Every Tuesday, Italian expat Emiko Davies is taking us on a grand tour of Italy, showing us how to make classic, fiercely regional dishes at home.
Today: Confront your deboning phobia with this northern Italian chestnut-stuffed roast.
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A wonderful roast for a holiday spread, this dish is resident to northern Italy: a deboned bird, stuffed with chesnuts and sausage, and roasted to perfection.
Deboning birds is a little scary the first time. And the second and third. But just remember Julia Child's words of encouragement in Mastering the Art of French Cooking as you're in the thick of it: "By the time you have completed half of this, the carcass frame, dangling legs, wings, and skin will appear to be an unrecognizable mass of confusion and you will wonder how in the world any sense can be made of it all. But just continue cutting against the bone, and not slitting any skin, and all will come out as it should."
It is a wonderful thing to learn if you've never tried it. I highly recommend watching Jacques Pepin's method for deboning chicken; it's incredibly helpful but also quite extraordinary, a bit like watching a magician reveal his trick. Just don't say you won't try it because it's time consuming; Pepin can debone a chicken in about 30 seconds. But if you're still daunted, you could perhaps also get your very friendly butcher to do this for you.
Guinea fowl is a lean bird, similar in taste to pheasant and a favorite in northern regions like Emilia-Romagna. Sweet flavors go beautifully with it, hence this stuffing with chestnuts -- which is then mixed with pork sausage meat to create a balance of sweet-saltiness. As it is so lean, the guinea fowl needs a little help to stay moist during cooking -- so wrapping it in pancetta gives it both amazing flavor and succulent meat.
Some notes on the ingredients required:
If you can't get hold of guinea fowl (this autumn/winter bird is very seasonal, but sometimes you can find it frozen), you could try this stuffing with any poultry, be it chicken, poussin, quails or even duck. I've done it with poussin and also duck breasts, pounded out a little, stuffed and tied as individual mini roasts.
Use plain Italian style pork sausages -- do not use hot, spicy or flavored sausages, please. Pancetta can be round or in strips but should be sliced paper thin. Do not use bacon, as it will be too thick, and do not substitute with prosciutto -- though tasty, it won't be fatty enough.
You can use fresh chestnuts, boiled and peeled youself, or you can buy cooked and peeled tinned chestnuts.
The Australian-Japanese cookbook author has lived in Florence (where a visit to a cheese farm once inspired her to start a food blog) for over 10 years with her Tuscan sommelier husband and two kids. Her third cookbook, Tortellini at Midnight, is out now.