This is a recipe we vowed to try after we bought Patrizia Simone’s wonderful cookbook, My Umbrian kitchen. For our first attempt, Maggie even applied herself to the task of deboning two quails using Patrizia’s instructions. Afterwards, she thought she might let a butcher do it next time but the dish was so wonderful that she had second thoughts!
Last weekend was the occasion of the annual final of the main Australian-rules football competition, which is always held at the vast Melbourne Cricket Ground on the last Saturday in September. Unless we have the good fortune to be out of the country, we watch the event at home, unaccompanied, and treat ourselves to some fine wines and delicious bites of food.
This year, we decided to prepare FOUR quail involtini the day before, enjoy one each warm with side dishes for our evening dinner, and have some more the next day. (As it turned out, we had over-catered for Saturday – like that hardly ever happens! – so the leftover quail found its way into work-day salad lunches on Monday.)
Four quail, so no in-house boning. Friday morning’s weather was pleasant, so we set off on a shopping-for-food outing that took us to our favourite greengrocer, Toscano’s; then to Donati’s Fine Meats in Carlton to collect the boned quail I had ordered; and finishing with a long-overdue visit to Mediterranean Wholesalers in Brunswick, for prosciutto, speck, ham, anchovies and some bread suitable for making bruschetta.
Come 4pm, it was time to begin the preparation of the quail and some side dishes. By 7pm, we were two very happy diners!
The recipe provided below reflects numerous changes we have made to Patrizia’s ingredients and method based on our two experiences. However, we wouldn’t have got very far without the original recipe.
You definitely need patience and attention to detail to produce this dish successfully but you will be amply rewarded with superb flavours and textures. A follow-up post will provide a series of photos of the method, to help you visualise the various tasks.
4 quails, boned
80g breadcrumbs, made from day-old bread
50g peeled, roasted chestnuts, finely sliced (the aim is to retain a little texture of nut) (you could substitute roasted hazelnuts for the chestnuts but you would need to grind them to a coarse meal)
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 French shallot, finely chopped
4-6 sage leaves
leaves from 2 tender sprigs of rosemary
leaves from a large sprig of thyme
1-2 fennel fronds or a few crushed fennel seeds
salt and pepper
8-12 slices prosciutto
1½ tsp each of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and honey
- Place the breadcrumbs and chestnuts in a bowl.
- Melt the butter in a small pan and sauté the garlic and shallot for 6 minutes. Remove from the heat, add to the bowl and mix well.
- Chop the herbs finely, add to the bowl, add the Marsala and mix well. Add salt and pepper to taste, going easy on the salt; prosciutto is coming!
- Lay one quail, skin side down, on a board or large plate, with a long side facing you. Lay two or three slices of prosciutto (depending on size) alongside and slightly overlapping each other on another plate.
- Take one fourth of the stuffing and spread it evenly along the quail flesh nearest to you. Now roll the quail and stuffing towards the opposite side, tucking in loose ends and spilled stuffing as you go.
- Place the rolled quail across one end of the prosciutto slices and roll it up, pressing gently on the prosciutto to seal gaps and edges as necessary.
- Lay the roll in the centre of one edge of a piece of lightly-oiled cooking foil that is at least 12cm wider than the length of the rolled quail and sufficiently long to wrap around the circumference of the roll one and a half times. Roll it all up and twist the two surplus ends of the foil as for a bonbon.
- Preheat oven to 180C.
- Place all four ‘bonbons’ on a baking tray and place them in the oven for 15 minutes. Remove the tray from the oven and carefully remove the foil; place the rolled quail back on the tray.
- Combine the oil, vinegar and honey in a bowl. Brush each quail generously with the glaze, return to the oven, using the second highest shelf. Remove from the oven when the glaze has browned lightly and the prosciutto is just crisp – about 7-8 minutes.
- Rest the quail for up to 10 minutes before slicing to serve.
The photos below show the involtini after the cooking was finished and a side dish of garlic, mushroom, brown shallot and potato slices, scattered with extra herbs, seasoning and olive oil. We also prepared a salad of young spinach leaves, toasted walnuts and vinaigrette dressing.