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I have a great affinity with winter and autumn. When I was growing up in Lombardy, the lake next to my family’s restaurant (Lago di Comabbio, near Varese) would sometimes freeze over. It was magic: everybody went skating on the ice and met people from the other villages.

Northern Italian food, too, is well suited to the cold season: I get very excited by the arrival of truffles and chestnuts, the game birds, the ceps – it’s almost like going back home when I cook with these flavours. When I’m in Lombardy for Christmas, I will often have the very famous casoeûla, a stew of pork and a few naughty bits such as pig’s ears, nose and tongue, cooked with Savoy cabbage. It’s a very typical dish for this time of year, and I can’t wait to cook it. This pigeon dish, too, makes for a great winter supper.

I eat fantastic food all the time and the festive season luckily doesn’t make any difference to my waistline. In the restaurant you carry on eating until you drop; we shared a whole panettone between three of us in the kitchen the other day. Food is just a great joy.

“Italy Unpacked” with Giorgio Locatelli and Andrew Graham-Dixon is on BBC Two at 9pm on January 10. Giorgio Locatelli is chef-patron of Locanda Locatelli, 8 Seymour St, London W1H 7JZ. 020 7935 9088; locandalocatelli.com.

Rowley Leigh returns next week


Stuffed pigeon with lentils

The great thing about this dish is that once the pigeon is stuffed, you can cook it at the last minute; truffle grated on top would be fantastic.

Ingredients (serves four)

4 wood pigeons

4 sage leaves

8 slices pancetta

2 tbs olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the lentils

2 tbs olive oil

1 large carrot, finely diced

1 onion, finely diced

2 celery stalks, finely diced

150g green lentils

1 sprig of rosemary

1 bay leaf

½ garlic bulb

50g butter, diced

For the stuffing

2 garlic cloves, chopped

50g pancetta, diced

Small bunch of sage

50g butter

100g fresh white breadcrumbs

● First cook the lentils. Gently heat the olive oil in a heavy-based pan, add the carrot, onion and celery and stir to coat in the oil. Stir in the lentils, rosemary, bay leaf and garlic and add enough water to cover. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 40 minutes, until the lentils are tender but still holding shape. Remove from the heat and season to taste, then leave to cool in their liquid.

● For the stuffing, process the garlic and pancetta in a food processor. Add the sage, butter, breadcrumbs and some salt and pepper and pulse until well blended.

● Preheat the oven to 180C. Stuff the pigeon cavities with the breadcrumb mixture, then tie the legs together with string. Place a sage leaf on the breast of each bird and cover with two slices of pancetta. Heat the oil in a large ovenproof frying pan, add the pigeons and cook for two minutes, until browned on all sides. Transfer to the oven and roast for 15 minutes. Pour off any excess fat and leave to rest in the pan for seven to 10 minutes. Meanwhile, drain the liquid from the lentils and return the lentils to the pan. Add the butter and gently heat through.

● To serve, divide the lentils between four serving plates, place the pigeons on top and drizzle with the juices from the pan.

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