Sunday, May 11, 2014

Greek braised rabbit with hilopites pasta

It’s been raining endlessly for the past couple of days which ruined our plans of going out and enjoying a Sunday morning thrift-shopping, coffee-drinking and strolling around the city. Instead we are stuck inside, watching the huge raindrops fall on the balcony creating little puddles where the wooden floor is uneven and hearing the distant thunder roar like a hurt lion.

We’re not complaining though; we have each other, Billie on the stereo, good food, a nice bottle of red wine waiting to be opened and a pan of yesterday’s braised rabbit with prunes to feast on.

I love how cravings change as soon as the weather turns. A few days ago I was longing for salads and greens but when a slight chill and the rain returned, albeit for a little while I’m sure, the craving for something heartier ensued.

We had this for dinner yesterday; kouneli kokkinisto (κουνέλι κοκκινιστό) or, in case you don’t speak Greek, braised rabbit in a rich tomato and red wine sauce with dried prunes and fresh herbs, served with hilopites (traditional Greek pasta).

In Greece we eat a lot of rabbit, with the most well-known dish being kouneli or lagos stifado, which is rabbit or hare cooked in a tomato sauce with lots of onions. This dish here however is a kokkinisto; the term kokkinisto refers to any type of meat dish that’s cooked in a tomato sauce. I had some dried prunes around and lots of herbs I had bought from the market, and along with some cinnamon, onions, garlic and a little Merlot, this beautiful dish was created.

Rabbit is wonderful, and if you have never tried it, it’s something you should put on your list. Its meat is lean, slightly sweet and faintly gamey and if cooked right, very tender and extremely flavorful. When you slow cook rabbit in the type of sauce I made here, then it remains juicy and tender. Actually, it was falling off the bone and it was as succulent as it could be.

It had a mellow flavor, with a sweetness running through it from the cinnamon and prunes, as well as freshness and woodiness from the sage, bay leaves and rosemary. The fruitiness of the wine came through, adding great depth of flavor and along with the pasta it made for the perfect rainy-day dinner.

Kouneli Kokkinisto me Hilopites (Greek Braised Rabbit with Hilopites Pasta)

Rabbits are usually sold whole, skinned, gutted, but should have still their kidneys and liver attached. You can joint it yourself or ask your butcher to do it. Don’t throw away the kidneys and liver but add them towards the end of cooking to the pan, or fry them up to make yourself a treat.
If you can find wild rabbit, do buy it as it tastes infinitely better than farmed rabbit.

Hilopites are a traditional type of Greek Pasta that resemble the Italian tagliatelle but are thinner. If you can’t find them, use tagliatelle.

Yield: 6 servings

1½ kg whole fresh rabbit (liver and kidneys included), jointed (I cut it into 7 pieces)
120 ml olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
3 onions, grated
4 garlic cloves, minced
12 dried pitted prunes
1 can whole tomatoes (400 g), chopped
1 heaped Tbsp tomato paste
2 dried bay leaves
2 fresh rosemary sprigs
5 fresh sage leaves, chopped
1 cinnamon stick
300 ml dry, fruity red wine (I used Merlot)
130 ml hot water

700 g Greek hilopites pasta (or tagliatelle)
100 g butter

200 g hard Greek Mizithra, Kefalotyri cheese (or Parmesan), grated

Special equipment: grater, colander, large wide pan that can fit the rabbit pieces in one layer

Pat well the rabbit pieces with paper towels and season them with salt and pepper. Leave the liver and kidneys in the fridge for the time being.
In a large and wide, heavy-bottomed pan (preferably a Dutch oven), heat the olive oil over medium heat and brown the rabbit pieces in batches until golden-brown. Don’t overcrowd the pan or the rabbit will not brown but stew.

Remove them from the pan and add the grated onions. Sauté them until they take on a golden color and add the garlic. Fry for 1 minute and then add the dried prunes, the tomato and tomato paste, bay leaves, rosemary, sage and cinnamon stick and stir well with a wooden spoon.

Add the rabbit pieces to the pan, pour over the wine and hot water and stir. Add some salt and pepper and bring to the boil. Put the lid on the pan, turn heat down to low and simmer for 1½-2 hours or until the rabbit is tender, turning the rabbit over every half hour or so.

In the meantime, take the liver and kidneys of the rabbit out of the fridge and clean them. The liver has several small parts that are connected with a central whitish nerve. Cut it off with a knife and separate the small parts of the liver. The kidneys, as long as the rabbit was healthy and well-fed, will have a fair amount of fat surrounding them. Remove the fat with your fingers.
Half an hour before the rabbit is done, add the liver parts and kidneys (cut in half) to the pan.

After 1½ hours check the doneness of the rabbit and also check the seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if needed.
In the end you should have rabbit meat that is tender and melt-in-the-mouth, and a rich and thick sauce.

Remove the pan from the heat and allow to stand for 10 minutes before serving with the pasta.

While the rabbit is cooking, prepare the pasta. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil over high heat and add the hilopites (or tagliatelle). Cook until al dente (firm but not very hard) or cook to your liking. Keep in mind that if you use Greek hilopites, they will cook rather fast as they are thin.
Drain the pasta in a colander, discarding the water. Melt the butter in the pot over medium-high heat and when it starts to foam, return the pasta to the pot. Turn off the heat and quickly stir the pasta around so that it gets coated with the butter.

Serve immediately, dividing the pasta between dishes. Top with the rabbit, adding a generous amount of sauce. Sprinkle with lots of grated kefalotyri, myzithra or parmesan cheese.


  1. I love rabbit! It's such a delicious and tender meat! Will try this recipe, as it is a bit different from the one I normally cook :)

  2. Now, that's what I am talking about!!!!!!!!!! Here, in England, rabbits consider as pets, but I am sure that I could find it somewhere...
    Thank you Magda. I will definitely treasure this recipe.

  3. At 6:30 in the morning, both of us were practically drooling as we looked at this post. We love rabbit and will need to use this recipe next time we find it at the store! Thanks, and beautiful photos! ~ David

  4. Yum! What a cozy dish for a dose of cold weather.
    I never cook rabbit at home, but I love to order it whenever I see it on a menu ( especially in Greece) and my daughter is a fiend for stifado;)
    Take care Magda,

  5. this looks so delicious Magda! I absolutely love rabbit - though I never knew I was eating it because my mom always told me it was chicken!! :O I was discussing "stifado" with my cousin when I was 24 and told her that my mom uses "chicken" ...and that's when it clicked! Your description is so beautiful above too - left me drooling! xx

  6. I only recently learned about the Greek love of rabbit a few months ago when my Greek boyfriend and a few friends of his prepared lagos stifado (without the rabbit, though; they used beef instead. Blasphemy!). :) It just goes to show that there's so much more to Greek cooking than most restaurant menus allow for.

    This recipe sounds interesting, too; maybe I'll get to try it this summer when we're in Greece! I've never eaten rabbit before, so it would be quite an experience.

  7. We often eat rabbit, it is a favorite in our home. I love the idea of combining it with prunes and cinnamon, thank you for the tip!