This seasonal recipe for squab stuffed with squash and chestnuts was contributed by Jacob Kennedy, chef-patron of Bocca di Lupo and Gelupo, London
â- 45ml extra virgin olive oil
â- 200g cooked chestnuts
â- 100g butter
â- 6 sprigs thyme
â- 4 whole squab pigeons
â- 1 head radicchio Castelfranco, leaves torn
â- Â½ head Treviso tardivo, leaves picked
â- The best balsamic vinegar you can afford - preferably at least 20 years barrel age
First make the stuffing. Peel the butternut squash, and cut into sections about 8cm long by 2cm wide. Toss with 30ml of the oil, salt and pepper, and roast in a hot oven until tender and slightly browned.
For ease, I use pre-cooked chestnuts, which come in a vacuum pack. Separate the chestnuts and put in a small ovenproof dish with half the butter, 4 sprigs of thyme, salt, pepper and a splash of water. Cover tightly and bake until tender - about half an hour.
Meanwhile, prepare the squab. The aim is to remove the carcass bones, leaving the skin of the birds intact, with only the leg and first wing bones remaining.
Sever the wings at the first joint (elbow). Now use a small knife to cut between the breast and the wishbone on both sides. Extend the cut down to separate the wing bone from the carcass. Make a small, horizontal cut to separate the skin from the top of the wishbone. Put down the knife - hands only from here on in. Use your thumbs to separate the breast from the breast bone, then work around to separate the muscles, skin and tendons from the carcass. Always apply inward pressure - pressing into the bone will help remove all the muscle, and prevent tears in the skin. Dislocate the legs at the hip joint, and use your thumbs and fingers working your way from the breast around to the back bone. When you near the parson's nose, remove the skeleton.
Stuff each bird with a couple of pieces of squash, three or four chestnuts, and a few thyme leaves. Use a toothpick to close up the hole at the wing end of the bird.
Season the birds with plenty of salt and a little pepper, then brown them in the remaining butter carefully on all sides. Roast them in a hot oven for about 10 minutes, and leave to rest for another 5-10 minutes in a warm place. The flesh needs to be medium-rare, and the stuffing just warm.
Toss the salad leaves with the remaining oil, salt and pepper. Arrange on a plate and nest the birds on top (toothpicks removed). Drizzle with the balsamic vinegar - perhaps two tablespoons for the four birds - and serve.
By Jacob Kennedy, chef-patron, Bocca di Lupo and Gelupo, London.
To match the richness of the squab you need a wine which has got enough intensity and also acidity to cut through the dense texture. I would opt for an Italian wine from the well known region of Piedmont. My suggestion would be either the powerful and delicious Barbera d'Alba 2006 from Reverditto (Thorman Hunt) or the even more intense Nebbiolo grape from the producer Negro cuvee Sudisfa. Both will work very well with this dish - the acidity with the sweetness of the balsamic vinegar and the tannins with the texture of the squab are very much a winter match.
Xavier Rousset is sommelier and co-owner of Texture and 28-50, both in London