Parsley and Basil which are the main ingredients for an Italian medieval sauce called Agresto.
Agresto sauce resembles a pesto - it is made from a mix of nuts and herbs that are bound with verjuice and olive oil. Verjuice is the name given to the unfermented pressings of unripe grapes. Highly popular in the Middle ages it fell out of favour but in recent times it has been revived. While there is a tart element to it, it isn't as acidic as vinegar. On the nose, it has a lovely fresh fruit aroma.
When it comes to Christmas, I'm always on the lookout for something different to do for a main course. Since there's only 3 of us for dinner, I want to avoid cooking anything too large - turkey is fairly impractical while chicken is a little too everyday.
This year I've turned to quail and in particular to this rather interesting recipe found in Shared Plates by Jared Ingersoll for a brined quail. Now if quail isn't your cup of tea, you can easily adapt the recipe for chicken or spatchcock, you'll just have to increase the brining time.
After brining, the quail are roasted and then tossed in the Agresto sauce - the sauce slackens somewhat with the warmth of the quail, bringing out those wonderful aromas of basil and bathing it in "finger-licking" goodness.
7 cups water
fresh thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
140 grams salt
125 grams caster sugar
125 grams almonds
125 grams walnuts
1 garlic clove
1 bunch Italian parsley, leaves picked
½ bunch Basil, leaves picked
⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
⅓ cup verjuice
salt and pepper
Make the Agresto Sauce:
This sauce is enough for 1 chicken, 4 spatchcocks or 12 quail.
Finely chop the parsley and basil - you can do this by hand or with a food processor.
Place the almonds, walnuts and garlic into a process and pulse until finely chopped. Tip out into a bowl and add the chopped herbs along with the oil and verjuice. Stir to combine, taste and then adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. The end product should be a thick paste.
Store under a thin layer of olive oil in the fridge if not using immediately.
Make the brine:
Place the water into a pot and bring to the boil. Once boiling, add the thyme, bay leaf, salt and sugar - stir until the salt and sugar has dissolved.
As soon as they have been absorbed, remove from the heat and allow to cool completely. It's important that the brine is fridge cold before you use it.
Brine the Quail:
Wash the quail well and make sure the cavities are empty. Place the quail in a tight fitting container and pour over with the cold brine. It's important that they are completely covered with brine. You might need to place a weight on them to ensure they stay covered.
Place them in the fridge for 3 - 4 hours - don't be tempted to leave them any longer.
Cook the quail:
Preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F.
Drain the quail from the brine and then wash them well in cold water. Pat dry with paper towels and then rub over with olive oil.
Place them on a baking tray and cook for about 30 minutes or until golden brown.
Remove them the oven and rest them upside down for 10 minutes.
Either toss the whole quail in the Agresto Sauce or as I've done here, cut each quail into four and toss the portions in the sauce.
While the brining gave the quail much more flavour the Agresto sauce really put it into the special category. The sweetness from the Verjuice is heightened, and combined with the nuts and herbs, it certainly had us wanting more.
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