Redcurrants – No Jelly but a Jewel of a Coulis

1-03-IMG_9713If there’s one thing the Brits understand about, it’s redcurrants. Most people, when faced with a glut of these gem-like fruits, go all to pieces. Brits are known to calmly go about making a batch of redcurrant jelly which they stash away, ready to serve with successive Sunday roasts of lamb.

For the rest of the world, not all of whom may share the Anglo-Saxon fondness for jam with meat, here’s another idea for these glistening red jewels: strip the currants off the stalks, whizz them up in a blender (no cooking!) with icing sugar, push through a strainer et voila… you have a sharp, vibrantly coloured coulis that’s just crying out to be partnered with pudding. This should be something intensely sweet – think ice cream or tiny, lint-white meringues or anything involving white chocolate – to provide a counterpoint for the tartness of the currants. And white desserts are perfect, for a good colour contrast with the ruby coulis. A sprig of mint doesn’t go amiss either.

The coulis freezes well too, so in the depths of winter, instead of hauling up another pot of jelly for your leg of lamb, pull out a pot of coulis from the freezer and serve a puddle of it beneath your favourite, sweet, white dessert.

Redcurrant coulis

Enough for about 600ml (1 pint, 2 good cups) of coulis

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600g redcurrants
200g icing sugar

Strip the currants off the stalks using a fork.  Rinse them well and shake dry in a strainer.  Put them in a blender with the icing sugar and blitz till smooth.
Tip them into a strainer held over a bowl and push them through to remove all the pips. Pour the coulis into small pots (I usually do 3-4 pots with this quantity), label and freeze.

Basel’s Best Bars

 

1-IMG_5915-001Basel blooms in summer. The somewhat staid city on the Rhine perched astride the German and French borders comes to life when the temperature rises. A rash of tables and chairs breaks out on pavements downtown, people break into smiles more readily and dress more loosely – a familiar sight is of scantily clad people wandering through the streets fresh from a Rhine swim, clutching their clothes in a waterproof bag and heading for home. There are jazz festivals, open-air concerts and the famous Basel Tattoo, often with top billing from the town’s stunning home-grown Top Secret drummers.

If you’re staying in town this summer (or visiting from elsewhere) and getting thirsty, here’s a selection of my favourite watering holes in the city (first published for Art Basel week in FT Weekend ). One word of advice, just in case you were tempted: give the bar at the Trois Rois on the Rhine a wide birth. It offers surly service, insufficient seating and silly prices.

4-IMG_7398Consum
Classy wine bar/deli belonging to (and across the street from) the Hotel Krafft in a quiet street near the Rhine with sleek, dark wooden counters, stools and tables and pavement space for balmy Basel evenings. Wines for aficionados (think Ziereisen, Kesselring, Cascina Fontana, Alvaro Palacios, Quinta do Crasto) with a decent number offered by the glass and bar snacks showcasing Swiss raw-milk cheeses (Willi Schmid’s Jersey Blue, Glarus alp cheese) plus topnotch salumi and pata negra. Fetching floor tiles, whose motif is reproduced on the cover of the menu (above).
Rheingasse 19, Kleinbasel, Tel. +41 61 690 91 30
http://consumbasel.ch

2-IMG_7444Volkshaus
Behind the solid bourgeois walls of this Basler institution (built 1925) lurks a slinky black bar and brasserie (with more original tiles…a recurring theme in my pics), reborn last year courtesy of local heroes Herzog & De Meuron. Cool vibe, great music (including a jazz brunch the last Saturday of the month), decent wines by the glass (Swiss, French, Spanish), Ueli Bier from the nearby microbrewery, “newbie” cocktails like Hang Hang Tang (gin and passionfruit) and tapas-type nibbles for a bobo crowd. Rebgasse 12-14, Kleinbasel, Tel. +41 671 690 93 10
http://volkshaus-basel.ch

