Do you ever find yourself on a Sunday night with half a bottle of red wine left over from the weekend? I do, and it often gets sloshed down the drain on Monday evening when I’m clearing out the fridge to make space for the next weekly shop. Monday is a night I try to use up leftovers and last week, along with the usual half bottle of red, I scanned the store cupboards to find two tins of black beans I’d intended for soup at some point during colder months. There were tomatoes, I always buy too many, and the rosemary and oregano in our herb patch had grown rampant over an unusually warm summer. The idea of making a hot, hearty bean stew in the middle of one of the hottest Augusts on record didn’t phase me, as growing up in a sub-tropical region of South Africa we ate hot food every night, no matter the weather. Even though 15 years in England has thinned my blood considerably, I have no issue cranking up the oven mid heatwave. As usual, I write my blog posts about a week before publishing them and we’ve happened upon some Autumnal weather, so I hope this will satisfy your cravings for something warming this “meatless Monday” night.
What started out as an attempt to use up leftovers turned into a moreish, comforting dish I know I’ll cook time and again. It happens to be ideal Monday night cooking – quick, easy, vegetarian and uses up leftovers as well as pantry ingredients that are still good but have been lurking there for too long. Quickly sauté onion and celery in oil or butter while you simmer up red wine in another pot to reduce it and concentrate its flavour. Add the beans and wine to the veg and simmer to warm them through. This would have been fine on it’s own, but I wanted to use up the tomatoes so I roasted them while the beans were on with loads of herbs. The recipe for these tomatoes is so adaptable, you can use any herbs you like, and add garlic for a deeper flavour. They’re beautiful in salads, with eggs and simply as a side to grilled meat.
We are several days into September and I’m sluggishly back on social media, from which I’ve had a long, European style summer break. In Crete, and mostly while back in London, I stashed my phone at the bottom of my handbag, except for responding to overseas family messages once in a while. I have a love-hate relationship with social media. It’s excellent for keeping on top of the latest restaurant openings, but full of fake narcissistic beauty, which irks me probably more than it should. Over 60% of news in Britain is accessed via social media with the common complaint that fallacious blogs and influencers are given equal platform with well researched and fact-checked journalism. Whilst this is true, one only has to cast an equally lazy eye over more traditional media, TV news for example, to note that certain stations have a blatantly partisan bent. Anyone who thinks they have something to say usually works a certain angle, either pandering to a loyal audience or deploying the directive of a large corporate backer. No safe haven exists in either the formal or social media spaces and we simply need to exercise some discernment. Note to self…must remember to deliver this advice to future teenagers in our house, no doubt while they eye-roll themselves into oblivion.
What’s For Sippies?
The red wine I happened to have left over was Umani Ronchi Montepulciano D’Abruzzo 2015, which I picked up from Oddbins for a bargain £7.75
This wine is unbelievable value for money. It’s rich and concentrated with juicy red fruit, moderate in alcohol and very smooth. When I make this black bean dish again I’ll buy this wine specifically for it, using half the bottle for the beans and drinking the rest alongside.
Montepulciano D’Abruzzo is a style of wine from the Tuscan region of Abruzzo in Italy. The grape itself is called Montepulciano and it produces wines that are dark in colour, ripe with juicy red and blackberry flavours but robust in structure with usually smooth and supple tannins. It’s a great food friendly wine as it stands its ground with strongly flavoured dishes, and I’d particularly recommend it with rabbit and venison, as the game season has just begun. I’m seeing it more frequently on restaurant and pub wine lists.
True to confusing wine terms, its easy to mistake Montepulciano D’Abruzzo with Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, which is based on Sangiovese grapes grown exclusively around the town of Montepulciano in Tuscany, and altogether a different wine.
For Nobile, Sangiovese must comprise at least 70% of the blend and many traditional producers use even more. Others opt to include Merlot or Syrah which makes for a potentially smoother wine, capable of ageing faster than a wine based on 100% Sangiovese. Some critics suggest the modern approach of including international varieties in Vino Nobile di Montepulciano makes the wine less obviously Vino Nobile, and detracts from the recognisable flavour of this particular style of Sangiovese, which tends to ripe red cherries and redcurrent flavours, where Syrah and Merlot might bring non-traditional black fruit flavours to the blend. As always with wine, I look to the producer more so than the grape varieties.
