For those of you with any knowledge of Italian Renaissance banquets, or for you fellow fans of the Borgias, you are no doubt aware that these were incredibly elaborate affairs. During this time period, lavish meals were planned to honor an individual, or celebrate an exceptional occasion such as a wedding or the visit of a dignitary. These were no ordinary meals, but lasted many hours, even days, as a myriad of courses appeared along with entertainment such as plays, music and dances. The attention to the food served at these events is believed to have been the origin of the modern ‘haute’ cuisine, but the dishes served are quite different than those we enjoy today on our Italiaoutdoors active culinary tours.
These banquets were not only an opportunity to recognize the guest of honor or event, but were designed to showcase the wealth, generosity and power of the host. Dishes were elaborate, featuring many different meats, rare and out of season vegetables. During a visit to the Archeological Museum in Ferrara, there was a large display devoted to the lavish banquets of the Este family, which sometimes lasted 2 or 3 days and included dozens of courses. A menu for such an event would contain a wide variety of birds, including partridge, capons, pigeons, chickens, pheasants, quails, even turtledoves, peacocks and small songbirds, often served together in a single dish. Think of it as the predecessor for our Turducken.
I came across a soup recipe in La Cucina – The Regional Cooking of Italy that they attribute to the Scaligeri family. The Scaliger, or della Scala family ruled Verona the mid 1200s until the late 1300s, and are often thought to be the model for the Capulet and Montague families in the legend of Romeo and Juliet. So this would be a recipe featured on the tables of the nobility, rather than ‘cucina povera’. The recipe starts with the following ingredients:
1/2 young female turkey
1/2 free-range chicken
2 young squabs
This is not a recipe I would normally consider making. (By the way, in Italian recipes it is not uncommon to see the gender specified. Traditionally they did have different preparations for male versus female animals.) But I kept reading and quickly realized that this soup, in which the birds are cooked, then used to fortify a soup of stock and wine, then poured over toasted bread and topped with grated cheese, would be a great way to use up my Thanksgiving leftovers – I had cooked turkey, stock, roasted vegetables, and toasted bread/stuffing.
I modified the original recipe significantly. Not only do I use just one type of bird, but I reduce the cooking time drastically, and adapt it to feed 8. I’m not sure how many servings the original would provide, with 4 birds of unidentified sizes, but hopefully the version that follows is more friendly to modern chefs, especially those who don’t want to spend all of the day AFTER Thanksgiving in the kitchen.
Zuppa alla Scaligera
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 stalk celery, thinly sliced
2 carrot, thinly sliced
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 potato, peeled and sliced
4 cups cooked turkey meat, chopped
4 ounces cherry tomatoes, halved
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 cups dry white wine
2 – 4 cups chicken or turkey broth
4 cups stuffing
2 cups grated grana or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Preheat the oven to 350°.
In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the celery, carrot, onion, and potato and saute over medium heat until soft, about 5-7 minutes.
Add the turkey and tomatoes, and season with salt and pepper. Add the bay leaf and wine, and simmer until the wine has reduced by half. Add 2 cups of the stock and bring to a simmer. This dish can be made to your preferred consistency – if you use only a little stock, it will be more like a casserole. If you add more stock, you will get a thick soup.
Layer the stuffing to cover the bottom of a 13×9 glass baking pan. Cover the stuffing with the turkey/vegetable/stock mixture. Pour additional stock over the mixture if you would like it to be more on the soup side than a casserole. The need for more stock at this point will also depend on how moist your stuffing is; but you can always add some later. Top with the grated cheese.
Place in the preheated oven and cook until the mixture is bubbling and the cheese is melted and brown, about 30 minutes.
A couple of ideas to help clean out your refrigerator. Include any leftover roasted vegetables when you add the tomatoes and turkey. Fortify the stock with your leftover gravy.