"Pigeon, or squab, lends a beautifully deep, rich flavour to this ragù," says Hafner. "However, you could also use quail. A good dry Marsala is essential; otherwise use an oloroso sherry or perhaps a good red wine. For the gnocchi, work with the dough while it's hot to get a light and fluffy texture. Have everything ready before the potatoes are cooked, and I find it helps to roll and cut with two people if possible."
- 80 gm butter, coarsely chopped
- 12 sage leaves
Pigeon and Marsala ragù
- 20 gm butter
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 3 squab pigeons (about 500gm each), legs and breasts removed from frames (see note)
- 2 small carrots, finely chopped
- 2 small celery stalks, finely chopped
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 1 tsp finely chopped rosemary
- 2 garlic cloves, sliced
- 250 ml dry Marsala
- 40 gm dried morel or porcini mushrooms, soaked in 125ml warm water for 15 minutes
- 750 gm Desiree potatoes (about 3 large), unpeeled, scrubbed
- 100 gm (1/3 cup) plain flour
- 1 egg yolk
- ¼ nutmeg, finely grated
- 1For ragù, heat butter and oil in a casserole over medium heat, add squab legs and breasts and cook, turning occasionally, until golden (5-7 minutes). Season to taste, remove from pan and set aside. Reduce heat to low-medium, add carrot, celery and onion to casserole, and stir occasionally until soft and golden (10-15 minutes). Add rosemary and garlic, and cook for 1 minute. Add Marsala, squab frames, legs and breasts, season to taste, reduce heat to low and simmer until meat falls from the bone (1-1½ hours). Remove casserole from heat, discard carcasses, then remove breast and leg pieces, and flake or chop meat finely (discard bones and skin). Skim fat off cooking liquid, return meat to casserole, add mushrooms and soaking liquid, and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Check seasoning. (There should be just enough sauce to cover the meat; add a little water or chicken stock if it’s dry).
- 2Meanwhile, for gnocchi, preheat oven to 175C. Boil potatoes in a large saucepan from a cold start until tender (30-35 minutes). Drain, then place on a tray in the oven to dry (5 minutes). Cool slightly for 5 minutes, then peel (potatoes will be hot). Pass through a mouli or potato ricer (or mash with a hand masher) into a bowl. Add sifted flour, yolk and nutmeg, season to taste, then gently work together using your hands until a smooth soft dough forms (add more flour if it’s sticky). Divide into quarters and, working with a piece at a time (cover remaining dough with a tea towel), roll on a lightly floured surface into a log the width of your finger, then cut into 2cm pieces. Roll each piece over the back of a fork to create grooves on one side, then make an indentation with your thumb on the other side to capture the sauce, or you can just indent each piece. Repeat with remaining dough and set aside, covered, on a lightly floured tray until required. Makes about 80.
- 3Cook small batches of gnocchi in a large saucepan of boiling salted water until they rise to the surface (2-4 minutes). Remove with a slotted spoon and add to ragù, mix to combine and spoon onto plates.
- 4Cook butter to nut-brown in a small saucepan over high heat, swirling pan occasionally (2-4 minutes), add sage leaves and, once crisp, spoon butter and sage over gnocchi and serve scattered with parmesan.
Drink Suggestion: Cantina del Pino Nebbiolo d’Alba, Piedmont. Drink suggestion by James Broadway