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Grilled quail with Sicilian breadcrumbs, pancetta and ricotta pudding

Grilled quail with Sicilian breadcrumbs, pancetta and ricotta pudding
Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

"You know your kitchen is small when you're making salad on the stove," Suzanne Goin says as she pulls a cutting board over to her range and meticulously begins to slice radicchio leaves into long, feathery strips. It's here in ... Read more

Total time: 2 hours, 20 minutes plus 4 hours of overnight chilling | Serves 6

Ricotta pudding

  • 2 extra-large eggs
  • 1 extra-large egg yolk
  • 2 cups fresh whole milk ricotta, drained if wet
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons thyme leaves, divided
  • 2 teaspoons salt (may be reduced to 1 teaspoon)
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 dried chile de arbol, thinly sliced on the diagonal

Step 1Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Whisk the eggs, egg yolk and ricotta together in a large mixing bowl. Add the cream, milk, 1 teaspoon thyme, the salt and pepper. Whisk to combine. The mixture will be a little lumpy.

Step 2Taste for seasoning and pour into a buttered 9-inch baking dish. Decorate the top of the pudding with the chile and remaining one-half teaspoon thyme. Place the dish in a water bath and bake until the custard is just set, about 1 hour.

Step 3This dish can be prepared up to 1 day in advance and refrigerated, tightly covered with aluminum foil. Reheat, covered, at 350 degrees until warmed through, about 20 minutes, then remove cover and continue heating for 10 more minutes.

Currant-pine nut relish

  • 1/2 cup pine nuts
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 sprig rosemary
  • 1 chile de arbol
  • 3/4 cup finely diced red onion
  • 1/3 cup dried currants
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Step 1Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Toast the pine nuts until they're golden brown and smell nutty, about 8 minutes, stirring once or twice.

Step 2Heat a small saute pan over high heat for 2 minutes. Turn down the heat to medium and add the olive oil, rosemary and chile. When the rosemary and chile start to sizzle, add the onion and season with one-half teaspoon salt. Turn the heat down to low, and let the onions stew gently until tender, about 10 minutes. Remove to a small bowl to cool, and remove and discard the rosemary sprig.

Step 3Meanwhile, place the currants in a small bowl and cover with hot water. Let the currants soak for 10 minutes and drain well.

Step 4Add the balsamic vinegar to the pan the onions were in, and reduce it over medium-high heat to a scant 1 tablespoon. Stir the reduced vinegar into the onion mixture.

Step 5Add the toasted pine nuts, currants and parsley to the onion mixture, and stir to combine. Taste for balance and seasoning.

Quail and assembly

  • 12 boneless quail
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped rosemary, plus 2 small sprigs rosemary
  • 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons thyme leaves, divided
  • 2 chiles de arbol, thinly sliced on the diagonal
  • 7 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
  • 6 (1/8 -inch-thick) slices pancetta (about 6 ounces)
  • 1 cup sliced shallots
  • 1/2 cup currant-pine nut relish
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 10 to 12 ounces spinach
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • Ricotta pudding

Step 1If the quail are not boneless, butterfly them. (Using scissors, cut through the cavity down one side of the backbone of the birds. Then place them on a cutting board and gently press down with the heel of your hand to flatten them slightly.)

Step 2Season the quail with the chopped rosemary, 2 tablespoons thyme, half the sliced chiles and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.

Step 3Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Toss the breadcrumbs with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Spread them on a baking sheet and toast 10 to 12 minutes, stirring once or twice, until golden brown.

Step 4Light the grill 30 to 40 minutes before you're ready to cook, and remove the quail from the refrigerator to allow them to come to room temperature. (Remember to use extra coals, spreading them out, so the heat is evenly dispersed over the entire area of the grill.)

Step 5Stack the pancetta slices and cut them into quarters. Heat a large saute pan over high heat for 2 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil, swirl and place the pieces of pancetta in the pan. Cook 2 or 3 minutes, until the pancetta is crisp, and turn the pieces over. Add the rosemary sprigs to the pan, and cook another 2 or 3 minutes, until the pancetta is crispy on the second side. Reduce the heat to medium and add the shallots, 2 teaspoons thyme, and the remaining sliced chile. Saute 3 to 4 minutes, stirring often, until the shallots are translucent and starting to caramelize. Turn off the heat.

Step 6When the coals are broken down, red and glowing, brush the quail with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Tuck the wing tips behind the wing joints. Place the quail on the grill, breast-side down if you're using boneless or skin-side down if you're using butterflied. Cook 3 or 4 minutes, rotating the birds a few times, until the skin crisps. Turn the quail over and cook them another 2 or 3 minutes or so, until the meat is just rosy. (Peek inside the legs to check for doneness.)

Step 7Toss the currant-pine nut relish with the breadcrumbs. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper and taste.

Step 8Reheat the shallots and pancetta over medium-high heat for 1 or 2 minutes, until hot. Turn off the heat and add half the spinach. Toss quickly with tongs to combine the ingredients. As the spinach just begins to wilt (this will happen very quickly), add the rest of the spinach, tossing to coat well with the pancetta and shallots. Season with one-half teaspoon salt, a pinch of freshly ground black pepper and the lemon juice. Taste for seasoning, and arrange on a large warm platter.

Step 9Place the quail over the spinach and sprinkle the breadcrumb-currant mixture on top. Serve the warm ricotta pudding on the side.

Note: From "Sunday Suppers at Lucques" by Suzanne Goin. Make the pudding up to a day ahead; make the relish while the quail are chilling. Goin made several impromptu changes in this recipe based on what she found at the market. She substituted an equal amount of mixed braising greens (mustard, kale, mizuna, etc.) for the spinach. She garnished the dish with roasted grapes rather than the currant-pine nut relish (separate one-half pound red or purple grapes into clusters; toss with 2 teaspoons olive oil; season with salt and pepper; roast at 450 degrees until the grapes begin to pop and shrivel, 12 to 15 minutes). She also seared the quail in a very hot cast-iron pan rather than cooking them on the grill.


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