(by Marilisa Racco)
My mother hails from a small town in the hills of Cilento that has a beautiful name, literally: Bellosguardo, which means “beautiful view.” But what’s perhaps most beautiful is its culinary lore.
Seriously, you’ve never been to a place so dense with good cooks. All of whom cook the same dishes, and all really, really well. Or at least to the pedestrian palate. To those more seasoned, my family’s were often the best. My great-grandmother was nicknamed Donna Cucinozza (roughly translated: Lady CooksSoGood), and my grandmother, well, they didn’t give her a nickname, but I’m pretty sure Michelangelo didn’t go by Mickey the Brush, either.
This penchant successfully made its way down the genetic line to my mother and her three sisters. Like the March sisters, they all have their own distinct cooking personalities. The first born, Clara, is a virtuous purist like Meg and can always be counted on for the best homemade limoncello you’ve ever had; my aunt Pia, the Beth of the bunch, is traditional to a fault and has been known to cure the sick with her cannelloni; and the youngest, Carolina, is an artist in the kitchen who draws inspiration from everything around her and has been known to add curry (gasp!) to her lamb, making her the Amy.
Left to right: Clara (Meg), Pia (Beth), Angela (Jo), Carolina (Amy)
That leaves Jo and my mother, Angela. She’s a fiery, rebellious, and deeply passionate cook who reads Gambero Rosso like it’s the Bible, and creates gourmet epics like beef tenderloin with espresso and shaved truffles, ossobuco with vibrant saffron-tinged risotto, and braised rabbit with aromatic herbs and white wine. Although there was never actual applause when these meals were presented at her dinner parties (of which there were many) while I was growing up, I think that’s only because the guests already had their utensils in hand ready to attack their plates.
I’d like to say I also inherited the gene and can be counted on for luscious plates of bucatini amatriciana, risotto with wild mushrooms, and yes, the aforementioned braised rabbit. But I’ve never learned the traditional recipes that are the hallmarks of our most celebrated holidays. The Christmas Day pasta al forno with tiny fried meatballs and a slow-simmered sauce that I’d like as my death row meal. The Christmas Eve zeppole with anchovies that are light as air and cooked to golden perfection. And especially the Good Friday faura, one of Bellosguardo’s greatest hits. It’s a cross between an empanada and a quiche, made with a wonderful flaky crust and filled with rice, grain, egg, various cheeses, and, I’m guessing, the blessing of Christ himself, it’s so damn good.
Now that I have a daughter of my own, the desire to master these dishes and pass them on to her is fierce. It could be why Angelica (my grandmother’s name) is her middle name — hopefully, she’ll inspire my girl from the great beyond, if my mother’s badgering doesn’t do the trick. She’s only nine months old and can barely hold her bottle, let alone a whisk, so there’s time to warm her up to the idea. But with any luck, she’ll also grow up to create culinary masterpieces and carry on the CooksSoGood name.
2 medium carrots, finely chopped
2 medium celery stalks, finely chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 large clove garlic, minced
parsley, to taste, chopped
2 – 3 T. olive oil
3 - 3 1/2 lb. rabbit, chopped into pieces
salt, to taste
3 oz. white wine
10 oz. chicken broth
Combine carrots, celery, onion, garlic, and parsley in a large shallow pan.
Add olive oil, and cook over medium heat until the onion turns translucent.
Add rabbit and brown on all sides.
Season with salt, and deglaze the pan with white wine.
Once the wine has cooked off, turn heat to low, and add broth a little at a time as it evaporates.
Continue cooking/adding broth until the meat is cooked through (approximately 1 hour).
Serve over rice or mashed potatoes, scooping sauce over the rabbit.