Cookbook Profile

Polenta with Skewered Meats

Polenta con Osei


Osei means small birds-thrushes, sparrows, finches. Tiny delicacies with a long gastronomic tradition and many passionate aficionados, small birds are generally prepared grilled, stewed (in umido), or skewered and sautéed. But in the last ten years, their numbers have decreased because of overhunting, and most of those that are left are now thankfully protected by strict antihunting laws-all of which might have put a crimp in Livenza's annual Sagra degli Osei, a festival held every third Sunday in August for 721 years. But the people of this region, just fifty miles south of Switzerland and thirty-five miles west of Slovenia, are extremely resourceful in the way that cities on the old merchant trails between Europe and Asia have always been, and a variety of other meats-prepared the same way-now accompany the few birds actually served. The festival itself is widely attended and in addition to the food encompasses open-air concerts in Piazza Centrale, art shows, an outdoor cabaret, and a variety of stands selling crafts. In the following recipe, one of the more popular of the sagra, pork, beef, and veal have been substituted for the birds.

Serves 4

Time: 1 hour
Level of Difficulty: Moderate


8 ounces pancetta, sliced
8 ounces round of beef fillets
12 leaves fresh sage
1 pound pork loin, cut into fillets
4 ounces veal cutlet
12 skewers
4 links fennel sausage,
   removed from casing and cut into chunks
4 ounces pancetta, cubed
2 cups coarsely ground cornmeal
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
About 1/2 cup basic meat broth
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste


1. Place 1 slice of pancetta on each beef fillet. Cover with a piece of sage and roll into a tight cylinder. Do the same for the pork and veal. Thread the rolled meats onto the skewers, alternating with chunks of sausage and cubes of pancetta.

2. Meanwhile, make the polenta: Bring 8 cups salted water to a rolling boil over medium heat in a heavy-gauge saucepan. Reduce the heat to low, pour in the polenta in a steady stream, and cook, whisking frequently until the polenta comes away from the sides of the pan and the whisk sands up by itself in the center of the polenta.

3. While the polenta is cooking, heat the butter in a skillet over low to moderate heat and cook the skewers a few minutes per side until golden. Season with salt and pepper and continue to cook for 15 minutes, adding broth as necessary to keep the meats from sticking.

4. Spoon the cooked polenta onto a serving platter. Stick the skewers into the surface of the polenta so that they are standing up straight, and serve.

How to Serve: with a platter of sautéed greens.

Wine Suggestion: Medium- or Full-bodied Red

Buy the Book!


Italian Festival Food
Recipes and Traditions
From Italy's Regional Country Fairs

By Anne Bianchi
Macmillan USA, June 1999
Hardcover, $25.00
336 pages, with 62 b/w photographs
ISBN: 0-02-86332-0
Recipe Reprinted by permission.


Italian Festival Food



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This page created December 1999