Vincotto, literally meaning "cooked wine", is sometimes known as saba and is traditionally made in south-eastern Italy from the slow-cooking and reduction of fresh, unfermented grape juice ("must"), to about one-fifth of its original volume, to allow the natural sugars to caramelise. It makes a wonderful dressing to drizzle over game, roast meats and even cheese or risotto.
- 1 litre (4 cups) fresh strained unfermented grape juice (see Note)
- 1 tbsp brown sugar (optional)
- 4 fresh vine leaves (see note)
- 4 whole quail, spatchcocked with rib cage removed, leg and wings left intact (see Note)
- sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 4 slices prosciutto
- kitchen string
- 1 tbsp olive oil
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
In a large heavy-based saucepan, bring the grape juice to the boil, then reduce the heat right down to a slow simmer and allow to gently reduce until about one-fifth of its original volume. Remove from the heat. Taste and if a little sharp, add the brown sugar, stirring to dissolve.
To make the quail, preheat the oven to 180°C.
Blanch the vine leaves in boiling water to soften. Cool in iced water, then drain. Place the quail, skin-side down, on a chopping board and then lightly season with salt and pepper. Turn the quail over and season the other side with only pepper. (This is done because you are using prosciutto, which has a high salt content and flavour.)
Tuck the quail up in to its natural state, then wrap the prosciutto over the breast of the bird and join it underneath. Follow on top with the vine leaves. Secure with kitchen string. Place the birds in a 25 cm frying pan (skillet), drizzle with the olive oil, and place in the hot oven. Cook for 20 minutes, then rest for 10 minutes.
• We made our vincotto using a slightly fermented grape juice, which was reasonably sharp and tannic, so we added more sugar to counterbalance that.
• Plant leaves have been used around the world for centuries to wrap food during cooking. If you can’t get fresh vine leaves, they can be found preserved in specialist shops (soak them before use). If you can’t find them, you can use foil to wrap the birds.
• Quail is readily available from good butchers. They come whole or deboned (rib cage removed.) After deboning many for years, I chose the latter as it doesn’t cut into your drinking time.