Last night, we had the pleasure of hosting some close friends over for dinner who also happen to be foodies and love their wine. These dinners tend to have themes and definitely bring out some friendly competition amongst the gang. Most of the people in the group are classically trained chefs or have worked in professional kitchens. The others just merely "like to cook". Marc and I tend to "hope to keep up" with the talent surrounding us, and then try to keep things classic, simple and with a bit of a twist.
In honor of one of our friend's receiving some really positive news, we let her pick out the theme for the evening. Given her roots, she chose 'Italian'. I knew I didn't want to slave over fresh pasta so I quickly claimed a course of 'protein and veg'. And no, you can't do Ronzoni with this crew. Heh. Marc and our Italian friend partnered on dessert, which ended up being mind-blowing. Translation: non-dessert eaters had seconds. Well played, Marc and Danielle.
I went through some of our Italian oriented cookbooks from places like SPQR, Babbo, Union Square Cafe (plenty of Italian inspired dishes), and Tra Vigne. Plus we also have Molto Mario. I had to find something that wasn't too heavy, wasn't too big and would appease the palates of the gang. I settled on a dish from Mario Batali's 'The Babbo Cookbook', which we use quite a bit - most notably for their awesomely easy and fabulous "Dry-Aged Ribeye For Two" recipe.
So on I went with "Duck Braciole with Fava Beans and Pecorino Toscano". This recipe wasn't too complex but it was going to involve me de-boning a bunch of duck legs/thighs, which I have never done before. I allowed a bunch of time to complete the task and did a couple of extra ones so I could test drive the recipe over lunch. The instructions weren't that helpful in the cookbook so I just kind of improvised and hoped I wouldn't cut off a finger. Mission accomplished.
I substituted the stuffing that had bread crumbs with crumbled up almonds. The rest of the stuffing had fresh Italian parsley, chopped garlic and orange zest. That was pretty straightforward to assemble. Then you basically just put the stuffing in the middle of the duck leg and tied it up so it kept its shape while it baked in the oven. While it baked in the oven, one could say that the depiction of a "duck fat jacuzzi" was taking place. BTW when I used that term with Marc after reading Gastoblog's attempt at the recipe, Marc almost spit up his coffee.
After baking in the oven, Marc and I tasted. It wasn't bad but we both thought it was odd that the recipe didn't have me 'scoring the duck', which helps render the fat out. The upside is that you get some nice duck fat to use for something else. So I decided that I would make a change to the recipe. Score the skins and brown the duck legs skin side down. Then remove, add the stuffing, tie up and bake. AND.... I would use the duck fat to saute the fava beans.
Let's talk about those fava beans, which were procured by Marc. When Marc's family was in town, they went to Pike Place Market and I asked him to get enough for 10 people. Well Marc came back with 18 (eighteen) pounds of fava beans for $10. You couldn't make this up if you tried. OK. If you haven't cooked with fresh fava beans, you should know that they are a complete pain in the ***. They have to be shucked and then peeled before you cook them.
The recipe called for them to be served raw. I opted to blanch them for a minute and then saute them in the aforementioned duck fat once our guests arrived.
All I can say is that it came off really well. The kitchen twine really did a great job of holding the shape together and the favas were awesome. Before I had a chance to announce the dish (a tradition of the group), a couple of people were wondering what was "in" the fava beans. Well, that's duck fat for you!
The dish, as a whole, really worked, especially once I topped it with some freshly shaved pecorino toscano. I really didn't know how it would come together as sometimes things don't retain their shape throughout the cooking process and also changing some of the recipe. I guess when you are asked for the recipe, you must have done something right.
But as usual, the rest of the crew pulled off some amazing dishes. You can see the rest of the photos here.