Friday, December 22, 2017

Pelligrino Artusi, The Art of Eating Well and Quail Pasta Pie

Pelligrino Artusi was born in 1820 in Forlimpopoli, Italy (a small town above the calf of the boot in the Emilia Romagna).


From the age of 15 to 30, Artusi spent his time in Bologna enjoying student life and the food of that vibrant city (although for some reason it is unclear that he actually attended the university). After his youthful university idylls in Bologna, he returned home to Forlimpopoli to join the successful family business in 1850. But his return became a nightmare

il Passatore

Artusi’s wealthy merchant family was traumatized and forever changed by the arrival of a famous roving brigand named il Passatore, "the Ferryman" to Forlimpopoli in 1851. Il Passatore rounded up the town’s leading citizens, took their money and raped their women – including Artusi’s sister who went mad from the shock. Distraught, the family left the town and fled to Florence where Artusi remained for the rest of his long life (he lived to be 91).

Florence 1870 Barbant/Benoit

Artusi’s business success and a substantial inheritance helped him lead a very comfortable life. He never married. He lived simply with his hometown butler and a Tuscan cook, Marietta Sabatini, of whom he wrote in the book: “My Marietta is a good cook and such a good-hearted, honest woman that she deserves to have this cake [Panettone Marietta] named after her, especially since she taught me how to make it.” In his will, he left her a considerable sum plus a portion of the royalties from the book to reward her talent and faithfulness (he admitted he pestered her relentlessly about food).

He entertained often and well - integrating the cuisines of the newly united Italy into his repertoire while virtually ignoring French Cuisine. He thought it was overrated (for this slight, he was left out of the French food bible, the Larousse Gastronomique). His food was simple, flavorful and very Italian, but this belief bucked the culinary headwinds of the day that believed to be good food it had to be French food.

Restless in commerce, he began to write. First, a biography of the revolutionary Foscolo, then a critique of the handsome satirist/poet Giuseppe Giusti. Neither gained Artusi any recognition but did put him in touch with the publishing circles of the day. He lived and wrote on the Piazza Massimo d'Azeglio in Florence.

Piazza Massimo d'Azeglio (built like an English Square in 1865)

He wrote La Scienza in cucina e l’Arte di mangier bene (Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well) in 1891 – 20 years after the unification of Italy. He assumed the manuscript would be a desirable prize for any publisher but all of them rather rudely turned him down. He was told if a famous chef didn’t write the cookbook – no one cared how good it was and wouldn’t buy it! In the end, he paid for 1000 copies of the book to be printed on his own. It took a few years for the book to sell in more than dribs and drabs, but then it began to take off exponentially. There were many, many reprints. By the time Artusi died, 200,000 copies had been sold – rivaling the popularity of Pinocchio  - 100 years later it has sold millions. You could say he was the Julia Child of his day – awakening Italians to the beauty of their cuisine.

His introduction to the work, with a wink to those who did not believe in his vision, contains a prescient passage, “So just because my book smells of stew I supposed that you, too, disdain to take it seriously? But let me tell you, and I say this reluctantly, that with our century tending toward materialism, and life’s enjoyments, the day will soon come when writings of this sort, which delight the mind and nourish the body, will be more widely sought and read than the works of great scientists, which are of much greater value to humanity.” Way ahead of his time, he also encouraged the idea of good cooks setting up shop to make food to be delivered to unfortunate households with no talent for cooking – in the 1890s! Artusi had, “…a suggestion that others may pickup, develop and use…. I am of the opinion that a well-managed institution of this sort – accepting private orders and selling already cooked meals—could be established, grow and prosper…”

His idea for the book was simple. Good combinations of ingredients, simple instructions and charming anecdotes. When you think about it, not that much different from the formula The Silver Palate used that revolutionized cookery books in the 1980’s. His anecdotes, sage advice and observations are marvelous and make the recipes come alive. You feel the warmth of his affection for his food in his prose. As Lorenza de’ Medici opines in the introduction, so many English translations have discarded them and the book loses much of its charm without them.

Guelphs and Ghibellines

One of the best-known divertissements in the book concerns truffles. Which is better, white or black? Artusi dramatically compares the choice of black or white to the choice between the Guelphs and Ghibellines (beginning in 1140, the war pitted the Holy Roman Empire against the Papacy, city dwellers against country folk) and announced, “ I am a supporter of the whites, and in fact I openly declare and maintain that the black truffle is the worst there is. Other people do not share my opinion; they believe that the black truffle is more fragrant, while the white truffle has a subtler taste. But they are not taking into account the fact that black truffles quickly lose their aroma.” He goes on to describe a preparation for truffles by sharing an expression, “Bologna la grassa per chi vi sta, ma non per chi vi passa – Bologna whose bounty is for those who live there, but not for those just passing through.” The technique of layering of sliced white truffles and Parmesan with the best olive oil then warmed in a copper dish deserves to be kept a closely guarded secret to be kept away from tourists.