1-IMG_7443Crystal
Brand-new kid on the block just across from the Messe with sparkly retro chandeliers, a little smoke (the bar belongs to the association Fümoar, the Basel-Dütsch rendering of fumoir, in whose establishments smoking is permitted) and lots of mirrors. Fourteen different vodkas and serried ranks of single malts for sampling on plump leather stools at the bar, or on the pavement with front-row-of-the-stalls views of the (also brand-new) rippling Messe rooftop.
Riehenring 79, Kleinbasel, Tel. + 41 61 692 20 00  
www.crystalbasel.ch

1-IMG_7463Cargo Bar
Dive down the steps beside Donati and turn right into this funky, young pub-bar that fronts onto the river, practically underneath the arches of the Johanniterbrücke. On the blackboard are lurid spraycan art-style illustrations of the Drink of the Day (no spirit combination that’s too weird to work), Wine of the Week (Defesa rosé et al) and upcoming live music, plus alternative art exhibits on the walls.
Cargo Bar, St Johanns-Rheinweg 46, Grossbasel, Tel. +41 61 321 00 72
www.cargobar.ch

Teufelhof Bar
Cool white wood panelling, marble tables and always a gentle buzz in this civilised wine bar of renowned art-hotel Teufelhof in Basel’s perfectly preserved old town. Swiss cheese from Rolf Beeler, French from Bernard Antony, Italian salumi, European wine selection and a blinding Picasso cocktail featuring absinthe, Cointreau, cassis and Prosecco in honour of the city’s favourite artist (see a dazzling selection of his works at the Kunstmuseum and Fondation Beyeler)
Teufelhof Bar, Leonhardsgraben 49, Grossbasel, Tel. +41 61 261 10 10
www.teufelhof.com

Pique Nique chez le Vigneron, Whit Weekend, 2014 edition

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In many of France’s wine-growing regions, Whit Weekend (Pentecote in French, Pfingsten in German) is the moment when many of the smaller, independent wine growers sweep out courtyards and cellars, dust off trestle tables and benches and throw open the gates to the public. It’s time for the annual Pique-Nique chez le Vigneron. Loads of Alsace estates take part – the full list, including 92 growers in both the Bas-Rhin (northern Alsace) and the Haut-Rhin (southern Alsace), is here. Continue reading

Playing around with Asparagus

Asparagus, white and green, is popping up all around us here in Alsace – including a spear or three in our asparagus bed, which we planted this time last year and which I’m steeling myself not to pick - still another two years to wait till we can harvest them :-(

Here’s a recipe I devised for a recent workshop on modern Alsatian food. It’s a bit of a fiddle, but if you like playing around with your food and you love asparagus, it’s a winner. Serve with a crusty sarment loaf and a Muscat d’Alsace (what else) – a 2011  Cuvée Marie from Zusslin in Orschwihr, for example, or for a real/rare treat, a 2010 Clos des Capucins from Domaine Weinbach.

GREEN AND WHITE ASPARAGUS STACKS WITH HERBY VINAIGRETTE 

1-stack2Serves 6
500g each of white and green asparagus
coarse salt + a little olive oil for roasting
1 shallot, finely chopped
a good handful of mixed tender herbs (e.g. flat-leaf parsley, lovage, chives, tarragon)
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon vinegar (sherry, white wine or cider)
salt and pepper
300g soft fresh goat’s cheese
6 thin slices prosciutto or smoked salmon
flat-leaf parsley to garnish

  • Peel the white asparagus making sure not to leave any tough strips of peel; trim the green
  • Put all peelings and trimmings in a saucepan with the stalks from the herbs, cover with 2 cups water and a pinch of salt and simmer for 20 minutes
  • Strain this herby stock, put it back in the pan, bring to a boil and reduce to about a cup by fast boiling
  • Lay both sorts of asparagus in one layer in a roasting pan, sprinkle with a little olive oil and coarse salt and roast for 10-15 minutes in a 220oC oven or until a knife inserted in the thickest part feels tender (or boil them 10-12 minutes if you prefer)
  • For the herby vinaigrette, put chopped shallot, herbs, reduced stock, oil and vinegar in the blender and blend till smooth – season with salt and pepper to taste
  • To assemble the dish, cut the soft fresh goat’s cheese in very thin slices and arrange on each plate to make a base on which to set the asparagus stacks – this stops them wobbling about
  • Cut each asparagus spear in 3 pieces – if very fat, slice also in half lengthwise
    Arrange a layer of white asparagus on top of the goat’s cheese, then green (laid at right angles to them), then white (at right angles) and finally green (at right angles again)
  • Cut prosciutto/smoked salmon in thin strips and arrange over the asparagus stacks
  • Drizzle herby vinaigrette around and garnish with flat-leaf parsley

