First of all, if your butcher hasn’t already done so, clean the rabbit, removing the head, innards and any excess fat inside. Put it in a bowl, cover it with cold water and leave to soak for about an hour: this will make it more tender.
In the meanwhile, dice 2 slices of pancetta and coarsely chop 2 cloves of garlic. In a small bowl, mix 3 tablespoons of salt with 1 tablespoon of ground pepper.
Lay the rabbit on a chopping board and sprinkle the mixed salt and pepper all over the inside of it (the amount depends on personal taste, use it generously if you like flavoursome dishes). Now fill it with the chopped pancetta and garlic, add the bunch of wild fennel (if you don’t have any you can use 1 or 2 spoonfuls of dried fennel seeds) and close the rabbit, securing it with toothpicks. Using a sharp, pointed knife, make a few incisions on the rabbit’s legs (a couple in the fleshier parts of each thigh). Finely chop the remaining pancetta and garlic; mix it with salt, pepper and 1 tablespoon of fennel seeds, and insert this mixture into the incisions on the rabbit’s legs. Now sprinkle a little salt and pepper over the outside of the rabbit and transfer it into an oven dish. Pour a glass of olive oil over it and put it into a preheated oven, at 180 °C. Brown the rabbit evenly all over (remove the dish from the oven now and again, so you can turn it and baste it with the pan juices). About halfway through the cooking time, pour in the white wine and then put the dish back in the oven so it can evaporate. The rabbit will take at least an hour to cook (check it from time to time, “testing” the meat with a fork).
When it’s cooked, remove the dish from the oven and leave to cool down for a moment. Use kitchen shears to cut the rabbit in half, and then cut each half into 3 or 4 pieces. Serve hot, garnished with fennel and pancetta from the stuffing (before serving, put the meat back in the oven for a while to warm it up).
This is a typical “Sunday” recipe, served with potatoes (the potatoes are so delicious that some prefer them to the rabbit!). They are simple to prepare: when you remove the rabbit from the oven to pour in the wine, add 3 or 4 potatoes, cut into large pieces and, once more, sprinkle them with a pinch of salt, pepper and fennel. The flavour of the meat and vegetables will mingle together, and the result is guaranteed to be excellent!