Artusi’s May: Tuscan Chicken Liver Pate
If there was one defining Tuscan recipe for me it might just be the recipe for chicken liver pate served on crostini, otherwise known in Italian as crostini di fegatini, crostini neri (‘black crostini’) or crostini toscani.
This favourite Tuscan antipasto is rustic, tasty, cheap and sensible, reflecting the peasant roots of Tuscan cooking where nothing was thrown away (this makes good use of day old bread and cheap chicken livers) and it features on the menu of literally every trattoria in Tuscany, not to mention on the tables for every birthday, Easter, Christmas or other important family gathering in a Tuscan home.
Some even believe that this pate is one of the recipes that Florentine noblewoman Catherine de’ Medici brought with her to France when she married Henry II, only to have the French reinterpret this recipe as their foie gras.
There are as many recipes for crostini di fegatini as there are grandmothers in Tuscany, so this recipe inevitably varies from one household to the next. Pellegrino Artusi’s version is quite different to the one in my husband’s family, which is made with the addition of capers, salty anchovies and walnuts. But, as we are here to honour Artusi’s recipe from his 120 year old cookbook, Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well, this one is made instead with a soffritto of finely diced vegetables and dried porcini mushrooms to add flavour. Today these are not such typical ingredients but they make a somewhat lighter pate than the usual earthy, dense fegatini spread.
A small adjustment to the original recipe here is the addition of chicken hearts together with the livers. You can make it with all liver if you prefer; in Tuscan supermarkets the hearts and livers are sold together so they are often cooked together for this dish. Artusi chops his pate ingredients (a mezzaluna is perfect for this) for a rustic topping but the final texture of the pate is completely up to you — some prefer a smoother pate, in this case you can puree the mixture with a hand blender directly in the pan. A Tuscan would also likely use olive oil in place of the butter here — although Artusi lived in Florence for many years, he is originally from Emilia-Romagna where butter is used more often.
Artusi’s Tuscan Chicken Liver Pate for Crostini (Crostini di Fegatini di Pollo)
In his cookbook (and as is the case with many of his recipes and other recipe books of his time), Artusi does not give any measurements in this recipe, so I have tried to give these indications. If you like, you can add a teaspoon of rinsed and drained capers and a few drained anchovies to the mix. This will make about 20 crostini.
- 1 eschalot
- ½ stalk of celery
- ½ carrot
- a handful of chopped parsley leaves
- A thin slice of pancetta, chopped roughly
- 1-2 tablespoons of butter (or olive oil)
- 300 grams of chicken livers (and hearts, if using)
- 250 ml (1 cup) of chicken or vegetable stock
- 3 pieces of dried porcini mushrooms, soaked in warm water to soften and finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon of breadcrumbs
- Juice of one lemon
- Salt and pepper to taste
- A thin loaf of bread, such as a baguette for crostini (day old bread is suitable)
Finely chop the eschalot, celery, carrot and parsley and sauté these gently in pan with the pancetta in the butter. Season with a pinch of salt. When the vegetables are soft, add the whole chicken livers and continue cooking, stirring occasionally to brown them, about 3-5 minutes. Once browned remove the mixture from the pan and place on a chopping board together with the softened porcini mushrooms and finely chop everything with a mezzaluna or large kitchen knife. If you prefer a smoother pate, you can puree the mixture with a hand blender directly in the pan.
Return the chopped pate mixture to the pan, add the stock, the breadcrumbs, lemon juice and season to taste. Continue cooking on low, stirring occasionally, a further 20 minutes. This mixture should be quite tender and juicy so do not allow it to reduce too much so that it becomes dry (add more stock or water if needed).
In the meantime slice the baguette in 1cm thick slices and gently warm in a low oven until dry to the touch. Some even like to dip one side of the bread in any leftover stock before spooning a generous amount of warm pate onto each bread slice. Alternatively, you can also serve the warm pate in a bowl with slices of toasted crostini for guests to help themselves.