The recipes came from all over Italy, acquired from friends and professional cooks from the lowliest inn to the finest castle as well as from his own formidable collection of antique cookbooks. Many of the recipes do not use measurements or oven temperatures or times so you have to extrapolate a bit – it’s worth the effort.

He also has common sense rules of eating. The most important of which would be eat only when you are hungry and drink when you are thirsty. Drink wine, but not too much and exercise.

The end of the book has a list of menus throughout the year – they are mouthwatering and beautifully orchestrated meals like the December version:


First course: Cappelletti Romagna style (filled with ricotta and capon)

Stew: Signora Adele’s Gruyere mold (a baked ring of cheese custard filled after cooking with sweetbreads)

Cold Dish: Capon galantine (stuffed with veal, pork, ham, truffles and pistachios) or boned thrush in aspic

Roast: Hare or woodcock with green salad

Dessert: Panforte from Sienna (an Italian fruitcake), German brown bread cake, plum pudding

Fruit and Cheese: Pears, apples, mandarin oranges, dates

I decided to make a dish that at first glance seems to be overdoing it. It’s a pigeon pie but the crust is stuffed with creamy, pigeon-laden macaroni (I used quail, but it would also be great with leftover turkey or chicken). If you love a good crust as much as I do, it’s a killer idea and it works.  This is great to do the day before and combine the day you want to serve it.

Artusi's original recipe is for 10 - I cut it in half (Artusi's pastry recipe should be much bigger if you double it).  Also, he called for 2 pigeons for the larger pie -- I think 2 quail are good for the half size -- about a cup of meat.  Serve with a salad and you have a lovely meal.

Timballo di Piccioni, Squab Timbale #279, serves 4-6

1 recipe shortcrust

250 g flour (about 1 3/4 plus 2T)
80 g butter, chopped into chunks
2 t sugar
5g salt
2 t wine
2 egg yolks, beaten
juice from lemon wedge
cold water as needed ( I used a few tablespoons)


2T butter
2 quail ( I used french jumbo quail from D'Artagnan)
salt and pepper to taste
giblets of quail and chicken if available
1 1/2 cup stock  (you need a cup left for finishing the dish)
1 slice prosciutto
1 carrot, chopped small
1 small stalk of celery, chopped small
1 small onion, chopped small

5 oz macaroni

2 T butter
2-4 T grated parmesan to taste
2 slices prosciutto, slivered
a few slices of black winter truffle and/or 1/4 -1/2 c dried mushrooms, rehydrated


2 T flour
2 T butter ( I used black truffle butter -- my favorite)
1 1/2c milk (you can add 2T cream to this if you want it richer)
pinch nutmeg, salt and pepper

For the shortcrust

Put the flour in the food processor. Add the butter, salt and sugar and pulse. Dump out into a bowl and add the rest, working the dough with your hands till blended. Lay out a sheet of wax paper dusted with flour and squeeze out handfuls of the dough on the sheet and smear them one at a time and pile them one on top of the other. Place this in the fridge to chill for a least an hour or over night. You can divide it into 2 (with one slightly smaller) and roll out if your dish is shallow and make a larger and smaller disk if it’s deep and not wide -- I found that it filled a small pie plate perfectly.

For the filling

Spatchcock the quail and sauté it and giblets if you have them in the butter until browned and remove. Add the vegetables and prosciutto and sauté till softened. Return the quail to the pan, skin side up and add the stock. Simmer on low till the quail is done – ½ hour or so. Remove the birds and strain the stock - I had a little over a cup left and reduced it a bi. Bone and chop the birds and reserve the meat (save the bones for more game stock for your next pie).

Cook the macaroni al dente and add the 3/4 c of the reserved stock slowly (about 1/4 c at a time with 15 minutes between each addition).  The pasta will absorb it beautifully and the flavor is out of this world.  Give yourself a little time to do this before and not at the last minute.  Set aside.

For the béchamel

Make the béchamel by melting the butter and stirring in the flour. Cook it slowly for a few minutes. Add the milk a little at a time to prevent lumps. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring regularly.

Season the macaroni mixture with Parmesan, butter and slivers of prosciutto. Add the last 1/4 cup of the stock, the reserved quail meat, truffles and/or rehydrated mushrooms and the béchamel. Toss together and taste for seasoning.

Preheat oven to 375º

Butter a dish and lay 1 piece of pastry in the dish. Fill with the macaroni mixture and put the top piece of pastry over the top and seal the edges – cutting holes into the top to vent the steam.

Cook for 30-40 minutes until crust is nicely browned.