Last month, I created a menu that was inspired by the cuisine and local ingredients of Messinia, a region of Greece located in the southwestern tip of the country. Here you will find the rugged Mani peninsula, rolling hills with rows of old olive trees, mountains full of herbs and mountain tea and the sea always nearby, bearing fresh fish and seafood.
The area also is know for producing some Greece’s finest olive oil, a briny whey cheese called dry Mizithra and some wonderful local pasta, namely the short-cut egg pasta we call “hilopitakia”. I recently came in contact with the folks at Navarino Icons who have built a luxury resort in Messinia and they sent me some of their products made by local artisans.
After reading further into the cuisine of Messinia, I learned that there’s a long tradition of hunting and game birds are fave in the area. I decided to make a Quail Kokkinisto dish. In Greek, “kokkinisto” means reddened, referring to the use of tomatoes as a base for the sauce.
Quails are rather lean birds, lots of mussel and the either need marination and a hot grill to quickly cook or a simmering braise until just tender. I went with the latter approach, browning the quails then allowing to soften in a reddened sauce perfumed with bay, rosemary, thyme, allspice and a touch of cinnamon.
4 large quail (farm raised)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 medium onions, finely diced
1 medium carrot, finely diced
1 stalk celery, finely diced
4-5 cloves of garlic, minced
3 bay leaves
1 Tbsp. of chopped fresh rosemary
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
5-6 whole allspice berries
1/2 cup red wine
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 1/2 cups of grated ripe tomatoes
2 cups of hot water
sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
1/4 tsp. of ground cinnamon
1 pkge. (450gr.) of Navarino Icons Greek short-cut hilopites (pasta)
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 cup grated dry Myzithra cheese
- Use your kitchen scissors to cut and remove the backbone and neck from each quail then cut along the breast bone to cut into two (you may save the backbones for stock). Rinse and pat-dry, season with salt and pepper. Place a large skillet on your stovetop over medium-high heat and add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and brown on both sides then reserve.
- Lower your heat to medium and add the onions, carrots, celery, garlic and some salt and pepper and sweat/cook for 7-8 minutes or until translucent. Add the bay leaves, rosemary, thyme, allspice, tomato paste and wine and stir in and simmer for 5 minutes. Now add the tomatoes, hot water and some more salt and pepper, stir in and bring up to a simmer.
- Gently place the quail into your skillet and cover (the quail should be almost covered in liquid) and simmer for 20 minutes. Uncover, adjust seasoning with salt and pepper and simmer for another 10 minutes so the sauce thickens. Add the ground cinnamon, stir in and take of the heat and keep warm (remove bay leaves).
- Place a large pot of water on your stovetop and bring to a boil. Season the water well with salt and add the pasta in and cook for 5-6 minutes. Strain and place back in the pot with the butter and toss to coat the pasta.
- Divide and plate the pasta and mound two pieces of quail for each person and pour some sauce and top with cheese. Serve with a Boutari Agiorgitiko Nemea 2008.
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