Monday, 28 September 2015

Spece të mbushur- Albanian stuffed peppers and Hispano+Suizas Bassus Pinot Noir

Stuffed peppers are a popular dish among the Balkan and Mediterranean countries and one that you're pretty much guaranteed to find in any tavern in Albania.  I've heard they're actually Zlatan Ibrahimović's favourite, too. Each country (and Mum and food blogger...) has their own recipe for these. Zlatan, in case you're reading this, just know you're welcome to try mine any day. I promise I'll behave. And hide all my Manchester United paraphernalia...

Mine get their lovely warmth from all those spices I've come to associate with the region and perkiness from fresh herbs. You can use any meat you want, but I prefer either lamb or a blend of beef and pork as pork gives the mixture some much-needed fat. Fat, you see, means flavour. No getting around that one. 

I love mint, which is widely used in Albania, too. It gives its own unique twist to dishes but I know it's not to everyone's liking. So, feel free to omit it altogether or substitute it with dill, another herb used in Albanian (meat) dishes. 

Serves 4

Spece të mbushur - Albanian stuffed peppers:

4 green peppers

1 large onion
a couple of tbsp oil
3/4 tsp ground coriander
3/4 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground allspice
400 g ground meat
2 large tomatos, blanches, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tsp tomato concentrate
3/4 dl raisins
3/4 dl rice
3/4 dl water
bunch of parsley, finely chopped
2 tsp dried mint (or 4 tbsp finely chopped fresh one)
salt, pepper (to taste)

Pre-heat oven to 200°. 

Sauté onion and spices in oil. When the onion is translucent, add meat. Brown well and add raisins, tomato cubes, tomato concentrate, rice and water. Cover and let simmer for about 10 minutes. 

Add herbs, check the taste and season as needed.

Remove the top of the peppers and scoop out the seeds and membranes with a teaspoon. Divide the meat and rice mixture into the peppers, place in an oven-proof dish and pour a little water (about 1 dl should do it) in the bottom of the dish (the steam will finish cooking the peppers and rice).

Cover the dish and cook for 30-40 minutes until peppers are soft and rice is cooked. Remove the lid and continue cooking for another 5 minutes. 

Serve. For instance with a dollop of Greek yogurt.

It was clear from the start that when trying to find a wine pairing for these Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavours I love so much I'd turn my eyes to Pinot Noir, a grape I love equally much.

I want to encourage you readers to join me on this never-ending enologic excursion into the world of wines, try new varieties and along with me, learn what makes certain wines work with certain foods. While I normally keep the budget reasonable, this time I splurged a bit (you know, in case Zlatan would turn up...!)

Hispano+Suizas Bassus Pinot Noir comes from Spain, region west of Valencia and theirs are the only Pinot Noir vines in the region. Their winemaker, Pablo Ossorio was even awarded as the best winemaker in Spain in 2010. Bassus is a very interesting wine full of personality so yes, go ahead and spoil yourself a little bit every now and then!

Even the bouquet is complex: notes of liquorice and even orange blossom. The fuitiness of the wine really matches the sweetness of the filling, courtesy of raisins whereas the spicy notes complimented the warmth of the spices I used. It's got richness that makes for a very versatile wine for a variety of meaty dishes (game, game birds and even liver!) and a great companion for tapas and antipasti platters featuring some of the fattier, spicier sausages.




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