This dish requires a trip into the woods—and not just for the grouse. James Beard Award–winning chef Fabio Trabocchi, of Washington, D.C.’s Fiola restaurant, loves the way the resinous smoke of pine branches pairs with wild-game flavors. But a little goes a long way, which is why Trabocchi roasts the grouse first and then finishes them in a light cloud of smoke on the stovetop. (The hay that provides the sweeter smoke should be pesticide-free; pet stores stock it in the rabbit aisle.) Every gamebird will benefit from the smoke treatment; merely adjust the roasting times accordingly, so that the birds are almost-but-not-quite-done cooking when you nestle them into the pine and hay.
4 medium-size whole grouse
6 cloves garlic, crushed
4 sprigs rosemary
4 fresh bay leaves
2 Tbsp. juniper berries, crushed
1⁄2 cup, plus 2 Tbsp., extra virgin olive oil
8 slices of pancetta, guanciale, or bacon
11⁄2 to 2 lb. butternut squash, halved lengthwise and seeds scooped out
2 Tbsp. honey
2 sprigs thyme
1 cup heavy cream
About 2 Tbsp. aged balsamic vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Special ingredients needed:
2 handfuls of untreated hay
2 handfuls of pine branches
1. In a mixing bowl, combine four of the crushed garlic cloves with the rosemary, bay leaves, juniper berries, and 1⁄2 cup olive oil. Add the grouse to the mixture, turning to coat, and marinate the gamebirds for at least an hour or overnight.
2. Make the squash purée: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lay the squash skin-side down on a parchment-covered or oiled sheet pan. Drizzle the remaining 2 Tbsp. olive oil, as well as the honey, on the squash, and place the thyme and the two remaining crushed garlic cloves in the cavities. Season the squash generously with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and roast in the oven for 45 minutes, or until tender.
3. In the meantime, bring the cream to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat. Simmer, uncovered, until the cream is reduced by half. Remove from the heat and reserve. When the squash is ready, scoop out its pulp, and purée in a food processor until smooth. Stir in the reduced cream, and taste for seasoning.
4. Increase the oven temperature to 450 degrees. Place the grouse on a roasting pan, and stuff their cavities with the rosemary and bay leaves from the marinade. Drape the breasts with two slices each of the pancetta or bacon. Put the roasting pan in the oven and cook for about 10 minutes. Remove the pancetta and discard or save for another use. Baste the birds with any fat that’s accumulated in the pan. Continue to roast for another 5 minutes, then remove from the oven.
5. Put the hay and pine branches in the bottom of a cast-iron Dutch oven. Cover the Dutch oven, then place over medium-high heat. When the pine and hay begin to smoke, nestle the grouse into the hay and pine and replace the lid. Smoke the grouse for about 8 to 10 minutes, or until cooked through. (The meat should still be pink.) Remove to a platter to rest for about 10 to 15 minutes.
6. Reheat the squash purée over low heat while the grouse is resting. To serve, set the grouse on a bed of purée, and drizzle with the aged balsamic. Serves 4