Total Calories: 705
Da Delfina, in the village of Artimino near Florence, is the just sort of restaurant you want to wind up at after a long day on the barbecue trail. You drive up progressively narrower roads to a village perched atop a precipitously steep Tuscan hilltop. You come to a dining establishment that feels less like a restaurant than a private home. You’re in Chianti country now, and Da Delfina has a terrace where, weather permitting, you can dine with an almost extraterrestrial view of the manicured vineyards below you.
The first thing you see when you enter the restaurant is an open kitchen with a massive hearth equipped with a multi-spit rotisserie and wood-burning grill. Cords of Tuscan oak lie stacked on the floor and in the courtyard below. The white-haired woman shelling cannellini beans at a table by the door is none other than Delfina Cioni herself, who founded the restaurant, after a stint as a private chef for a nearby countess, in 1961. Today the restaurant is run by her son, Carlo.
According to Carlo, it makes sense to cook game on the grill. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that our hunter-gatherer forebears caught their own food and cooked it over communal campfires. Nonetheless, when grilling game, you have to keep its inherent dryness in mind. Game is much leaner than domesticated animals as a result, it tends to dry out during cooking. The best way to avoid this is to wrap the game in pancetta, bacon, or caul fat.
I was the only person at my table eating pheasant the day I dined at Delfina, so they served me a boned, stuffed pheasant leg. This recipe calls for a whole pheasant, which you can bone if you’re feeling ambitious (see below). But the pheasant will be perfectly delicious even if you don’t bone it.
Note that if you can’t find pheasant, chicken and game hen are delicious prepared in this fashion.
1. Rinse the pheasant, inside and out, under cold running water, then drain and blot dry, inside and out, with paper towels. If you’re feeling ambitious, partially bone the pheasant. Start at the neck opening. Using the tip of a sharp paring knife, cut the flesh away from the rib cage. When you get to the wing joints, cut right through them. As you bone the bird, pull the flesh back over the rib cage, the way you would peel off a glove. Continue boning until you get to the leg joints. Cut through them as well. Cut out the thigh bones. Pull out the rib cage and turn the pheasant back inside in (like turning an inside-out sock back to right side out). This sounds a good deal more complicated and messy than it really is. You can certainly stuff and cook the pheasant without removing the bones. Refrigerate the bird, covered, while you prepare the stuffing.
2. Pour the milk over the bread in a shallow bowl and let soak for 30 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, cook the Swiss chard in a large pot of rapidly boiling salted water until tender, about 5 minutes. Refresh under cold water, drain well, and blot dry with paper towels. Chop the Swiss chard as fine as possible and squeeze it in your hands to wring out any water. Place in a medium-size bowl.
4. Squeeze the bread to wring out the milk. Add the bread to the chard in the bowl along with the garlic and cheese and mix well, adding salt and pepper. Spoon this mixture into the pheasant and sew or skewer the bird shut.
5. Salt and pepper the pheasant on the outside. Wrap the bird in strips of pancetta, tucking sprigs of rosemary beneath them. Use kitchen string to tie the pancetta in place.
6. There are two ways to cook the pheasant. One is on a spit on a rotisserie over a high heat. The other is by indirect grilling.
Rotisserie method: Set up the grill for rotisserie cooking. When ready to cook, place the pheasant on the spit and set the spit in place on the grill. Turn on the rotisserie and cook, covered, until the bird is nicely browned and the tip of a metal skewer or sharp knife inserted into the thickest part of the thigh comes out very hot to the touch, 40 to 60 minutes.
Indirect grilling method: Set up the grill for indirect grilling placing a drip pan in the center, and preheat to medium. When ready to cook, oil the grill grate. Place the pheasant on the hot grate over the drip pan. Cover the grill and cook until the bird tests done as above, about 1 hour.
7. To serve, remove the trussing string. Let the bird stand for 10 minutes, then cut in half and serve.
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