Discovering dreamy Italian wines

I am well and truly ‘weddinged out’ at the moment. Having been to six wonderful weddings so far this year, I still having three more to go, all whilst planning my own wedding in June next year.

Oh who am I kidding? I secretly love weddings, especially when I get to go to the heart of Italy and drink wine from 9am until 5pm and eat practically an entire pig in the form of melt-in-the-mouth ham.

We were lucky enough to be invited to a small and completely stunning wedding in Umbria, an Instagrammable region of Italy north of Rome, where I smashed my way through countless plates of fresh pasta and glasses of sparkling wine (and the aforementioned pig, F-you clean eating brigade!)

As we were there anyway, we thought we’d make the most of the region’s amazing wineries, so we flew in early and went off on a classic Italian wine tour.

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Umbria boasts some of the world’s most delicious wines, but it’s largely been undiscovered because of its famous neighbour, Tuscany.  The region’s lesser-known wines include a deep red Sangrantino de Montefalco and white Grechetto (said with an unconvincing Italian twang).

I found them quite different to the usual New Zealand Sauvingon Blanc that I tend to drink in front of the television when it’s raining outside – they were delicious and unusual. What’s more, because they’re not so well known, they were a total bargain too.
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What did I actually learn while I was out there, I hear you ask? In my true style, I listened intently and then forgot everything almost immediately, hence why I’m writing this so I can remember some of the useful stuff I learnt while I was there.

1. You’ve got to get your shnozz right in there

You can’t get a proper shnifter unless you rest the rim of the glass above your upper lip and again on the bridge of your nose and…get your shnozz right in. Also, once you swirl the wine, the liquid releases more aromas, there’s a practical reason for the poncey swirling.

2. Wine tastes better when you eat delicious snacks 

Take a sip of the wine. Then eat this delicious cheese and then take another sip…it tastes subtler, smoother and altogether different to how it tasted before. Wine isn’t just for supping in front of Coronation Street on a Wednesday, it’s better to enjoy it with food.

3. It’s all subjective, it’s your experience

I’ve always nervously giggled my way through wine tastings, thinking I can just smell grapes and pretension while people are discussing the notes of peach melba and wood chippings they’re getting…but it turns out it’s all to do with your nose and your palate, and you can associate the wines with whatever you think it smells like. Yes! I can’t get it wrong.

4. Dessert wine isn’t completely rank

I have always hated dessert wine, thinking it’s far too sweet and pappy…but we tried eating some dark chocolate with high-cocoa percentage and then sipping on the dessert wine, and it was ludicrously tasty. At Christmas that stuff will be a hit with a chocolatey treat.

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5. Provenance isn’t everything

Some wines just have bloody good marketing campaigns behind them, and that is all that differentiates them from other seriously good wines from other regions. I think I’d open up to try different wines from regions I’ve never heard of before as a result of this trip, because you can discover some really delicious tipples that way.

IMG_6983You can buy these Umbrian wines in the UK, but I’m sceptical as to how they’d taste without the warm sun bouncing off a glittering swimming pool, the light sound of crickets in the background, and the added bonus of being served oaky pairing cheeses by a gracious Italian host.

We went tasting with Gusto Wine Tours who were excellent hosts, and were well informed about all things vino. Tours are a maximum of 160 Euro, with discounts for larger groups.

 

Creamy pear and fennel soup

fennel-1311673_1920Today I’m back from a wonderful holiday in Palma, Mallorca, with my mum. We spent 5 days in the city, staying at an Air BnB in the very centre and I had such a fantastic time.

My mum’s been on Weight Watchers since September, so we’re both very aware of the points that certain high-fat or high sugar foods contain, but it’s so hard to avoid those sweet treats, ice cream, wine – ooh I loved the red wines….but now it’s back to dreary old London, and back to reality, so I’m cooking up a storm today, starting with this bad boy.

It’s one of my absolute faves because it’s so creamy and also really good for you. It’s worth making a bigger batch when you have a little time, because it is rather time-consuming but it’s very simple and only requires one pot and a blender.

Ingredients:

1 white onion, diced

1 clove of garlic, finely chopped

1 litre of vegetable stock

1 fennel bulb, sliced

2 pears, roughly chopped

Instructions:

Chop the white onion and garlic, and fry in a little olive oil or 1 calorie spray until soft. Then add a few splashes of stock and bubble away until it’s more or less evaporated.

Then add the sliced fennel and a splash more stock and stir. Once that’s been bubbling away for a few mins, add the pear and the remaining stock. Bring to the boil and then cover and simmer for 45 minutes to one hour.

Blend until smooth and serve!

 

 

 

Wintry Chicken Cacciatore recipe

Halloween has been and gone and we’re now unmistakably into the winter season, so it’s time to make the most of the veggie of the moment – butternut squash – with this rich and delicious Chicken Cacciatore.

For those of you like me and using Weight Watchers to manage your weight, this is the ideal warming dish for those chilly winter nights when you just want to crawl up under a blanket and eat comforting food. A steal at eight WW points, and under 400 cals, you can add some carbs like crusty bread or rice and still have a low point dish.


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Ingredients (serves 2)

Time to make: 90 minutes

Half a butternut squash, chopped into chunks

Eight black olives, whole

One onion, roughly chopped

Two garlic cloves, finely chopped

One slice of pancetta, finely sliced

One leek, chopped

One sprig of rosemary, finely sliced

One bay leaf, whole

One tin of tomatoes

Splash of balsamic vinegar

250 mL chicken stock

Two small chicken breasts, chopped

150g mushrooms, whole

One deseeded chilli (if you want to add a bit of spice)

Olive oil

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This delicious and simple dish can be made the night before because the flavours infuse overnight and make it even tastier to eat. It’s also three of your five a day, so you can feel totally virtuous eating this bad boy.

Instructions

  1. Set the oven to 190 C
  2. Add the pancetta and rosemary to a pan with the olive oil. Cook on a medium heat for two minutes
  3. To the pan add the onion, chilli (if using) and garlic and cook for ten minutes
  4. Once the onions are looking translucent, add the butternut squash, the mushrooms, the bay leaf and the chicken
  5. Add the chicken stock and balsamic and reduce down slightly
  6. Then add the tinned tomatoes and bring to a simmer
  7. Add in the olives and stir
  8. Put the dish in the oven with the lid on, and cook for one hour

And added bonus, I washed off the seeds from the butternut squash, added them to the pumpkin seeds I’d saved from my Halloween display (#wholesome) and roasted them with salt and chilli powder – delicious! They tasted like popcorn, very very tasty and have since used them on salads to add a bit of crunch.

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Have a great week everyone!