I’ve increasingly noticed fresh hares for sale in good butchers in this country over the past couple of weeks. The display of their pink, lean, muscular frames, considerably bigger than the wild rabbits sold alongside, reminds me of the macellerie or butchers’ shops in Italy, where hare is both plentiful and popular. As the Italians are very precise about such things, you may see hare – lepre – on a menu in Italy also variously described as leprotto (a young animal), lepre dell’anno (a year old), or leprone when more mature. In any case, the meat is delicious, either roasted or marinated to tenderise and slowly braised to make a ragu.
Now…we do understand that not everyone wants, or knows how, to cook fresh hare (though if you want to try, your butcher should be a good source of advice). But we’re pretty sure you’ll enjoy the deep, gamey taste. So we were delighted to find this wonderful Ragu alla Lepre in Prato, near Florence, where it is made by producers called I Toscanacci, without any preservatives and according to their own family recipes. As in most of central Italy, the people of Tuscany very much enjoy eating game, and alongside the hare ragu we also discovered ragu al cinghiale (wild boar), all’anatra (duck) and al capriolo (venison). Each combines the rich flavour of the game with succulent tomatoes and mixed herbs and all are available in our online shop. (And, yes, Italians do use prepared pasta sauces, as long as they are produced with the finest fresh ingredients, as these are.)
While the weather is still chill enough to demand a rich and hearty bowl of pasta, these game sauces definitely hit the spot. Oh, and by the way, if you do like game, these crostini toppings are simply excellent: wild boar and apple; hare and prune; rabbit and chestnut. We can’t open a jar without finishing the entire contents!