In the Capezzana Wine and Culinary Center, located in a magnificent sixteenth-century villa above the Tuscan town of Carmignano west of Florence, I watched as tall lanky chef Patrizio Cirri demonstrated a local dish to a class of American food enthusiasts and cooking professionals. He had just carved a guinea fowl roasted to crisp perfection and was in the process of smothering it with an intensely flavored and deeply colored red wine grape sauce made with sangiovese grapes, for centuries the backbone of distinguished Tuscan red wines.
“This grape is from our own vineyard,” he proudly told the class. “It has produced renowned wines since the time of the Medicis.” This was not meant as chauvinism but stated simply as a fact, for Patrizio was, I learned during five days of inspiring cooking lessons, a man of very few words.
Still, I knew that if I was to reproduce this simple, magnificent Tuscan specialty at home, I would have to find a red table grape equivalent to the small, tough-skinned, intensely flavored sangiovese. As if reading my mind, Patrizio added: “Tuscany is a state of mind. Learn our cooking, then apply our concepts to what you have at home.”
Developing the following adaptation of Tuscan chef Patrizio Cirri's recipe, I tried the sweet, mildly tart red flame and the sweet, earthy red emperor, achieving a Tuscan flavor through a series of reductions of grape pulp and skin. In the process, I learned that grape color is easily lost if the grape skins are removed too soon.
Although guinea fowl make for a glorious feast, I have substituted quail so I can sauté the birds along with the pureed grape pulp and skin, thus further concentrating the flavors. I reduced the pan juices to produce a shiny, smooth, reddish-brown sauce.
When I was satisfied, I e-mailed my recipe to Florence-based American cookbook author Faith Willinger, an expert on Tuscan cuisine and the director of the week-long Capezzana program. “Is the dish still Tuscan?” I asked her. “Even without the correct wine grape and bird?”
“Yes, of course it's Tuscan,” Faith e-mailed back, on account of its honesty, straightforwardness, and deliciousness. Remember,” she added, “every cook can make her own Tuscany.”
Serve with Oven-Baked Polenta (page 177) and a bitter green salad.
The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen by Paula Wolfert. Copyright © 2003 by Paula Wolfert. Photographs copyright © by Christopher Hirsheimer. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.