Nonna Margherita Dottorelli in her kitchen, 1905
Here are some excellent Tuscan recipes from her granddaughter Marta, who refuses to be just a character in a novel called "The Whirling Girl" made up by that writer!
TODAY I will ask you this.
Have you made a made a nice roast duck, hoping it will serve four people?
Allora! Che disastro!
But if you listen to me, now, you will learn that four people and one duck is not the mathematics impossible.
I will give you the recipe handed down from my husband's Nonna Margherita -- to make “Maccheroni all’anatra” – which is very easy because this time you do not have to make the egg-noodle pasta, but you can use the good “boxed” maccheroni from your nearby store or at the COOP.
HOWVER IF YOU HAVE ALSO MADE THE MISTAKE of reading the novel called The Whirling Girl which tells so many lies about my life, you will imagine that the beautiful Signora Chiara, whose house I tend, did not try to learn our good Tuscan cooking, but gave interest only to men.
This is another lie.
The beautiful Chiara makes this recipe many times: though it is a shame, yes, that when I see her come home from the market with a duck, I know she will be cooking it for the young Italian who has already a good wife in Bologna….
Of this I could say much. But this is not my subject now.
SO I WILL MENTION ONLY ONE MORE LIE that has been told -- the story that pasta came to Italy from China after the travels of Marco Polo.
If you study our ancestors in Tuscany, the Etruscans, you will find pictures of pasta served at banquets a thousand years before Signor "Polo" made his journeys...!
You can do this in the morning or even the day before.
Make your plump young duck clean with cold water. Inside sprinkle sea salt, and put a nice bunch of rosemary from the bush outside your kitchen door.
Put him on a rack in your roasting pan and then into your oven which is already hot (you will know if the oven is hot enough if you put your arm in for a moment and the little hairs on your arm curl up – this will be about 400 degrees Fahrenheit).
Pour over him a mixture: 1 cup of wine; juice of one fat lemon; enough olive oil to fill a teacup.
Sprinkle him with a big spoon of sea salt, all over.
Roast him for one hour. Then roast him for another hour, basting him with the pan juices many times, so that his skin gets very crisp.
Now you can let him cool until you are ready to chop him up. Meanwhile, you will make the first part of your pasta sauce.
Pour the juices from the pan into a narrow bowl and skim off the fat.
In the pan where a little fat remains, add one finely chopped shallot and two or three fat cloves of garlic also chopped.
Stir over medium heat for a few minutes until shallots are soft, then add 4 or 5 large chopped mushrooms and stir till they are a little brown.
Add to this the skimmed juices from the pan and two cups of good poultry stock and pour all together into the roasting pan, simmering and scraping till everything is nicely mixed and a nice colour.
Now you will take one spoon of flour (which you have "browned" a little in a separate pan) and mix it with one spoon of very excellent olive oil, in little bowl or cup.
Add this gradually to the liquid in the pan, always stirring with your wire whisk, until the mixture becomes just thickened. (If you have thickened it too much then add more wine.)
Like this you have a very excellent sauce which you will taste to make sure everything is right, or if it needs more salt and some pepper and maybe a squeeze of lemon to make it bright.
If you are doing this in the morning you will want to keep it a little cool – but it will be very easy later on if you leave it in your roasting pan well covered.
Now when Mr. Duck is cool enough to handle, you will cut from him all the meat in nice little cubes, making sure that as many pieces as possible keep their little “caps” of crispy skin.
The bones and wing tips you will save to make for another time a good stock that you can freeze.
Then when it is time to make everything together for your dinner, you will heat again your sauce -- and cook your pasta el dente (about 500 grams) in a large pot of salted water.
You will drain the pasta and add it to the sauce in the roasting pan and heat everything together very quickly, then on a lovely bowl or platter you can serve -- and this will be enough to make four people very happy, maybe even five, and with a little salad and some wine you will have a lovely party.