Courtesy Gallery Books
Welcome back to our new column at PEOPLE.com: the Tiny Test Kitchen. Here, we test recipes from the latest and greatest cookbooks and let you know how it went. Why Tiny Test Kitchen? Because we whip up these dishes in our very own (very tiny) New York City kitchens to show you just how easy or difficult, tasty or terrible the food turns out to be.
Confession: I have a bit of a crush on Stanley Tucci. Yes, he’s married. Yes, he’s older. But he’s so … distinguished. And charming. Ladies, are you with me?
Anyway, weird personal feelings aside, I loved the actor’s first recipe collection, The Tucci Cookbook, so when I heard he had a new book coming out Oct. 28 — this one with expectant wife Felicity Blunt — I jumped at the chance to check it out.
This edition features recipes from both of their families — his skew Italian, hers very English — so it’s a nice mix of hearty pasta dishes and things like Yorkshire pudding. There are also recipes from friends and family members, like the chicken soup Felicity’s sister Emily Blunt swears made her now-husband John Krasinski propose (seriously, how did these Blunt girls get so lucky?!).
But to kick things off, I wanted to whip up something I’d never made before, so I settled on the couple’s Cornish Game Hens with Pancetta. It’s simple enough — I actually had many of the ingredients sitting around at home — and as the authors mention, serving Cornish game hens is great because every diner gets his or her own little chicken. So cute.
I popped into Whole Foods and grabbed two hens ($18 for the pair, on the lower end of what I saw) and brought them home to prep. They were easy to prepare since there’s so little to do — basically season and set in a pan — and even easier since I halved the recipe (one each for my husband and me). Of note: Though I only cooked two birds, I still had to cook them as long as the recipe called for the four.
The turnout was pretty great! The birds were nice and juicy (basting midway through cooking helped), and the pancetta was delightfully crispy and had soaked up some of the fat from the hens (though I didn’t really taste any pancetta on the hens, I must say). The Tuccis recommend serving with their polenta frites, but I served them with fresh corn on the cob I’d picked up at the farmers market, which was a nice crunchy complement.
My one complaint is that the shallots and garlic cloves, which the directions say to stuff into the birds, didn’t really cook — biting into them, they might as well have been raw, though I was expecting them to have cooked up nice and soft. In the pictures accompanying the recipe in the cookbook, it looks like the shallots and garlic are chopped, but it never mentioned any chopping in the recipe itself, so I used them whole. I wonder if chopping them first would’ve boosted the flavor.
But all in all, it’s a fun recipe that I might try again if we had guests (again, individual birds are just so adorable, though pricey). The whole process took me 90 minutes start to finish, but with an extra set of hands in the kitchen for seasoning (or me not focusing SO hard on the recipe) it could’ve been about 15 or 20 minutes shorter. I’m looking forward to trying more of the couple’s delicious dishes!
Cornish Game Hens with Sage and Pancetta
4 Cornish game hens
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 shallots, halved
4 cloves garlic
8 fresh sage leaves
2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. olive oil
12 to 16 slices pancetta or bacon
1 cup white wine
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Season the cavities of the Cornish game hens with salt and pepper and insert half a shallot, a garlic clove and a sage leaf into each. Place ½ tbsp. of the butter in the cavity of each bird as well. Rub the birds with the olive oil and season the breasts with salt and pepper. Place a sage leaf on the back of each bird and drape each with 3 or 4 slices of the pancetta.
3. Roast for 45 to 50 minutes. Halfway through roasting, remove the pancetta from the breasts of the birds and place it beside them. Baste the birds with the roasting juices and continue to cook for the remaining time. To check if they are cooked, stab the birds in the thickest part of the thigh with a skewer. If the juice runs clear, then they are done.
4. Remove the birds from the oven, together with the pancetta, and place them on a warm plate to rest. Set the roasting pan on the stovetop over medium heat. When the juices in the pan begin to bubble, pour in the wine. Deglaze the pan, scraping up any cooking residue, and cook until the liquid has reduced by half. Serve with the reduced pan jus on the side.