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Make this versatile Italian sugo all winter, then all spring, then all summer...you get the idea.

You braisin’? You should be. The cold weather is in full swing, and NYC chef Justin Smillie’s new cookbook, Slow Fires, is not unlike a long poem (with recipes) about that special, magical moment when a tough, meaty, collagen-bound piece of meat gives up its treasured secret and yields willingly to nothing more than the tines of a fork. We’re talking about slow cooking, folks — oxtails most definitely included. You’ll need a Dutch oven and a thing for delayed gratification. 

Sugos are Italian meat sauces often made with braised bone-in meat, hand-torn and reintroduced, plump and supple, back into the lush sauce. Way more interesting than your standard ragu, which calls for ground meat, a sugo has a mix of inviting, soft textures. This one, made with a rich chicken broth, is meaty and balanced with sweetly caramelized vegetables.

With lean, muscular cuts like these slightly gamy rabbit legs, it’s easy to know when you’ve cooked the meat perfectly because it shrinks and puffs on the bone; at that moment, it’s bouncy, juicy, and just the tiniest bit tense. If you look closely enough, you’ll spot natural seams in the meat; follow those lines when pulling off smooth, tender bites.

Tossed with pappardelle, this sugo is a home-run meal that’s versatile year-round. In the winter, I like to add more meat, and in the summer I scale back on the meat a bit and add some fresh vegetables, like peppery arugula, at the last minute. In the spring, favas are a go-to, and in the early fall it’s fresh tomatoes. If rabbit makes you squeamish, or if it’s hard to find, chicken legs may be used instead.

HOW TO PLAN THIS MEAL:

2-3 days before: Dry-brine rabbit legs. Make chicken broth.

36 hours before: Rinse and dry rabbit legs.

12-24 hours before: Braise rabbit legs. Pull meat and let sugo rest. Make pappardelle dough.

3 hours before: Roll and cut pappardelle. (Pasta can also be cut up to 3 days before and frozen.)

30 minutes before: Gently rewarm sugo.

10 minutes before: Boil pappardelle. Toss noodles with sauce and dress dish.

Reprinted with permission from Slow Fires