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Rabbit Head Pasta

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Traditional pasta sauce, much loved in some parts of Italy. Don't do this at home. Only a head case would eat it.

This one is not for the ladies. I'm a man but even I had trouble touching my plate. I mean, how slow can slow food get? In my fearless exploration of the many lost recipes of the Italian countryside, I unearthed this peasant recipe to use the poorer parts of the rabbit. I eat most of my rabbits head to toe. You are unlikely to stumble upon this dish in any restaurant, but I've seen regular people do it at home. I am not head over heels for this dish but couldn't resist trying it. See for yourself, and please no hissy fits about them poor rabbits. Once a rabbit is offered on the butcher stand, I can't see what's wrong in trying to use every last bit of it rather than throwing half the meat in the bin.

We'll begin slowly by preparing the ingredients of the soffritto, that ubiquous flavor base found in most simmered Italian dishes. This is a salsiccia, a fresh sausage seasoned with fennel seeds and red pepper. I bought it from a grocer who drives up from Calabria every week to sell us Swiss vegetables and a few other products. This sort of sausage is designed to be peeled and diced and used in a ragű.

Peel, cut thin slices then cut the slices into strips and the strips into cubes.

Ecco!

Peel and remove the green sprout inside a couple garlic cloves.

Coarsely dice the garlic ...

... then the onion.

Peel and finely dice a carrot...

... then a branch of celery. If you are one for Easter bunnies or just like these lovely furry animals, stop reading right now.

Here are all our ingredients for this most macabre dish. Clockwise from the top: seven bunny heads (one a head), a glass of red wine, bunny livers, diced celery and carrot, rosemary twigs, diced onion, diced salsiccia and peeled tomatoes. Not on the pictures are the two black candles I should have lit to honor these seven valorous rabbits. Let us now embrace this recipe head on.

Time for the faint of heart to head out of the kitchen. As I was queuing up at the butcher's, some guy bought a rabbit. The lady butcher asked him if he wanted the head. The guy said no and I stepped in «I'll take the head if you don't mind». They gave me six more gory rabbit heads - all for free. They assumed it was for my dogs. But when I asked for the livers, which they actually sell to humans, and left with them in the same bag, they just couldn't make head or tails of my dinner plans.

Here is my mise en place. Try to have all your ingredients handy around the pot and the recipe firmly committed to memory before you start.

Heat a little olive oil in the pot and delicately place the heads one after the other with tongs.

If you drop them into the pot you'll splash hot oil all over your hand - revenge of the rabbits.

Continue until you run out of heads.

You will make some heads turn today, at least until every side has been properly browned.

Remove the head and reserve.

Add a little more oil if needed, then place the sausage or bacon bits...

... followed by the onions.

Don't get ahead of yourself - allow the onion to sweat a little...

... then the carrot and celery.

Continue to sauté for 7-10 minutes.

The rabbit livers will indeed add to the taste of our sauce, but I won't put my head on the block that your friends will like it. Clean the livers with great care to eliminate any trace of the greenish and extra bitter rabbit bile.

Add the livers and sauté until white.

Remove the livers and chop and crush them to obtain the tiniest bits possible. Very few people like liver bits floating in their rabbit head pasta.

Let some heads roll back into the pot.

Deglaze with a glass of wine...

.. then bring to a boil.

Add the tomatoes ...

... and don't look into the pot or you'll be spooked.

A few herbs can be added now - rosemary, thyme and bay leaves ...

... as well as cinnamon or juniper berries. Cover and simmer for an hour.

Now for that gruesome moment.Fish the heads out and start scraping the flesh off.

The neck and cheeks are especially fleshy.

Whether you eat the brains or head out for the vomitorium is a matter of indifference.

Return the scraped flesh into the pot.