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 Events  Share this article     Summary of Corkscrew column Not Just Wine 
  Corkscrew Issue 36, December 2005   
Matching Wine and LegumesMatching Wine and Legumes  Contents 
Issue 35, November 2005 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 37, January 2006

Matching Wine and Legumes

Important protagonists of the famous Mediterranean diet, legumes are the base of countless tasty recipes, excellent companions for the matching with wine

 The Mediterranean diet is considered everywhere in the world a correct nutritional model, balanced and healthy. One of the main characteristics of this model is represented by the considerable consumption of vegetables, cereals and legumes, fundamental elements in the nutritional customs of the countries coasting the Mediterranean area, and in particular Italy, Spain and Greece. Nutritive and tasty, legumes have represented for the history of humans a precious and fundamental resource in nutrition: during the terrible periods of famine they contribute to feed and save millions of people. In their humble aspect, legumes represent an important nutritional resource, thanks to their high content in proteins and carbohydrates, and when properly associated to other foods - such as cereals - they make a complete meal. The relative simplicity with which legumes can be found - as well as their low cost - they represented for centuries a fundamental nutritional resource for the less well-off people in every country of the world.

 Moreover, legumes are an excellent source of water-soluble fibers, an important nutritional help for the modern diet notoriously poor and deprived of these useful components. In the course of centuries, legumes have been protagonists of countless tasty recipes, most of them belonging to the gastronomical and cultural rural tradition, which are appreciated and common even nowadays. In fact, there are countless soups in which legumes are the main ingredients - frequently using more varieties at the same time - as well as countless are the soups in which legumes are associated to many cereals. The association of legumes and cereals allows the preparation of rich and complete dishes according to a nutritional point of view, something which was well known to our ancestors who used to associate pasta and legumes, a very common association in every region of Italy. From legumes are also obtained flours with which can be prepared bakery products or dough suitable for frying.


A World Rich in Tastes and Colors

 Legumes belong to the family of leguminosae and most of them are from Latin America. There are more than 14,000 different varieties of legumes, however only few tens of them are used for nutritional purposes. In Europe legumes began to spread everywhere after the journeys of explorers in the so called New World, when they started to load the holds of their ships with beans. In the Old World, legumes were known since the times of Etruscans, in particular dolici - the so called black-eyed beans - considered as a sacred food destined to priests. It is believed beans known at those times - such as dolici and lentils - are from Asia Minor, in particular, lentils are even mentioned in the Bible. Legumes have always characterized the nutrition of the Mediterranean people and from the beginning of the 1500's on, they also became common in other European countries, they started spreading in the northern regions of Italy first, then in France and in Germany.

Famous representatives of the large family
of legumes, beans are the protagonists of countless recipes
Famous representatives of the large family of legumes, beans are the protagonists of countless recipes

 Beans and lentils certainly are the most common legumes in the world, generally sold dried - even for reasons of keeping - they are used for the preparation of dishes as well as side dishes for meat based recipes. The family of legumes also includes other important varieties used for nutritional purposes, such as chickpeas, chickling vetch (grass pea), broadbeans, peas and soybeans. Among them, chickling vetch certainly is the less known, despite it was once very appreciated, today it is very hard to find and few people know it. Indeed, chickling vetch is an excellent legume with which it is possible to prepare tasty soups, although, as opposed to the other legumes, it needs a longer soaking time. Although in ancient times it was very common in the Mediterranean area, in recent times, chickling vetch has become the typical legume of Umbria and of Central Italy, however even in these areas its spreading is pretty limited and it is now considered a food destined to the few people who are still capable of appreciating it.

 Even peas are legumes from the Mediterranean area and they were already known in ancient times: archaeological researches have in fact discovered their presence in Egyptian pyramids and in the ruins of ancient Troy. Of round aspect and green colored, peas - as opposed to most of legumes - are usually consumed fresh, with a basically sweet taste, they are used for the preparation of side dishes, soups, sauces for the condiment of pasta and rice, puddings and purees. There are many varieties of peas and all of them are classified into two categories: peas to be shelled and peas to be consumed as a whole, that is peas of which can be consumed the pod as well, such as taccole, typical in Lombardy. Whereas peas to be shelled are being commercialized both dried and fresh - usually boiled and canned - the other type of peas are commercialized fresh only. Among the most ancient legumes are also included lentils, with their typical flat shape, they have always been a fundamental food for ancient people and they are appreciated still today.

 Lentils are usually commercialized dried and their consumption generally requires a short period of soaking before being cooked. Lentils are also suited for the preparation of side dishes - boiled and seasoned with oil, salt and black pepper - as well as for the preparation of soups, sauces for pasta and rice, creams and purees. Among legumes of Mediterranean origin, there are also chickpeas, known since the times of ancient Egyptians who destined them to the feeding of slaves and of the well-off social classes. Even ancient Romans appreciated chickpeas very much, in particular fried in oil, a tradition which is still alive in the regions of south Italy and in particular in Sicily, where it is being used chickpeas flour to make the traditional panelle. Chickpeas are commercialized dried and, after a proper soaking in water, they are boiled and consumed seasoned with oil and black pepper, or for the preparation of side dishes. Chickpeas are also used in association with pasta and for the preparation of soups, roasted are consumed like dried fruit. Chickpeas flour is also used for the preparation of pudding and pizzas, such as the classic farinata in Liguria (Italy).


