are tired from the sun and salt, and hungry. A wrong turn, a road on a cliff edge, a sign: “Taverna”. We park and go in, the view takes our breath away: green island, blue sea, golden light. The food will be awful but we don’t care: we had a good day, we are here now, we’ll take in the views and eat what we are given. Then another bad sign: laminated menus, an endless list of dishes — Greek classics, burgers, pizza. It’s a tourist trap.
There is one more table, a big group: kids, grandmas, a family. Is it the owner’s? We think they feel at home. Someone brings a pot, there’s a bit of commotion, bread is rubbed with garlic and placed in a bowl, the content of the pot is ladled on top of it. The smell of garlic and mountain herbs is everywhere, of meat and wine, sea, forest and sun. We ask our waiter what are they having. “Stifado. It’s rabbit.” “Can we have some?”
- To salt, finely chop everything together with the salt (or pulse in a small food processor if you prefer), then rub all over the rabbit leg, cover and place in the fridge for at least 2 hours (but longer if you can) to intensify the herby flavour.
- When you are ready to cook, heat your oven to 200C. Transfer your rabbit legs to a deep roasting pan or a casserole that can fit them in one layer, then add the shallot rings and the halved clove of garlic. Drizzle with the olive oil and place in the hot oven for 10 minutes, pour over the white wine and return to the oven for another 10 minutes uncovered. While they are roasting, mix the tomatoes, water and all the dry spices together, then add the bouquet of fresh herbs.
- Pour all the tomato liquid into the pan, cover, reduce the heat to 160C and braise for 45 minutes. Then remove from the oven and baste with the sauce all over; if you want, you can carefully flip the legs too. Then cover again and return to the oven for another 30 minutes, remove again, baste, flip and taste a little. The cooking time will vary slightly according to the salting time, so the best way is to try a small bit of the flesh: if it is soft, you are ready to serve, if not, you can return it to the oven again for the last 15 minutes before serving. (If you are using wild rabbit you will need to add another 30 minutes to the cooking time, and another basting too, to keep it moist.)
- Serve with crusty toasted or griddled sourdough, rubbed with raw garlic.
Photographs: Patricia Niven
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