There’s nothing I enjoy more than having a few good friends over for some food and a few glasses of wine. I guess it’s a sign of growing old, and although I still love going out for the odd rager, I much prefer playing host. The thing I get the most out of cooking is the way that it makes people happy, and it’s so satisfying to give people you know a plate of food and watch the enjoyment that (hopefully) follows. Throwing dinner parties always brings about moments of stress and pressure, and I’m always running around getting ready at the last minute, but with a bit of planning you can minimise this as much as possible. All of this will be forgotten the second you finally sit down with everyone at the table and have a much needed drink.
On this occasion we were hosting a lunch with Katie’s sister and her boyfriend. We had suggested a casual meal, with the possibility of making an easy quiche and some salads, keeping prep time to a minimum. At this we were quickly told that their expectations were a touch higher, and that something a little more impressive was required. This was all very tongue in cheek of course but the hint was taken, and I set about trying to think of a new menu.
I wanted to make something that could be mostly prepared in advance, with only quick cooking needed at the end. Pasta is perfect for this, so I decided on a ravioli as the main dish for lunch. I had been inspired reading about Thomasina Mier’s Masterchef winning dish of chicken ravioli with foie gras, which looked and sounded terrific, and wanted to do something along those lines. I have also heard about guinea fowl being used in ravioli fillings recently, paired with burrata. So for my pasta I wanted to combine guinea fowl with a different cheese, smoked mozzarella. I have used this before a couple of times and love the smokey and creamy combination, and thought it would go really well with the chickeny taste of the meat. I have been messaging my excellent local cheese shop La Fromagerie a few times recently for a couple of other recipes, and I was thrilled to find that they could also source this ingredient for me.
Mushrooms and poultry are a winning combination, but instead of having these merely as a garnish, I wanted to do something interesting here as well. I stumbled across some dried, ‘jumbo’ morels in the supermarket recently, and thought that they would be perfect for stuffing. I have heard that the dried variety aren’t a touch on fresh, but there is nowhere I could get them locally, and I would still be adding loads of flavour with the stuffing mixture. I like to try and use as much of a piece of meat as possible, and the braised legs of the guinea fowl provided the base for this along with some mushroom duxelle. The finished, stuffed mushrooms add a different taste and texture to the dish, whilst combining perfectly with the other flavours.
The other parts of the dish such as making fresh chicken stock might seem like a massive faff but really are worth it to maximise the flavour. Aside from a few finishing touches, everything can be made in advance. The stock, morels, pasta dough and base for the sauce can be made the day before, and the mousse filling a good few hours, so when it comes to cooking it will only take a matter of minutes. Everyone was overjoyed with it on the day, and those hours of prep dissolved away.
For the pasta:
300g strong ’00’ pasta flour
3 medium eggs
1tbsp olive oil
Pinch of salt
1 egg for brushing
A scattering of cous cous
For the ravioli filling:
200g guinea fowl breast, skinned and trimmed of any sinew
4 egg yolks
300ml double cream
2tbsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped
Salt and pepper
100g Scamorze affumicate smoked mozzarella
For the stuffed morels:
12 large dried morel mushrooms
250ml girolle mushrooms, brushed clean and finely chopped
1 small shallot, finely chopped
2tbsp fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
3tbsp flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
2 guinea fowl legs
For the chicken stock:
12 chicken wings
3 carrots, roughly chopped
3 celery sticks, roughly chopped
3 medium onions, sliced
1 leek, roughly chopped
3 garlic cloves, sliced
10 sprigs of thyme
2 bay leaves
2 glasses dry white wine
3.5 litres of water
Salt and pepper
For the sauce:
The carcass from the guinea fowl
3 shallots, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
5 sprigs of thyme
1 bay leaf
50ml good brandy
1.5 litres of the chicken stock
Salt and pepper
For the crispy skin:
The skin from the guinea fowl, kept in one large piece
50g pecorino cheese, finely grated
2tbsp fresh thyme leaves
Portion the guinea fowl by removing the legs and wings. Before taking the breasts off, remove the skin from the crown in one large piece. Keep the carcass, and cut it into a few smaller pieces.
Make the stock by heating a little oil in a large, heavy bottomed saucepan. When the pan is hot season the chicken wings, then cook in batches, letting then colour really well. Remove to a plate. At this point also brown tall sides of the guinea fowl legs and again set aside. Add the carrots, onions, leek, celery, garlic and thyme to the empty pan and saute until caramelised, scraping up all of the crust from the bottom of the pan. Pour in the white wine and allow to bubble and reduce by half, then add the chicken wings back to the pan with the bay leaves. Add the water, season well and bring to the boil before turning down to a simmer.
At this point put the browned guinea fowl legs back into the stock and poach for an hour and a half, or until the meat falls away from the bone. Carefully remove to a bowl and cover with some of the stock and allow to cool. Once cool, strip all of the meat from the bones and break into very small pieces. Put into a bowl and set aside. Return the liquid and used bones back to the stock.
