Serves 3 as a main course, 6 as a starter
4 wild squirrels, jointed into 3 (fore limbs, saddles & rear limbs)
2 tablespoons rapeseed or olive oil
4 streaky bacon rashers, chopped, or about 100g home-cured bacon belly
2 carrots, roughly sliced
2 celery stalks, sliced
1 onion, sliced
2 bay leaves
A few sprigs of thyme
A few black peppercorns
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1kg tomatoes, skinned, deseeded and roughly chopped, or 2 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes
Glass of white wine (Or cider would work really well)
Water or chicken or game stock, to cover
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Season the squirrel pieces well with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large saucepan, add the bacon and brown over a medium-high heat. Then add the squirrel and cook, turning frequently, until browned all over.
Stir in the carrots, celery and onion and let them take a little colour too. Add the bay leaves, thyme, peppercorns, garlic, tomatoes, wine and just enough water or stock to cover everything. Bring to a very low simmer and cook uncovered, or partially covered, very gently (or with the lid on in the oven preheated to 140C/gas mark 1) for about 2 hours, until the squirrel is very tender.
After this long slow simmer take the squirrel out of the sauce. Strain the liquid into a clean pan, pushing hard through a sieve, so that the tender vegetables go through the tomatoey liquor. It should be rich and flavoursome as it is, but reduce it for more intensity. Pull the meat of the bones in chuck and shreds wasting nothing. Return the squirrel to the sauce and bring back to the simmer and finish by stirring in a knob of butter.
Serve spooned on top of your choice of pasta (HFW recommends pappardelle or tagliatelle or even soft polenta) but we only had spaghetti on the day. Serve in deep dishes and if you like grate a little Parmesan on top although there are plenty of flavours in this dish.