Tucked away in a stone cottage off of Highway 190 in Southeastern Louisiana, lies a restaurant called La Provence. It sits on a piece of land that includes a small vegetable and animal farm, and it’s not uncommon to hear the animals milling about the property upon arrival. The inside of the quaint auberge-style structure, feels more like a cozy family dining room than a prestigious high-end restaurant–photos of the founder and restaurant history line the walls along with the work of local artists. In the center of the main dining area, a large fireplace sits proud, roaring during the winter months, warming patrons from the bitter cold.
When I was a child, my mom, sister and I would drive from our home in Slidell to dine here, enjoying the farm-to-table cooking they offered, long before the locavore movement was en vogue. Miss Joyce, who was a jack-of-all-trades at La Provence during the years of my childhood, knew us by name and always seemed to take special care of our little trio. Each time we’d walk through the door, which was at least monthly, she’d smile her warm smile before gently guiding us to a cozy table.
She found it most amusing that my sister and I were slightly obsessed with the pâté maison that they served, complimentary, to each table upon arrival. The pâté was rich and creamy, it’s fattiness complimented perfectly by crisp toast points. My sister and I smeared it liberally on the oiled oblong toast points and Miss Joyce shook her head in wonder at how two young children could be so smitten with a chicken liver spread. (This is perhaps unsurprising to most of my regular readers—all you have to do is take a look at my blog name to know I’m a sucker for animal organs and fat.)
My sister and I, entirely spoiled by good, rich food from the moment we entered the world, would always fight over who got the final crisp of pâté. “It’s my pâté, mom!” I’d whine loudly over the quiet chatter in the dining room. “She got four and I only got three!” I’d say with a pout. Miss Joyce probably heard us do this a handful of times before resolving to bring the spoiled children a second pâté terrine just as the first was disappearing. Throughout our lifetime, I’d estimate this swift gesture saved my mom, cumulatively, several hours of sisterly bickering. (Good looking out, Miss Joyce!)
After Hurricane Katrina, La Provence changed hands from beloved founder Chris Kerageorgiou to the world-renowned Chef John Besh (on whom I’ve always had a mad culinary crush—don’t tell the hubby!) And just a couple of years ago, my mom and stepdad relocated to the quaint bayou town of Lacombe, mere minutes from La Provence, where the kitchen is run by the talented Chef Erick Loos. They are regulars there now and I can’t help but wonder if, of all of the bayou-laden towns in Louisiana, they chose Lacombe because of La Provence. I wouldn’t judge them one bit if they told me they had.
Their move also means that La Provence is a must on my list of go-to restaurants when I’m in town visiting. And I’m always giddy to see that Besh and Loos have kept many of the original traditions of the restaurant alive since taking over, including the complimentary pâté. This was a wise decision. Had they not, I might have marched my butt back into the kitchen, whose windows overlook the open dining space, and whined, loudly, much like I did when my sister surreptitiously tried to steal the last bit of pâté.
On my most recent visit to Louisiana in October, Loos had designed a new dish that is the inspiration for this blog post—a fresh pappardelle with rabbit and sweet potato, which, given my affinity for rabbit, I happily ordered. The rabbit was lean but rich in meaty flavor. Fresh sage brought earthiness to the dish and a bit of lemon brightened the warm, wintry pasta dotted with game and bright orange, buttery sweet potatoes. The fire roared beside us as we ate, sipping merrily on a gorgeous bottle of Burgundy wine. And with each bite, I felt like I was home again.
Pasta with Braised Rabbit and Winter Vegetables
- 1 whole rabbit (about 3 pounds), cut into 5 pieces
- Salt and freshly ground pepper, enough to season rabbit (about 1 tablespoon of each)
- 3 tablespoons of canola oil
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 4 sage leaves, chopped
- 1 shallot, sliced thinly into rings
- ½ cup of dry white wine (e.g., Riesling)
- 1¾ cups of chicken stock
- 2 tablespoons of butter
- 1½ pounds of sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
- 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon of butter
- 20-25 sage leaves, whole
- ¾ to 1 pound of fresh pappardelle pasta (1 box of store-bought would also work, but fresh is always better J)
- 1 tablespoon of lemon juice
- Rind of ½ lemon, for garnish
- Parmesan cheese, for garnish
- Fresh cracked pepper, for garnish
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. If your rabbit is not already butchered, see this site for a great tutorial. Pat rabbit pieces down on all sides with paper towels. Heat 3 tablespoons of canola oil over medium heat in a dutch oven. Season rabbit pieces with salt and freshly cracked pepper. Sear rabbit pieces on all sides until deep brown. Remove rabbit from the dutch oven and set aside.
Add 1 tablespoon of butter to the dutch oven. Once melted, add the garlic, 4 chopped sage leaves, and shallots. Cook until garlic is fragrant and shallots are translucent, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes.
Add white wine to the dutch oven and stir to remove the browned pits from the bottom of the pan. Add chicken stock and then return the rabbit to the oven. Cover with lid and cook in the oven for 1 hour.
While the rabbit is braising in the oven, prepare your sweet potatoes for roasting. Take the cubed potatoes and toss with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of butter, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper. Spread onto a baking sheet and set aside until rabbit is finished braising.
When the rabbit is finished braising, remove it from the oven and remove the rabbit from the dutch oven, leaving the juices in. Set rabbit aside to rest on a plate. Increase the heat in the oven to 400 degrees F for the sweet potatoes. Once the rabbit is cool enough to handle, pick apart into bite-sized pieces. This should yield around 4-5 cups of rabbit meat.
Heat the rest of the liquid contents that are still in the dutch oven over high heat on your stovetop and boil until sauce reduces to 1/3, about 10-12 minutes. While the sauce is boiling, place the sweet potatoes in the oven and roast for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, add the sage leaves to the sweet potato baking sheet and stir to coat the sage with some of the fat from the butter and olive oil. Roast potatoes and sage for 10 more minutes or until edges of potatoes begin to turn a golden brown. Remove from oven and set aside.
Once the braising liquid is reduced, whisk in 2 tablespoons of butter to the liquid, return the picked rabbit to the dutch oven and toss to coat. There should be some leftover braising liquid after tossing the rabbit, which will coat the pasta when you toss it in.
Cook the pasta in salted boiling water. If using fresh pasta, it only needs to cook for 2-3 minutes; if using pre-packaged, follow package directions. When finished cooking, reserve 1 cup of pasta liquid before dumping out the rest. (The pasta liquid will help the rest of your sauce bind together, creating a more complete dish.)
Toss freshly cooked pasta with the rabbit and braising liquid together in the dutch oven with the sweet potatoes, crispy sage, lemon juice, and pasta liquid. Be sure to add pasta liquid a little bit at a time, while tossing, until it reaches your desired consistency. Garnish with freshly grated Parmesan, lemon rind, and freshly cracked pepper to suit your tastes.