 Known since before the bronze era, broadbeans are legumes from the Mediterranean area, very common among ancient Romans and Greeks, they represented a fundamental food in the Middle Age. Broadbeans are usually commercialized fresh, both shelled as well as with the pod, usually consumed raw and seasoned with salt, or matched to pecorino cheese. Broadbeans are also used for the preparation of soups and associated to pasta, as well as simply boiled and seasoned with oil and black pepper. Coming from Easter Asia, soybean is one of the most important legumes for worldwide economy. Very rich in proteins, it is widely used in eastern countries for the preparation of dishes and from which are being obtained many byproducts, from sauces to cheese. The most common varieties of soybean are yellow, green and red. With these soybean varieties are obtained many byproducts, such as sauces (tamari, shoyu), condiments (miso, natto), oil, flour and spaghetti. With yellow soybean is also prepared a milk from which are being produced yogurt and ice creams, properly processed with coagulating substances, is used for the production of tofu. In the western world - as opposed to the eastern traditions - yellow soybean is generally consumed boiled and seasoned with oil and black pepper.

 Beans are the varieties which are commonly associated to the family of legumes. Most of the beans known in the western world are from Latin America, whereas a small part of them are from the Mediterranean area or from Asia Minor. Beans are the great protagonists in soups and, associated to cereals, they make a complete food according to a nutritional point of view. Beans are consumed both after having been boiled, seasoned with oil and black pepper, and cooked with tomatoes and other ingredients, as well as boiled and drained, served as a side dish. The most common varieties of beans are borlotto, cannellino, black-eyed (dolici), crown spanish, toscanelli, Lima, zolfini, coco, red and black. Moreover, there are varieties of beans which can be consumed with their pods - called greenbeans - boiled and served as a side dish seasoned with oil, vinegar and black pepper. Beans are also used for the preparation of countless recipes, soups, in association with pasta and purees. In some areas of Italy, beans are usually cooked with meat, in particular with pork's skin or sausages.


Cooking Legumes

 Legumes are commercialized in many forms: fresh, dried and canned. Because of their practicalness and the less time required for the preparation, most of the consumers prefers canned legumes, even though they have an inferior taste. It is always advisable to use fresh or dried legumes, even tough they require a longer time for cooking: the result certainly is superior. Fundamental is the quality of dried legumes: they must not show faults, holes or wrinkles - a characteristic which signals the presence of parasites - as well as it is important the absence of humidity, responsible for moulds. Dried legumes - before being cooked - requires a soaking in cold water for a variable time according to variety and type, usually from 6 to 8 hours. The quantity of water required for the soaking will be equal to six times the weight of the dried legumes. At the end of soaking it is necessary to rinse legumes in water and therefore they can be cooked. In order to boil legumes it is appropriate to use a quantity of water equal to two times and a half the weight of soaked legumes. It is also good to remember it is preferable avoiding the adding of salt during cooking because this would harden legumes.

 According to the traditions and to the recipes, during the cooking of legumes, it can be added aromatic herbs, such as sage or rosemary. Cooking times vary according to the type and variety. Indicative times can be of 60 minutes for lentils, 90-120 minutes for beans, 2-3 hours for chickpeas. As legumes tend to break during cooking, it is best not to stir them excessively, saved the case when it is necessary to make sure they did not stick to the bottom of the pot. At the end of cooking it will then added salt - better in form of crystals and according to taste - and allow the legumes to rest for about 30 minutes before consumption. After cooking, legumes can be consumed in their water or drained and added to other ingredients, according to the recipe. Legumes after having been boiled, can in fact be added to tomato and vegetables sauces - to be used for the condiment of pasta - to the broth for the preparation of soups, drained and properly seasoned, served as a side dish.


Matching Legumes with Wine

 Legumes are a food rich in proteins and carbohydrates, their content in fats is pretty low. As for most of the ingredients, legumes are consumed after having been properly seasoned or after having been added to other ingredients. The basically sweet taste of legumes - because of the high quantity of carbohydrates - requires crisp or effervescent wines, therefore white, rose, sparkling or slightly sparkling wines, generally make a good choice. The high content in proteins, generally responsible for a more or less accentuated salivation in the mouth, requires a wine with a good alcohol volume or a moderate astringency, therefore red wines with a modest content in tannins are particularly suited for the matching with legumes. In soups, in the association with pasta and in the dishes made of meat, it will be important the evaluation of all the ingredients used for the preparation of the recipe.

 In soups, usually rich in vegetables and legumes, the above consideration for the choice of a wine are certainly valid. In recipes of pasta and legumes - such as pasta and chickpeas, pasta and beans or pasta and broadbeans - it is important the evaluation of the base sauce used for the condiment, in which are frequently found tomato, lard, olive oil and bacon, as well as spices and aromatic herbs. In these cases it is appropriate a wine of good structure - even red - and having a good roundness. In the recipes of legumes and meat - such us in the case of beans or lentils with sausages, or in case legumes are being served as a side dish for meat recipes - the choice will mainly be oriented to red wines having a structure appropriate to the succulence of the meat and to the cooking technique. In this case, can also be used sparkling red wines - such as Lambrusco - where the effervescence will be useful in balancing the high quantity of carbohydrates contained in legumes, whereas the astringency and the body will be useful in balancing the succulence caused by the proteins of the meat and legumes.


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  Corkscrew Issue 36, December 2005   
Matching Wine and LegumesMatching Wine and Legumes  Contents 
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