Keep reducing the stock for a good few hours until about 1.5 litres remain, then strain well into a large bowl. Taste and season if needed, it should have a good chicken flavour and brown colour. Allow the stock to cool then refrigerate if not using straight away. It will keep in the fridge for a couple of days.
While the stock is reducing soak the morel mushrooms. Rinse a couple of times under the tap to remove any grit, then place in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Allow to soak for about 30 minutes then strain, keeping the liquid. Although it isn’t needed for this recipe, it is great added to risottos or soups.
While waiting for the mushrooms to soak, make the mushroom duxelle that will form the other part of the morel stuffing. Heat up a large frying pan to a medium heat and add half of the butter (about 30g). When melted sweat off the shallot, garlic and thyme for a couple of minutes until tender. Now add the finely chopped girolle mushrooms and season. Cook until all of the moisture has evaporated and you are left with a mixture that resembles a coarse pate. Stir the parsley through and season if needed. Mix the duxelle with the shredded guinea fowl until well combined.
Carefully squeeze the water out of the morels and pat dry with kitchen paper. Stuff the mushrooms with the guinea fowl leg and mushroom mixture, compacting gently with the end of a teaspoon. Be careful not to tear or make any holes that will cause leakages later. Fill all 12 mushrooms, then put on a plate and set aside.
To make the pasta dough, add the flour, eggs, oil and salt to a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Tip out onto a clean surface and knead well with your hands for around 10 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and has an elastic texture. Wrap with cling film and allow to rest in the fridge for at least half an hour, or overnight if making in advance.
As the pasta dough is resting make the guinea fowl mousse filling. Put the skinned guinea fowl breasts into a food processor and blitz to a fine paste. Scrape the mixture through a sieve and into a bowl, then add the egg yolks and beat together well. Cover the bowl and put in the fridge for 15 minutes. When rested, tip into a large bowl with the cream, thyme, a few gratings of nutmeg and a good amount of seasoning. Beat together until thick and combined. Bring some water to a simmer in a small saucepan and when hot, add a teaspoon of the mousse mixture. Poach for a couple of minutes, then carefully remove and taste. Adjust the salt, pepper, nutmeg or thyme to the main bowl as needed. Cover and refrigerate the rest of the mixture until needed to fill the pasta.
Remove the skin from the smoked mozzarella and cut into small, half-centimetre pieces.
Scatter flour over a large, clean surface. Using a pasta machine, roll the pasta dough through each thickness setting until it is the thinnest it can be, then cut in half. On one sheet, carefully place 1 teaspoon of the mousse mixture every 3-4 inches along. Put a few pieces of the smoked mozzarella on top of each, then brush around the filling with the beaten egg. Quickly cut the other sheet of pasta into squares big enough to cover each filling and with an inch or so around the edges. Carefully cover the filling, gently pushing around it with your fingers to seal and remove any air bubbles. Trim each ravioli parcel with a sharp knife to form a neat square. Line a plate with greaseproof paper and scatter a good amount of cous cous on top. Carefully place the finished ravioli on top. If not using straight away, loosely cover with more paper and clingfilm and put in the fridge. The cous cous is used instead of flour as it will not stick to the ravioli whilst cooking, and will simply fall to the bottom of the pan instead.
Turn the oven to 180ºC.
To make the sauce, heat up a large frying pan or skillet to a medium-hot heat. Add a little olive oil. When hot, season the wings and carcass from the guinea fowl and cook until all sides are well coloured. Lower the heat slightly and add the garlic, shallot and thyme and continue to cook until caramelised. Pour in the brandy and deglaze, allowing to bubble and reduce a little. Add the bay leaf and the reserved chicken stock and bring to the boil. Reduce down until the consistency changes and the sauce is much thicker; about 300-400ml should remain. This reduction process should take about 20-30 minutes. Taste and season if needed, then strain into a smaller saucepan and cover for finishing later.
While the sauce is reducing, make the crispy guinea fowl skin. Line a shallow baking tray with greaseproof paper and stretch out the reserved skin on top. Salt well and cover with another layer of paper and another baking tray. Put in the heated oven and cook for about 15 minutes, or until very crisp. Remove and drain on kitchen paper. Allow to cool, then cut into small shards. Set aside.
Fill a large saucepan with well salted water and bring to a rolling boil. Put 4 plates in the oven to heat up. Take the stuffed mushrooms out of the fridge to get to room temperature.
When the water is nearly boiled, heat up a medium frying pan and add 30g of butter. When at a medium heat, add the stuffed morels and 2 tbsp of the sauce to the pan and cook gently for 5-8 minutes, turning occasionally.
Carefully lower the pasta into the boiling water and cook for 3-4 minutes, or until the pasta is soft but still a little al-dente.
While the pasta is cooking, gently reheat the rest of the sauce, adding the 30g of butter and stirring well to emulsify.
To plate up, place three pieces of the cooked ravioli onto each heated plate. Position three of the stuffed morels in between, then spoon over a couple of tablespoons of sauce. Sprinkle over the thyme, pepper, pecorino and guinea fowl skin and serve.