Welcome to the good life in Sonoma, where good food meets good wine meal after meal, as we found on recent visits.
At the Girl & the Fig restaurant in the town of Sonoma, Food editor Leslie Brenner flipped over the pappardelle with Sonoma rabbit ragu. “I had planned to have a very light lunch, but that sounded so good. With a glass of Russian River Valley Pinot, it was so wonderful, I polished it off. I particularly loved the combination of the rabbit with the slim, delicate carrots and the lovely fresh peas.”
The California Cook columnist Russ Parsons went to LaSalette, also in Sonoma, and ordered gambas cozidas, poached shrimp with spicy tomato and garlic sauce. “Most of the tables are outside under umbrellas, and on a sunny day, with a bottle of rose, it was the perfect appetizer,” he says. LaSalette specializes in Portuguese cooking with a slight twist of flavors from the Azores.
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Divide the rabbit into front and hind legs and saddle, or have the butcher do this. Reserve the trimmings and rib cage. Place the bones and trimmings on a baking sheet or in a roasting pan. Drizzle with 2 teaspoons of olive oil. Roast until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Set aside.
Heat a heavy-bottomed Dutch-oven or similar ovenproof pan over medium-high heat. Season the rabbit legs and saddle with 1 teaspoon salt and one-fourth teaspoon pepper. Add 4 tablespoons of olive oil to the pan and sear the rabbit on all sides until golden brown, about 6 to 7 minutes. Remove and set aside.
Keep the pot over the heat and add the chopped carrot, celery, onion, 4 cloves of garlic and tomatoes. Cook until the ingredients have caramelized, about 10 to 12 minutes.
Deglaze with the red wine. Add the bay leaves, thyme, peppercorns, rabbit, roasted bones and trimmings and stock and bring to a simmer.
Cover and place the pot in the oven. Cook until the rabbit meat begins to pull away from the bones, about 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Remove the pot from the oven, remove the lid and let stand until the rabbit is cool enough to handle. Remove the saddle and legs from the pot and pull the meat from the bones. Set aside.
Strain the cooking liquid and skim any fat off the top.
While the rabbit braises, wrap the remaining 12 peeled garlic cloves in foil and roast in the oven for 45 minutes.
In a small pan, saute the pancetta until slightly crisp, about 12 to 15 minutes. Set aside. Blanch the carrots 2 minutes, peas 1 minute, fava beans 2 to 3 minutes. Set aside.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Cook the pappardelle until just tender. Toss lightly with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and set aside.
In a skillet large enough to hold all the ingredients, add the braising liquid, mustard, pancetta and rabbit. Bring to a simmer and cook until the mixture begins to thicken slightly.
Add the carrots, peas, fava beans, roasted garlic and pasta. Cook until heated through. Finish with butter. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Divide into 8 bowls and serve at once.
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