Get in the game

Fliers for the holidays

Rachel Priestley
December 13, 2012

In English, we categorise game into two distinct categories: furred game and feathered game. In Italian, the feathered game is called volatili (fliers). Christmas Day calls for a flier.

Or maybe two!


My morning walks take me past the restaurant Fuori Porta and into the back of the areas of the San Niccolò area, winding up to piazzale Michelangelo. Soon after I exit the city walls, I pass a contadino who keeps chickens. Further along, I pass sloping fields, bare at this time of the year but for the barren olive trees and the occasional pheasant. The pheasants get me thinking about Christmas dinner, for they bring to mind an old French dish: a goose stuffed with a chicken stuffed with a quail that is stuffed with savoury stuffing; or a more modern Christmas dinner bird stuffed with a bird that is stuffed with another bird. This concoction is known as turducken, which, as its portmanteau name suggests, is a turkey stuffed with a duck that is stuffed with a chicken.

Not interested in making something that complicated, and wanting to keep things Tuscan, I decide, after my morning walk past the pheasants and the chickens, that two birds will be enough this Christmas-along with their livers and a bit of lardo di Colonnata, tartufo, mortadella, salvia, alloro...


Tuscans have been serving fagiano, pheasant, for centuries as the most important course for a Christmas day lunch (not to be confused with the traditional late-night feast with many courses on December 24, Christmas Eve). Alternatively, they might serve cappone or even turkey, often with pancetta or prosciutto, some sage or bay leaves, stock or red wine in the cooking.


Pheasants look so stunning when alive, with their plumage and cobalt blue feathers among other colours. I believe their visual beauty deserves careful attention to their taste and presentation as the centrepiece of a beautiful feast.


Therefore, I am going to make a pheasant stuffed with some of the chicken from the contadino, enriched with mortadella and Tuscan tartufo nero, black truffle, and some fresh herbs such as bay and sage. And with the rest of the chicken, I will make sausages to throw into the roasting dish 20 minutes before my flier comes out of the oven.


Here, then, is my recipe to you for a Tuscan Christmas Day dinner.

Buon appetito!




Fagiano farcito con tartufo, lardo di Colonnata, pollo, mortadella, salvia e alloro



1 fagiano, one pheasant, frollato (hung, plucked and gutted), with fegatino (put liver aside)

1 chicken, same as above (put liver aside)

1 onion

2 cloves of garlic

2 bay leaves

8 sage leaves

2 whole eggs

salt, pepper to taste

day-old bread

200ml cold milk

100g lardo di Colonnata, roughly diced

80g lardo di Colonnata, cut into strips

80g mortadella

2 tartufi neri, black truffles

extra virgin olive oil





Check the pheasant for small feathers; if you find any, burn them off. Wash the bird under cold running water inside and out, and pat dry with a clean cloth.


Make the stuffing. Mince the whole chicken with the livers of both birds, add a finely chopped onion with the 2 cloves of garlic, sliced finely, adding the chopped sage and bay leaves. Mix in the two eggs and the half cup of breadcrumbs soaked in the milk, and add the mortadella, diced lardo di Colonnata, and two beautiful winter tartufi neri, Tuscan black truffles. Don't even slice them in half: the treat is in which slice of the stuffing they turn up in, and they really do flavour the whole bird from the inside out.


Prepare the bird. First, season the washed and dried fagiano with salt and pepper inside and out, then prepare to cover the breast.


Next, cover the breast of the fagiano in thick strips of lardo di Colonnata, overlapping each strip of lardo to cover the breast completely. Tuck the edges of the lardo between the thigh and the breast of the bird and sprinkle the entire top area with pepper. 


Now take the stuffing, and fill the fagiano by hand until the inner cavity of the bird is full. With the remainder of the stuffing, make a type of sausage by piping the stuffing mixture onto tin foil sheets, then rolling them into tubes like bonbons; bake them in the oven along with the fagiano, adding them to the roasting pan with the fagiano only for its last 30 minutes of cooking.


Prepare the fagiano. Heat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius and brush the whole bird with olive oil. Put the whole fagiano stuffed with the chicken, the livers, mortadella, and beautiful black truffles into the preheated oven.


After it has been in the oven 20 minutes, begin the process of basting the fagiano with the olive oil and cooking juices di tanto in tanto (every so often), to keep the bird moist and flavoursome. Place the sausages in the roasting pan for the last 20 minutes.


Depending on the size of the bird and the consistency of the stuffing, after around 90 minutes the fagiano should be ready to take out of the oven. Leave it to rest in a warm place above the oven, loosely covered in tinfoil, for 20-30 minutes. Then carve your beautiful bird, serve with the extra stuffing and your favourite side dishes. My suggestions are fried artichokes;  mashed potatoes with truffle; cavolo nero sauteed with olive oil, garlic, hot pepper.



A beautiful wine to accompany your beautiful bird would be Brunello di Monalcino DOCG: Collelceto 2007.

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