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Pigeons Bologna-Style

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Gorgeous self-contained romantic dinner in a pot. A traditional recipe from Bologna, Italy.

For one so keen on taking pictures of food you'd think that my favorite cookbooks are the ones with the most pictures. Not quite! Food photography ages very fast and excellent books written 10 years ago sometimes reek of naphtaline when you look at the pictures. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but words just age better. So in my cooking library, the place of choice is reserved for unillustrated books describing the food of yore. One of my favorite collections are the Italian Traditions books by Newton Compton, the Italian publisher, with their trademark ruby robe. They sell for less than $10 a piece, a real bagain when you consider that each book contains over 700 recipes from one region of Italy. I have them all. Why are they unknown if they are so good? They are in Italian only. When you think that in America three new cookbooks are published every day, most of which will never make it to the bookshops, I wonder when somebody will have the idea of translating those. One of my favorites is La cucina bolognese by Alessandro Molinari, a food journalist from Bologna. It is a treasure-trove of old recipes. One of them, called 'Piccioni in umido' intrigued me by the author's comment: "Gourmets know of no better way of preparing pigeons". It is simple to prepare and will make a wonderful romantic supper provided you can find the pigeons. And please, don't tell me you work in the City and have never seen a pigeon in a shop.

Pigeons with Peas, Bologna Style Piccioni in umido
Dinner for two
2 pigeons or squabs with their livers
8 slices fatty prosciutto crudo, pancetta or other slices of quality pig fat
10 sage leaves
1 bay leaf
3 cloves
Salt and pepper
1 small glass vinegar
1 large glass dry wine, red or white
1 cup (that's two glasses) stock, chicken if possible
2 cups green peas
1 onion
A little butter and oil
1 lemon
Stale bread
Kitchen string

Untie and wash the pigeons. Remove the internal organs and wash the hearts, livers and gizzards. Make sure there is absolutely no trace of the greenish bile on the liver or this would turn your dish into a bitter prison disciplinary stew. Stuff a few sage leaves inside the pigeons.

Place a few sage leaves on the pigeon skin and wrap with the ham, prosciutto, pancetta or bacon slices. Do not be afraid, it is really easy as the ham will stick to the meat. Cut a forearm-long piece of kitchen string, make a loop and tie the back of the pigeon, then make another loop around the legs to close it.

Heat a little butter with a tablespoon olive oil in a large, heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid.

Fry the onions gently until they become soft. Do not let them turn brown at this stage.

With your hands or kitchen tongs, delicately place the pigeons in the pot for their last voyage, making sure not to tear the ham or string.

Add three cloves...

... and one bay leaf crushed in tiny pieces.

Let the pigeon roast on one side ...

... then turn them around with care.

When the pigeon is nicely browned all over, add the organs. You can crush them or chop them into tiny pieces, but you can't discard them - bird offal is essential to the taste. If you don't believe me please try with a wee bit of pigeon liver in the sauce and see how nice it is, nothing like the awful pork liver they serve in the army.

Continue to fry over medium high heat until the liver has coagulated - it will turn grey.

Vinegar now? Yes, a small glass of fine vinegar goes into the pot ...

... followed by a large glass of dry red or white wine. After the long simmering there will not be very much left of the wine apart from some sweetness and tartness, so the color of the wine does not make a huge difference. The vinegar apparently evaporates during the cooking and what seems like an unwieldly large quantity is barely perceptible on the tongue when you serve the dish.

Let the liquid boil and the alcohol evaporates over high heat...

... then add a cup of hot stock. Season with salt and pepper.

Cover and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes or so. My recipe indicated a minimum of 40 minutes but nowadays we like our pigeon red, so I would recommend 20 to 30 minutes.

Italian cuisine can play tricks on foreign visitors. You need to order the main course and any accompaniment separately. If you order pigeons, they'll serve you pigeon with nothing else. This dish is a very pleasing exception as it is entirely self contained. We will now cook the green peas in the pigeon sauce.

First we will remove the pigeons from the sauce to avoid overcooking them while the peas cook. Prepare a flat dish and kitchen tongs.

See how the ham has become crisp and still nicely wrap the pigeon after the long simmer?

Reserve the pigeons and cover to keep warm.

Pour the peas into the stock (about 500 grams of peas here).

Mix well. You can leave the gizzards, hearts and livers in the pot. Don't eat them if they scare you but they'll add to the peas' flavor.

Simmer well-covered for about 20 minutes or until the peas are no longer floury. Bring out your best ladle.

Cut your stale bread into slices and toast them. What we need is really hard bread that will not turn into a mush when dipped into the sauce. You could also fry one-day-old bread slices in some oil or let it dry for a half an hour in a 70°C oven. Lay the bread in the serving dish.

Carefully place the peas and cooking liquid over the bread with the ladle...

... including the gizzards.


Continue until you either run out of peas or your dish is filled up.

On this green bed lay the pigeons for a short rest. Sprinkle a little lemon juice on top the pigeons to wake the tartness up.

Serve with sauce-soaked croûtons. A delicious way to eat pigeons indeed!

Thanks to Trice Bryan for her kind spellchecking. 



