May 15, 2013 You can’t get more local than these greens which I grew on my balcony. Our Mandarin tutor brought me the seeds from her mother in China. She gave us a mixed bag of seeds, and while some of them looked like turnip or mustard seeds, it’s so hard to identify plants by seeds and just as hard, frankly, to identify the numerous members of the Brassica plant genus in the Mustard family. Also known as the cruciferous vegetables, the genus includes broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage, collards, rutabagas, kohlrabi, turnips, mustard, and hundreds of Asian greens including the myriad choy and lan and bok and cai and sum. It’s as confusing as the world of beans.
I’ve read dozens of sources and scrolled through thousands of photos looking for the plant to no avail, but when our tutor arrived yesterday she took one look at the greens and said we had to eat them now or they will be too big and not taste good. So I harvested them. I also snipped a bunch of herbs that I grow to flavor some butter — chives and marjoram and lemon thyme — and chopped them and added them with some grated lemon zest to a couple of ounces of softened butter to make a maître d’ butter to put inside rabbit legs. I had a classic dish in mind — one you find in England, France, and Italy — of rabbit legs stuffed with the butter and wrapped in bacon. Coniglio ripieno in porchetta, the Italian version, might be made with an entire wild rabbit. The stuffing might include sausage and often includes fennel as well. Though this dish looks like a fancy restaurant creation, I’ve had it in humble abodes. It’s not hard to make and it’s delicious. What you’ll need are big, plump, farm-raised rabbit legs. I can buy fresh ones here from both Italy and Spain. Here’s an article from Saveur magazine on butchering a rabbit if you can only find a whole one. The pairs of legs that I can buy here have not been separated from the backbone/tailbone, so I had to remove those bones as well — which is fine, because I make stock with them, which I would normally use in my cooked dish. This time I chose a classic (and utterly simple) mustard sauce, which is traditional in France, and which I wrote about in February.
To bone the thigh of the legs, I use a small, sturdy knife to loosen the meat from the bone, prying the meat away from the bone with my thumb and working down to the next joint, making a pocket in the fleshy thigh. I then slip the tip of the knife blade down into the joint to sever the bone.
I then take the butter from the refrigerator and roll it into a cigar shape which I cut in half, stuffing each thigh with the butter before wrapping each leg in bacon, leaving the open ends of the bacon on the underneath side of the legs. This bacon wasn’t smoked, and I knew I would be anticipating that flavor, so I began our meal with some locally grown and smoked duck magret. It’s delicious with melon.
The wrapped rabbit legs were put in a 425-degree F ( 220 C) oven for about a half hour, but these rabbit legs were very plump. If your legs are small, don’t cook them nearly that long — I’ve cooked rabbit legs in 10 minutes before, so use your own judgment and poke the meat with your finger. If the bacon is crisp, the rabbit is probably done. However long you cook it, let it rest for at least five minutes before you make thick slices of the thigh. The sauce is simplicity itself — just cream cooked with some mustard.
The potatoes here in Bulgaria are among their finer products, and throughout the spring, I can find truly new, just dug potatoes, so fresh a fingernail easily pierces the moist flesh. Most greengrocers here have bags and bags of them ranging in size from marble-like to egg-sized. I chose these little ones about the size of pecans.
I served a bright, young, locally made Chardonnay with the meal — my friend Philip Harmandjiev‘s 2011 Buteo from his No Man’s Land collection. The grapes were harvested the last week of August in 2011, the juice was kept cold until clear, and then fermented at 15-18 degrees C for three weeks. Aged for 3 weeks on the lees, a small part of the wine was then aged for 5 months in barriques (225-litre French oak barrels). I know all this because this remarkable $10 wine, so well-crafted by Philip’s winemaker, Ivo Todorov, says all this on the bottle! What’s more, it’s only 12% alcohol! Would that elegant, restrained winemaking like this would become the new international style. I know this: I’m going to miss these Bulgarian wines! And this glorious spring weather. I think I’ll now go for a walk!Read More