Very Good and Inexpensive Red Wines

How often have you agonized over selecting a wine for a special dinner you are making? Are you at a loss for a wine selection for a party gift? Most people worry about these things. The natural solutions are to a) buy a more expensive wine, so as to make a good impression, b) pick a “reserve” wine from a familiar name (for example: Mondavi, Jacob’s Creek, Fetzer), or c) pick a wine based on the design of the label.

Ample Bites is pleased to introduce you to two proven selections that are relatively inexpensive but bold red wine.

The first selection is a wine that we found during a trip to Florence, Italy. While we tasted amazing wines in the nearby vineyards of Tuscany, and I might add loved them all, we found this in a local wine and spirits store near our hotel. We have since found the Santa Christina 2010 Toscana at Binny’s Beverage Depot and at liquor stores in South Carolina and St. Pete Beach, Florida. The price is normally $8 – 10 for a 750ml bottle. The taste profile resembles the better Chianti Classico wines of Italy.

We found the second selection by experimenting with some of the Spanish offerings at our local Binny’s. Rioja produces the Montecillo 2007 Crianza. This bold, tannic red wine usually costs $9 – 12. We have not found it in as many stores as the Santa Christina. This wine is a favorite of our around Thanksgiving and Christmas, when we are hosting large, sit-down, dinner parties. The taste profile of Crianza holds up well to most rich holiday entrees like beef rib roast, roast turkey, and ham.

Ample Bites hopes you enjoy these wines and we look forward to hearing your recommendation of reds, and whites, that you have enjoyed. Cheers!

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Rustic Italian Dinner for Four

Ample Bites and guests are in the mood for a traditional rustic Italian dinner today. Much of the inspiration for today’s menu came from the Williams Sonoma book titled Rustic Italian, authored by Domineca Marchetti.

After a salad of local greens with a light vinaigrette dressing, Ample Bites will serve Pasta Carbonara, a dish that combines my fresh homemade pasta with a silky, luxurious cheese and pancetta sauce fortified with egg yolks.

My homemade pasta

Accompanying the pasta will be a truly rustic dish of Herb Roasted Chicken Thighs with Wild Mushrooms. This dish is adapted from a similar dish that uses rabbit, an ingredient that was not available to Ample Bites. The vegetable will be a Spring Asparagus and Asiago Gratin, which will provide a light but savory balance to the richness of the pasta and chicken. A warm crusty bread with grated Parmesan cheese and good olive oil will be served along side.

The meal will be served with an inexpensive 2009 Santa Cristina Chianti Classico that we discovered during our 2010 trip to Tuscany. Fortunately we have been able to find this favorite at our local Binny’s Beverage Depot.

The recipes for the pasta, chicken and asparagus dishes are found below and will be archive on Ample Bites’ Recipes page and pictures will follow soon. Enjoy!

Pasta Carbonara
(Adapted from Bon Appetit, April 2012)

Serves 4 – 6

¼ lb pancetta, cut into 1/3” cubes
7 large egg yolks
1 large egg
1 lb pasta
Kosher salt
½ cup finely grated Pecorino or Parmesan, plus more for garnish
¾ tsp ground green peppercorns
¾ tsp freshly ground white pepper
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup chopped flat leaf parsley for garnish

Put pancetta in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until fat renders but the pancetta is not yet browned, about 5 minutes. Pour into a fine-mesh sieve set over a small bowl, reserve drippings. Transfer pancetta to a large bowl and let cool slightly. Add egg yolks and egg to bowl; whisk to blend.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain, reserving ½ cup of pasta cooking liquid.

To egg mixture, immediately add the pasta, 2 tablespoons of pasta cooking liquid, and 1 teaspoon of the pancetta drippings; toss to coat. Working in 3 batches, gradually add the cheese, stirring and tossing to melt between batches. Add pepper; toss until the sauce thickens, adding more pasta water by tablespoons, if needed. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Divide among bowls. Garnish with cheese and parsley and serve immediately.

Herb Roasted Chicken Thighs with Wild Mushrooms
Mark Kelly

Serves 4

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 large garlic cloves, crushed flat but left whole
4 oz pancetta, cut into a small dice
3 – 4 lb skinless, boneless chicken thighs
1 lb wild mushrooms, roughly chopped
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 fresh sage sprig
1 fresh rosemary sprig
4 fresh thyme sprigs
½ cup dry white wine

Preheat oven to 375F.

Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil to a large Dutch oven or flameproof roasting pan and heat until the olive oil ripples. Add the garlic, pancetta, and mushrooms and place the pan over medium heat. Sauté until the pancetta begins to crisp and render its fat, about 8 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat and lay the pieces of chicken in bottom. Sprinkle with ½ teaspoon of salt and generous grinding of pepper. Over medium-high heat brown the chicken pieces on both sides. Meanwhile, remove the leaves from the herb sprigs and chop coarsely.

Scatter the herbs over the meat and drizzle evenly with the remaining olive oil. Add the wine, then spoon some of the sautéed pancetta over the chicken pieces. Roast for 45 minutes. Turn the chicken pieces and baste them with the pan juices every 15 minutes.

Raise the oven temperature to 450F and roast uncovered for about 10 more minutes or until chicken is cooked through.

Transfer to a serving plate; spoon the pan juices over the chicken pieces; and serve immediately.

Spring Asparagus and Asiago Gratin
Asparagi Al Forno Con Asiago
(Courtesy of Rustic Italian, Domineca Marchetti)

Serves 4

1 lb asparagus woody ends removed
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 cup shredded Asiago cheese
3 Tbsp dried bread crumbs
1 Tbsp minced fresh flat leaf parsley
Finely grated zest of 1 small lemon, plus 1 – 2 tablespoons of the fresh lemon juice
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 450F.

Arrange the asparagus in single layer in a baking dish and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Toss the spears to gently coat with the oil.

In a bowl, whisk together the cheese, bread crumbs, parsley, lemon zest, ½ teaspoon, salt and a grinding of pepper. Drizzle in the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil and stir until well mixed. Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture over the asparagus. Bake, uncovered, until the asparagus is just tender and the topping is melted and golden brown, about 15 minutes.

Drizzle the asparagus with some lemon juice and serve hot from the baking dish.

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