PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 August, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 August, 1995, 12:00am

ITALIANS are rather fond of little birds - eating them, that is - which may account for a noticeable lack of rural birdlife. Once, while in a restaurant near Urbino that specialised in game, we ate the most delicious quail marinated in olive oil, rosemary and garlic, threaded on to skewers and grilled on an open fire.

There were the squeals of delight - 'oh so rustic, oh so authentic, oh no delizioso, etc, etc (we were a particularly foodie party)'. But our cosy little idyll was shattered when one of our number, on passing the kitchen, discovered that the quails had come from boxes marked 'Product of China'.

The following recipe is my interpretation of how our Chinese quails were cooked the Italian way in that little restaurant in the Marches. You can buy quails from the market poultry vendor who will pluck and gut the birds for you. Expect to pay $5-$6 per bird.

GRILLED QUAILS WITH ROSEMARY AND GARLIC 12 quails Rosemary, dried is fine 4 cloves garlic, chopped Juice of a lemon 3/4 cup olive oil Salt and black pepper Cut the neck off the quails and marinade the birds overnight with the listed ingredients. With a length of string, tie the legs together so that the birds form a neat bundle.

If you are going to barbecue them, thread about three pieces on to a metal skewer. Otherwise, they can be placed on their sides on a tray and grilled under a high heat.

Turn them over just once. The quails tend to be dry, so brush them regularly with the marinade and ensure you don't over cook them.