Main courses

Duck “à l'orange”: a recipe from the Medici court

Known in ancient times as “pàparo all'arancia”, this recipe first appeared in il Libro della cucina: a compilation of recipes from the fourteenth-century by a Tuscan anonymous author.*

Duck a l'orange by Michela Bottasso, Biagio Pignatta restaurant in Artimino
Duck a l'orange by Michela Bottasso, Biagio Pignatta restaurant in Artimino

According to legend and various theories, Duck à l’orange was a common dish of the Medici court that later became a French specialty. In 1533 Catherine de’ Medici married the Duke of Orleans, second son of the King of France, bringing her cooks and recipes to France with her. Caterina was a great organizer of banquets and she used to present many Florentine specialties to her guests. Some of them have become French classics. Her salsa colla, for example, later became the famous Béchamel, while Florentine crespelle turned into crepes. Her carabaccia soup became known as the very French soupe à l’oignon and, of course, the "pàpero all'arancia" then became canard a l’orange.

Villa La Ferdinanda, Artimino
Villa La Ferdinanda, Artimino

To learn more, we travelled to the Montalbano hills to meet Michela Bottasso, chef of Biagio Pignatta restaurant. In the Renaissance period, the hamlet of Artimino was a Medici property, along with the hunting reserve annex. In 1596, Fernando I commissioned famous architect Bernardo Buontalenti to build a Villa. Originally constructed as a hunting residence, it was completed very quickly and the court of the Grand Duke with the Duchess, Christina of Lorraine, moved to this estate. Known as Villa La Ferdinanda or Villa of the 100 chimneys, it’s today an UNESCO property and part of a 732 hectare wine estate with a hotel and a restaurant.

HIlls of Artimino
HIlls of Artimino

Located along the Carmignano wine route, today Artimino is a perfect place to sample high quality traditional Tuscan cuisine as well as to discover fascinating stories and tastes from the Medici court.

Duck a l'orange by Michela Bottasso, Biagio Pignatta restaurant in Artimino
Duck a l'orange by Michela Bottasso, Biagio Pignatta restaurant in Artimino

"The practice of cooking meat with fruits has Arabian origins; it later spread to Spain and then came to Florence in the Middle Ages. In Florence, the orange duck was known as Papero al Melarancio and was much appreciated at the Medici court. At the time of the Medici, whole ducks were cooked in the oven, but in my recipe I recommend using only duck breasts." Here is Michela's version of the famous Duck à l'orange:

Grazie Michela!
Grazie Michela!
Ingredients
  1. 8 duck breasts
  2. ½ onion cut into julienne
  3. 1 sprig of thyme
  4. juice of 5 oranges
  5. 1 glass of brandy
  6. 1 spoonful of veal stock
  7. 1 tablespoon flour
  8. 50 g of butter
  9. extra virgin olive oil
  10. salt and pepper 
Method
  1. Sautè the duck breasts in a hot frying pan, add the onins and the thyme and continuing cooking
  2. Season with salt and place in a baking dish
  3. Clean the pan, put it back on the stove, drizzle with brandy and add the orange juice
  4. Let the liquid evaporate from the pan and add the veal stock, the tablespoon of flour and stir. Finally, add the butter to the sauce
  5. Finish cooking the duck in the oven with the onions
  6. Slice the duck breast and serve with the sauce, seasonal vegetables and a glass of Carmignano DOCG

*Giovanni Righi Parenti, La Cucina Toscana in 450 ricette