I love your food philosophy, Francois! I agree, well written words from a passionate and knowledgeable foodie can be very powerful, and reading them can be quite addictive! But I still think a book (blog) with clear illustrations can be timeless too. For example, I'd like to pass on my books like "Cooking" with loads of pictures to my son/daughter when he/she starts college, and tell them to visit Fxcuisine.com. Only if they turn out to be foodies(they better be!), would I seriously consider giving them my jeweled text-only books. Because then, I would know my books are in good hands, and won't just sit there and collect dust.
  • #2
  • Answered by fx
Cheese Puff, I hope your kids will be foodies like us! I have loads of illustrated books but making good pictures to publish in a book has a direct result of decreasing the number of recipes you can include in the book. Pictures take space and money to shoot, so unillustrated cookbooks, on average, contain much more material and often more original recipes. But you can have both!
  • #3
  • Comment by louise
In my experience the best cook books are the ones which are covered in crumbs and sticky fingermarks... the pristine ones have obviously never been used! ;)Great site, the pictures are beautiful and extremely instructive.
  • #4
  • Answered by fx
Louise, thanks for visiting! I have indeed some second-hand cookbooks with grease and fingerprints from former users - hallmarks of a good book!
  • #5
  • Comment by naNasihah
I'm a Muslim, I can't drink alcohol. What is the substitute? I really like your site-such details, great for new cook like me. Thank u.
I also agree with you Francois, give me more recipes; I can make my own pictures. A lot could be said about a garlic or onion smeared camera. As it were, with the invention of the foodie blogisphere, I find I need a laptop in the kitchen now-a-days as well.You know, I don't believe that I can get pigeon here where I live. Would Cornish hens make a suitable substitute in this dish?
  • #7
  • Comment by Rachel
Do you prefer to shoot your own free-range pigeons?  I am thinking that I could finally put all of the filthy birds here in Boston to excellent use.
  • #8
  • Answered by fx
No worry if you don't drink alcohol as every last bit of it will evaporate. You could also omit the wine altogether and just add a pinch of sugar, the tartness being amply provided by the vinegar.
  • #9
  • Answered by fx
Donald thanks for visiting! Pigeon or squab is quite unique and has a very dark meat, maybe you could substitute it with a baby duck or some other fowl, but I'm not sure hens would be fair game for this dish.
  • #10
  • Answered by fx
Ah Rachel I think you and I could work out a delicious way of ridding cities of their winged critters by harnessing their inhabitants appetites! Let me know if you try this with one of them city pigeon.
Did you know you can get all Molinari in a single volume of 5000 recipes called Il Grande Libro della Cucina Italiana for about €40? An even better deal! It is nice to find another fan of Mr M.Salvè
  • #12
  • Comment by Catherine
When I look at the pictures of the pigeons, it seems like there are still small "hairs" on them. Do you eat the skin of the pigeons? I remember when I lived back in the USSR, my mom used to burn those feather remnants off the chickens she bought before cooking them. Would that improve things here, or am I just seeing things?
  • #13
  • Answered by fx
Pomiane, thanks for reminding me of this large book where Mr Molinari compiled most of his recipes. Definitely the first stop when Molinari shopping, but a bit unwieldy. The texts are not exactly the same as in the regional books, but it's really neat to see recipes for pigeons (for instance) from various parts of Italy all listed one after the other. Thanks to you I just discovered a beautiful simmered pigeon dish with white polenta. Soon on FXcuisine!
  • #14
  • Answered by fx
Catherine, you are both very observant and well informed! Yes, I forgot to burn the remaining tiny feathers on my stove before preparing the pigeons. We do eat the pigeon skins, and only very little is covered with those minute feathers anyway. Unfortunately in this recipe the pigeon is first covered in prosciutto and then sautéed, which prevents the skin from browning properly. A chef with a drive for perfection, vast staff and a standing allowing him to take respectful distances from tradition would probably start by sautéeing the pigeons, then wrap them in prosciutto, and finally sauté again before simmering. Then the skin would be nicely browned.
  • #15
  • Comment by JuliasBastardChild
I've caught my own pigeons (by hand and isn't that tough!) and killed and cooked them, too. They were delicious!

I'd very much love to try your recipe. But I'd have to catch more of the little buggers. The ones I've nabbed are all city birds and shooting them with a gun is out of the question; the neighbors would panic.

I've tried a net, a snare and even spreading stick stuff on the ground (maybe the sticky stuff wasn't sticky enough). Any suggestions?
  • FX's answer→ Bastard Child, I'd love to catch my own pigeons, and city folks would love me for it! But are city pigeons really edible? As for catching them, you might want to try with a rat trap (cage or pincher type).

  • #17
  • Comment by Kevin de Bruxelles
Great recipe.  I made it today following it pretty closely and it turned out great.  My three children particularly raved about it.  This a great website and I am having a wonderful time going through the recipes and trying new things.
  • FX's answer→ Glad you liked it, I cooked this one in December after missing a plane, really a nice recipe indeed. I think that it is of French origin that was borrowed by some Bolognese with good tastes. Your next stop has to be the quails in garlic-wine-rosemary sauce. Your kids are bound to like it!

We have a woodpecker linvig in our eaves ..unfortunately he doing more than leave his poop on our deck below he's pecking at our eaves.  Woodpeckers are an endangered species, so we can't do anything about it!
  • FX's answer→ OK

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