Austin’s Mezzaluna and its San Antonio sibling, Luna Notte, are high-profile, high-tech Italian eateries where the hungry and the hungry-to-be-seen congregate. Chef Harvey Harris is a former art major who applies his creative temperament to the restaurants’ rustic southern Italian fare. How is it that Italian country food brings out the best in Harris, a Sweetwater native whose interest in cooking came from watching his mother and grandmother prepare meals? It’s remarkably similar to our own home cooking: Quail, polenta, and spinach are just another look at chicken, cornbread, and greens. And no matter what country you’re in, home cooking is always in good taste.

Grilled Quail

1/4 pound hickory-smoked bacon, diced
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon minced shallots
8 ounces heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh sage
12 quail, semi-boned
Extra-virgin olive oil as needed
1 large sweet red onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons clarified butter
Polenta (see recipe below)
Sautéed spinach (see recipe below)

In 10-inch skillet, sauté bacon over medium heat until it starts to brown. Add flour and shallots and cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add cream and sage. Stir until thick enough to lightly coat spoon (if sauce is too thick, thin with a little chicken stock). Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside and keep warm.

Brush quail and polenta with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. When grill is ready, cook quail (breast side down) and polenta until light brown, about 10 minutes. Sauté onion in small saucepan in clarified butter until brown. To serve, cover each dinner plate with 2 spoonfuls of sautéed spinach. Place 2 polenta triangles on spinach. Top with 2 quail, drizzle with sauce, and garnish with onion. Serves 6.


2 ears corn or 1 cup frozen or canned corn
4 cups chicken stock or broth
2 cups yellow cornmeal
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Shave kernels from corncobs. Roast kernels by sautéing in a little melted butter over medium heat. In large saucepan, bring chicken stock to boil. Whisk in remaining ingredients. As mixture thickens, reduce heat and add corn. Stir constantly about 10 minutes, until polenta becomes difficult to stir. Remove from pan and spread out into a rectangle on a cookie sheet that has been lightly sprinkled with water. Refrigerate until firm. When firm, cut into 12 triangles.

Sautéed Spinach

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh minced garlic
1 1/2 pounds fresh spinach, chopped
4 ounces chicken stock

Heat oil in skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and handful of spinach. After spinach wilts, add rest of spinach by the handful and chicken stock. Sauté 2 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.