A fall dish, traditionally made with wine grapes—and without quail—in Umbria. This is a tame interpretation of that dish, salsiccia all’uva (sausage with grapes), which is intensely flavored and crunchy with grape seeds. For our version, we use mostly seedless grapes, Black Emerald or Red Flame, in combination with a few seedy ones—wine grapes when we can get them. Choose varieties that are not too sweet, or the result will be cloying. Small grapes with lots of skin in proportion to flesh cook down quickly and produce the best flavor and texture. I don’t recommend cooking this dish in advance; the grape sauce quickly loses its bright flavor and the quail and sausage risk drying out. And it’s so quick and easy, there is no need to.
Serve with polenta—soft, grilled, or roasted—or grilled bread, and a salad of bitter greens mixed with thinly sliced raw fennel.
- 4 whole quail (about 6 ounces each) or 4 dressed quail (about 4 ounces each)
- About 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- A few pinches of fennel seeds, barely crushed
- About 2 pounds stemmed, small, red or black grapes (5 to 6 cups), at least two-thirds of which are seedless varieties
- Balsamic or red wine vinegar, as needed
- 4 fresh sausages (3 to 4 ounces each), preferably fennel sausage
Seasoning the quail (For the best flavor, do this step 12 to 24 hours in advance):
If using whole quail, first cut off the feet at the knee joint and the head at the base of the neck. (You can double-wrap and freeze these meager trimmings for a future meat stock.) Season the quail evenly all over with salt, cover loosely, and refrigerate.
Cooking the quail:
Warm about ¼ cup of the olive oil with the fennel seeds in a 3-quart sauté pan over medium heat. Add the grapes. Stir regularly as the grapes sizzle and release their fruity aroma, until the skins begin to split and the grapes yield their juice. Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally until the grape sauce has a little body, 20 to 30 minutes. You should have about 2 cups. Taste. If the grapes are quite sweet, add a pinch of salt and/or a dribble of vinegar.
Warm about 2 tablespoons olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Wipe the quail and sausages dry, then place in the pan. They should sizzle on contact. Brown the quail and sausages evenly, 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Reduce the heat, tilt the pan, trapping the quail and sausages behind tongs or a strainer, and pour off the excess fat. Add the grapes. They will seethe regally as they bubble up around the quail and sausages—a moment to look forward to when making this dish. Cover and cook over medium-low heat until firm, like a ripe peach, another 12 minutes or so, turning the quail and sausages a few times to ensure even cooking. Uncover and simmer to reduce the sauce to a rich, jammy consistency. Taste and correct with salt or vinegar.