Springtime is well underway here in Los Angeles! Flowers are fully in bloom mode; the few trees that lose their leaves are leafing out (most poor deciduous trees have difficulty knowing when to lose their leaves and then leaf out again in such a temperate climate); the roses are headed for their first bloom and it’s nearly time to plant tomatoes! With days growing longer—especially noticeable with the recent change to daylight savings time—it seems like warm summer nights are right around the corner.
For those of us who love cooking, all these changes mean it’s time to embrace the abundance of springtime foods. Fresh peas immediately spring to mind, so when I came across this recipe for quail with fresh peas in an Italian-language cookbook from the region of Marche, I knew this was the perfect time of year to give it a try.
In Italy, of course, nobody talks about the seasonality of foods, because they don’t need to. Italians don’t tend to ship in vegetables and meats from half way across the planet just to be able to eat an eggplant in December. If it even occurred to them, most would turn up their noses as the very idea! What’s in season gets eaten for the period it is being harvested just down the road, and then it disappears for another year. At an Italian grocery store I visited last year, the only foreign produce I saw was avocados from Mexico and pineapples from Hawaii.
I also just love quail. While they take a lot of work to eat, specialty poultry—unlike ubiquitous chicken—tends to come from specialty farms, so they are more likely to be raised in conditions that lead to flavorful meat. The quail I bought were from North Carolina. If you’re willing to deal with their small bones, quail are a great size—you can easily eat at least one whole bird!
The following recipe makes an entrée for two or an appetizer for four.
- 4 cleaned quail (not-semi boneless)
- 2 tbsp butter
- Several springs of thyme
- One bay leaf, preferably fresh
- 1 thick-cut slice of prosciutto, cut into julienne strips
- 2 tbsp Marsala wine
- 1 tbsp flour
- 1 cup beef broth (heated)
- 5 oz fresh peas
- Clean the quail, eliminating any remaining feathers. Rinse inside and out with cold water; dry with paper towels.
- In a large pan over medium-low heat, melt the butter, and then add the julienned prosciutto, the springs of thyme, and the bay leaf. Allow the herbs to perfume the butter.
- When the prosciutto begins to brown, remove the herbs and push the prosciutto to the edges of the pan. Add the quail, arranging them without overlapping. Season with salt and pepper. Sauté in the butter for 15 minutes, turning them frequently to brown all over.
- When the quail are well browned, remove to a plate.
- Pour in the Marsala wine and scrape the bits off the bottom of the pan. Let it evaporate a little and whisk in the flour, stirring constantly. You will end up with a paste.
- Add the hot broth and whisk with the paste until smooth. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.
- Add the peas and return the quail to the pan. Cover with a lid and cook for about 15 minutes, until the peas are soft and the quail is cooked through. Add more hot stock as necessary.
- Once there is no pink left when you cut into the quail, remove from heat, let cool for 5 minutes.
- Serve the quail with the sauce drizzled over top.