Tuscan Quail with Red Grape Sauce

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Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • Serves

    4

Appears in

The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen

By Paula Wolfert

Published 2003

  • About

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.

Ingredients

  • ¾ pound red seedless grapes
  • 8 quail (4 to 5 ounces each), rinsed and patted dry
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ounces pancetta, finely diced
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 small carrot, finely chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 2 teaspoons coarsely chopped fresh rosemary
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Several drops of fresh lemon juice

Method

  1. Stem the grapes and puree them in a blender or food processor.
  2. Using a small, sharp knife, make a ½-inch slash in 1 thigh of each quail and slip the end of the other leg into it to make a tidy package.
  3. In a large, deep skillet or flameproof casserole, heat the olive oil until shimmering. Add the pancetta, onion, carrot, garlic, and rosemary and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft and golden, about 5 minutes. Push the vegetables to one side of the pan.
  4. Generously season the quail with salt and pepper and add them to the skillet. Cook over moderately low heat, turning the quail occasionally, until lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Add half the grape puree, cover, and simmer over low heat until the quail are cooked through, about 20 minutes. Increase the heat to high and cook, turning the birds often, until the juices are slightly reduced, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat; tilt it and blot away any excess fat from the juices. Transfer the quail to a broiler pan, breast side up.
  5. Preheat the broiler. Add the remaining grape puree and 1 cup water to the skillet and boil over high heat, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan, until the sauce is reduced to 1 cup, about 5 minutes. Strain the sauce, pressing hard on the solids. Season with salt and pepper and, if necessary, a few drops of lemon juice to counter any excessive sweetness, and keep warm.
  6. Broil the quail as close to the heat as possible for about 1 minute, turning once, until the skin is lightly browned and crisp; shift the pan for even browning if necessary. Spoon the sauce onto plates or a platter, set the crisp quail on top, and serve.