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Quails in Wine Leaves Like the Romans

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This recipes comes straight from Ancient Rome and has been cooked like this for 2000-odd years. Quails are stuffed with fresh figs, wrapped in wine leaves and grilled. Amazing.

The quails are stuffed with a fresh fig, barded with bacon and wrapped in wine leaves. They then cook for 20 minutes on a grill. A really spectacular dish and very easy too. See for yourself.

Quails like the Romans
For 6 persons as a main course
10 quails, bones in
20 vine or fig leaves
10 medium sized fresh ripe figs
20 slices pancetta or bacon strips
Black pepper
Cotton threads

I woke early that day to gather fresh wine leaves in the Lavaux vineyards on Lake Geneva. You may find better wines but you won't find more spectacular vineyards. Just breathtaking!

Back home, I soaked my wine leaves in fresh water for an hour to remove any pesticide stains.

Some people see quails as a luxury, but in fact you can buy half a dozen in a Chinese or Mexican grocery store for less than a chicken. Buy them with the bones if you can. Guests will have more work to remove the flesh but they look and taste better.

Pluck and clean your quails. Start your grill if available, or you can cook them in a Dutch oven with a little olive oil like they do in modern-day Italy. You will still turn out an impressive dish.

Stuff each quail with one medium sized fig (picture). You may have to cut the figs in two if they are too big.

Wrap each quail with two slices of pancetta or thin bacon strip and sprinkle some pepper. No salt is needed as the pancetta already has enough. The bacon will impart some flavor to the quails but above all it will keep the flesh moist. Whole quails often become dry when grilled - but not with this recipe. Lay each quail on one wine leaf and cover with another. You can also add two sage leaves between bacon and quails.

Use a cotton thread to tie the wine leaves around the quails like a little parcel and skewer them. You can also use fig leaves. Pour a little oil over the leaves to prevent burning. The leaves are not eaten and merely prevent the quails from drying out - but they are very intriguing and make for a most memorable dish.

Over a medium hot fire place the quails and leave for about 10 minutes. Turn them (picture) and continue until cooked through - about 10 minutes more. Use a kitchen probe to test for doneness or open a quail up. Your bird is cooked if the breast is rosish-white down to the bone.

I had prepared beautiful embers by burning down apple wood but I was late with my quails and the embers had nearly died out. We didn't let this spoil the day and moved them to the Weber gas grill on the terrace to cook them right before my guests. A paddlewheel boat passed by while the quails finished cooking.

Each guest received one quail with Persian jeweled rice (more about this in a later post). Quails on the bone requires more work than chicken breasts. Offer your guests a plate for the discarded bones (picture) and watch them gurbble down the the birds one by one. It is great fun to devour those birds with the soft, juicy fig inside and throw the carcasses on the table. An orgy worthy of a Roman Emperor - I won't settle for anything less for my guests!

The dish was so good that one relative just exploded with pleasure 'This is soooooooo good' she said - about 5 times. Praise from Caesar for a dish loved since ancient times.

Serve this with Persian Jeweled Rice for a really memorable feast.


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If you do this recipe at home please let me know how it worked for you by submitting a comment or send me a picture if you can. Thanks!


  • #1
  • Comment by parshu.naryanan
Hi fx! God Google reveals that the most famous Roman cookbook was the 4th -5th Cent "Apicius" Is this visually spectacular recipe from that source?
  • #2
  • Answered by fx
Parshu, I found this recipe in a book about Roman cookery but never saw it in Apicius. However the recipe is alive and well in regional Italian cookbooks.
  • #3
  • Comment by Daniel Eilat
Looks like it is a really great dish. Will have to try it soon.
  • #4
  • Comment by parshu.narayanan
Fascinating to think the Italians have been eating the same recipe for 2000 years in a row.

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