Cavolo Nero-Stuffed Squab Breast with Squab Ragout

Cavolo nero, or black kale, is a staple in Tuscany. It can be seen growing in gardens all over the region, where clumps of its inky, tapered leaves look more like ostrich plumes than vegetation. It has a richer flavor and slightly more delicate texture than regular kale, which nonetheless makes a fine substitution. In the U.S., cavolo nero might also be labeled as Tuscan kale or Lacinato kale.

Wine recommendations: Since the inspiration for this dish comes from Italy, David Rosoff, Opaline’s wine director, recommends a Nebbiolo from Piedmont. "Squab tastes like liver or truffles and that makes me think of Nebbiolo," he says. Rosoff loves a bargain, like the Claudio Alario 1999 Cascioto Nebbiolo d’Alba.

"This wine is a textbook example of Nebbiolo’s ability to combine power and grace," he says. "There are equal parts earth and fruit; notes of spice, tar, violets, spice and truffles. It drinks like a good Barolo." But if you’re going to go to all the trouble and expense of buying squab and cavolo nero, why not spring for a 1997 Barolo Riva, which would also match beautifully?

  • For the squab and ragout:
  • 4 (1-pound each) whole squab
  • 4 garlic cloves, 3 minced, 1 thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • ¼ cup peeled carrot, diced
  • ¼ cup celery, diced
  • ¼ cup onion, diced
  • ¼ cup fennel, diced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 fresh thyme sprig
  • 1 fresh rosemary sprig
  • ½ teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ cup dry Sherry
  • 3 cups squab or chicken stock
  • For the cavolo nero:
  • 1 bunch cavolo nero (or kale), stems removed
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/3 cup thinly sliced onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • Salt and black pepper to taste

To prepare the squab: Use a large sharp knife to cut each squab into breasts, carcass, wings and legs (reserve the carcass for making stock, if desired). Place the squab breasts in a dish and sprinkle with the sliced garlic, thyme leaves, salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

To prepare the squab ragout: Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a bowl, toss together the carrot, celery, onion, fennel and remaining minced garlic. Cut a 6 x 6-inch square of cheesecloth, lay the bay leaf, thyme sprig, rosemary and peppercorns in the center of the square, pull up the corners to make a sachet and tie it closed with kitchen twine.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a heavy, large pot over medium-high heat. Add the squab wings and legs and cook until brown all over, about 8 minutes. Transfer the wings and legs to a large bowl. Add half of the diced vegetables to the same pot and sauté until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add the Sherry. Stir to scrape up any brown bits. Simmer until almost all of the Sherry is evaporated, about 5 minutes. Add 2 cups of the stock and the cheesecloth sachet to the pot and bring to a boil. Add the squab legs and wings.

Cover and transfer to the oven. Cook until the leg meat is fork-tender, about 3 hours. Let sit until cool enough to handle. Pull the meat from the bones and reserve (discard the bones).

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a heavy, large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the remaining diced vegetables and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the squab legs and wings, and 1 cup of stock. Simmer until the stock is reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Season the squab ragout with salt and pepper and set aside.

To prepare the cavolo nero: Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it well. Add the cavolo nero and blanch for 2 minutes. Drain.

Heat the butter and oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add cavolo nero and crushed red pepper. Cover and cook over very low heat until the cavolo nero is very tender, stirring occasionally, about 30 to 40 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

To complete the squab breasts: Slice deep horizontal pockets into the squab breasts. Stuff each breast with 1 heaping tablespoon of the cavolo nero. Stack one breast on top of another to make four stacks. Tie the stacks with kitchen twine. (The breasts can be stuffed 4 hours ahead. Cover and refrigerate, then bring to room temperature before roasting.)

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a large, heavy ovenproof sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the squab breasts and cook until brown on all sides, about 8 minutes. Transfer the skillet to the oven and roast the squab until just cooked through but still deep pink, about 5 to 8 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest 3 to 5 minutes. Clip off the string.

To serve: Place some of the squab ragout in the center of each plate and top with a squab bundle.

Published on July 1, 2010