It’s worth mentioning two other 100% Sangiovese wines here, in the hope of alleviating some confusion when presented with a restaurant wine list. Brunello di Montalcino is based on a superior clone of the Sangiovese grape known in the region as Brunello. By law, Brunello di Montalcino must be 100% Sangiovese, which is why the Brunellogate blending scandal of 2008 rocked the world of wine when police sequestered mass batches of wine from certain Brunello producers and found they were illegally blending in international varieties such as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. In it’s lawful state, Brunello di Montalcino can be an almost divine expression of one of the worlds most noble grape varieties, aged for 2 years in French oak barrels, but unfortunately with a price tag to match. So thank goodness for DOC Rosso di Montepulciano which is made in the same region also with 100% Sangiovese, but can be released to market in March following the vintage. As such, the wines are lighter in body and offer less complexity than Brunello or Nobilo, but in the hands of the right producer can offer immense pleasure for the price.
So next time you cast your eye over a confusing wine list remember these basic wine facts:
Made in: Italy, Tuscany around the town of D’Abruzo
Tastes like: Very ripe, smooth, rich black cherry and blackberries, with notes of dried plums and raisins.
Good with: Game, lamb, beef, bean stews, chilli con carne
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
Grape: Minimum 70% Sangiovese, with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah allowed in the blend.
Made in: Italy, Tuscany around the town of Montepulciano
Tastes like: Concentrated with red and black cherry flavours with that typical Sangiovese freshness.
Good with: Salmon, red meat.
Brunello di Montalcino
Grape: 100% Sangiovese, aged for a minimum of 2 years in oak.
Made in: Italy, Tuscany, around the town of Montalcino
Tastes like: At its best, this wine achieves the most covetable flavour profile, managing to taste both rich and fresh, with bright, ripe red cherry flavours and hints of exotic wild roses.
Good with: For me, this is a special wine to enjoy on its own, but it does pair exceptionally well with game. It’s freshness also compliments grilled salmon.
Rosso di Montalcino
Grape: 100% Sangiovese, aged for less than 6 months in oak.
Made in: Italy, Tuscany, around the town of Montalcino.
Tastes like: A lighter version of Brunello, still fresh and tasty but less powerful.
Good wine: Chicken, salmon, lamb.
For the tomatoes:
Any red tomatoes – halved. I used 8 large red vine tomatoes, but I’ve made this with cherry tomatoes too, just cook them for less time.
3 heaped tablespoons fresh herbs of your choice, chopped. I used rosemary and oregano. Thyme is amazing with these tomatoes too.
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
For the beans:
1/2 bottle red wine (375ml / 1 and 1/2 cups)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, roughly chopped
2 sticks celery, roughly chopped
1 heaped tablespoon tomato purée
2 tins black beans (or 800g cooked beans)
1-2 teaspoons sea salt
pepper to taste
Start with the tomatoes:
- Turn the oven to 230°C/450°F. Line a large baking tray, or several smaller ones, with parchment paper.
- Slice the tomatoes in half through their bellies and lay them cut side up on the baking tray.
- Pour olive oil into a cup or small bowl, add the chopped herbs and salt and mix together. Spoon the herby oil over the tomatoes.
- Place the tomatoes into the oven, immediately turn the temperature down to 160°C/320°F and roast for 30-45minutes until soft.
Meanwhile, make the beans:
- Pour the wine into a shallow pot or saucepan and simmer over medium-high heat to reduce by half its volume.
- While the wine is bubbling away, saute the onions and celery in the olive oil for 10-15minutes until they become soft.
- By this time the wine should be ready so add it to the celery and onions, stir in the tomato purée and add the beans.
- Finish by seasoning the beans with salt and pepper to your taste.Serve the tomatoes on top of the beans with more fresh oregano or thyme (rosemary isn’t great raw so leave that one out) and a final drizzle of olive oil.