I love the richness of pigeon. Ever have really good beef, especially skirt steak? It is just so beefy. Pigeon is the same way. A wild pigeon is dense and juicy and savory, and that flavor comes through in these tortelli, which are large tortellini. If you are not a hunter, use a store-bought squab (available at specialty markets or online) or duck, which is closer in flavor to squab than other store-bought birds.
Chef Paul Bertolli’s pigeon tortelli recipe is my inspiration for this, and you can find it in his excellent book Cooking by Hand.
My recipe differs in that is has more garlic, a chile and pecorino cheese instead of parmesan.
I also wrap this in spelt pasta; I think the “dirtier” more rustic flavor of the spelt, which is an ancient strain of wheat, works better with pigeon. If you can’t find spelt flour — it’s in most good supermarkets — use whole wheat.
Serve these simply. My two favorite choices are a) in a clean, clear game bird broth (you could use chicken broth); and b) served with sage butter and a little more pecorino, with some ground pepper on top.
Makes about 40 tortelli
- 2 whole pigeons (skin on)
- Kosher salt
- Black pepper
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 head of garlic
- 1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
- 1/4 cup sweet red wine (I use Greek Mavrodaphne, but you could use Port just as well)
- 3 tablespoons finely grated pecorino cheese
- 2 minced hot chiles, such as a Tabasco or Thai
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 8 ounces all-purpose flour
- 2 ounces spelt flour
- 2 beaten eggs
- Make the pasta. Whisk the flours together in a large bowl and make a well in the center. Pour the beaten eggs in the center and with your finger, twirl it around in increasingly larger circles, incorporating the flours. Add a splash of cool water, maybe a tablespoon or so.
- When the dough is a shaggy mass, start pressing and kneading it in the bowl. Knead for a good 5-8 minutes, then coat the dough in a thin sheen of olive oil, wrap in plastic and set aside for at least an hour, or in the fridge up to overnight.
- While the dough is resting, make the filling. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Salt the pigeons well and set out at room temperature for 15-20 minutes.
- Get the olive oil hot in an ovenproof pan. Pat the pigeons dry with paper towels and brown on all sides over medium heat.
- Put a chile in each of the cavities of the pigeons and scatter the unpeeled garlic cloves into the pan. Put the pigeons breast side up in the oven and roast for 30 minutes.
- Remove and let cool. Keep the oven on.
- As soon as you can, remove the skin off the pigeons and lay flat on a cookie sheet. Return to the oven to crisp up. (Keep an eye on them, as they can burn easily.)
- Meanwhile, pick off all the meat from the pigeons and put in a bowl with the chiles and garlic.
- When the skin is crispy, add that to the bowl and then pass everything in there — pigeon meat and skin, garlic and the chiles — through a grinder set on its finest die. If you don’t have a grinder pulse it in a food processor.
- Mix the wine, pecorino and rosemary with the ground pigeon mixture. If using wild pigeons, add the tablespoon of butter and work that in, too. Taste it, and add salt if needed.
- Using a machine, roll out the pasta almost as thin as it can go. My machine’s thinnest setting is No. 9, so I go to No. 8. You want long strips a little more than 3 inches wide.
- Use a 3-inch cutter to cut out circles of dough. If you don’t have a set of cutters, use a glass or something.
- Get a little bowl of water ready.
- Put a teaspoon of filling slightly below center on the circle, then fold over to make a half-moon. Be sure no air is trapped inside.
- Fold over the ends of the moon and with a little water, seal them together to make the tortelli.
- Lay each one out on a well-floured surface.
- Use within 2 days or freeze; they should last a few months in the freezer before deteriorating.