Falling In Love with Vegetables (all over again)

carrotsIt’s no good, I can’t help myself. Just one look at those cheeky little bunches of mauve-tipped spring turnips, erect white asparagus, baby carrots with all their greenery intact, tumbling leaves of fresh spinach and shouty pink radishes and I fall in love all over again. Did I hear someone muttering that vegetables are boring?? Forget it. Vegetable cookery – as I discovered when I wrote my curiously titled Eat and Two Veg (you have to ask a Brit to explain it) – can provide some of the most creative kitchen moments going. EVER. Continue reading

Empordà Calling

1-IMG_2385It hardly matters which way you approach the Empordà region of Catalonia: from France, via Languedoc-Roussillon and across the border through which countless Republican refugees streamed at the end of the Civil War, or from Barcelona, which lies a little over one hour south. The landscape, flanked by the shimmering Mediterranean and dominated by the Pyrenees which rise to the north, is equally distinctive whichever route you choose. Continue reading

Basel’s Ethnic Food Scene

guacamole by Sue StyleWho’d have thunk it? A few years ago — okay, a bit more than a few — when I first came to Basel, foods common in other European countries, none of them particularly challenging (lamb, seafood), were hard to find. The only fish routinely available was farmed trout or Eglifilets/filets de perches. As for anything vaguely ethnic, forget it. Continue reading

Carnival is in the Air

1-1-IMG_8902You can tell Carnival’s in the air when those gorgeous sugar-dusted, deep-fried wonders called Fasnachtskiechle or merveilles de Carnaval start appearing in Swiss shops. At yesterday’s workshop we staged a raid on the pantry/freezer and came up with this super-speedy, super-simple torte for dessert: lay one of these fragile, sugar-dusted wonders in the bottom of a springform tin, arrange scoops of coffee ice cream on top,  slather with whipped cream into which you’ve crumbled some biscuits (Amaretti, Brunsli or more Kiechle crumbs) and top with a second Fasnachtskiechle…da da. A drizzle of dark choccy sauce doesn’t go amiss either. Brilliant for when you get guests at short notice, and it keeps beautifully in the freezer. Continue reading

Take a Winter Dip…into a Swiss Cheese Fondue

SCM photoFood writer and columnist Hattie Ellis (who btw also wrote a delicious book on honey) recently came to a presentation I did on Swiss cheese, together with Rachael Sills of KaseSwiss and Joelle Nebbe-Mornod of Alpine Wines. Now she’s written a lovely piece (The Field, Hattie Ellis) in this month’s issue of The Field all about the wonders of Swiss cheese and how these beauties are increasingly available outside Switzerland.

In London KaseSwiss on Druid Street or La Fromagerie on Moxon Street are great for Swiss cheese, while Whole Foods on Kensington High Street also has a terrific selection. In NYC Murrays and Artisanal have all you need and in Boston (and other cities) Formaggio Kitchen has a good range, while way down in sunny Florida, Caroline Hostettler at Quality Cheese is unbeatable. Loads more stockists are listed in the back of my cheese book.

It reminded me that now’s the time for fondue, if ever there was one (rain sluicing down over the UK, snow over the eastern US…) Continue reading

Thighs versus Breasts

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Guinea fowl thigh with sweet & purple potatoes and courgettes

I don’t know about you, but for myself, I’m a thighs girl. Thighs are meaty and moist. Breasts are lean and dry. At least as far as my fave poultry birds (viz chicken, duck and guinea fowl) are concerned.  And it’s not just the succulent-ness of thighs, it’s their alluring price. Continue reading