To be enjoyed without moderation.
It’s a well-established fact that you’re never going to go hungry – or thirsty – in Alsace. At one end of the scale there are good-to-great places (L’Auberge de l’Ill inter alia); at the other there are decent enough Winstubs (wine bars with a über-trad dishes of the choucroute, tarte a l’oignon school). But then in the squeezed middle, that bit where I’m always hoping to find interesting, fun food with a smidge of creativity, at sensible-not-silly prices and quirky wines by the glass, there’s a socking great hole. Continue reading
September is the moment to savour Sicily. The skies are still deep azure (think Quink royal blue), which shows off to perfection the sparkling white of Baroque jewels like Scicli, Modica, Ragusa and Noto. The sea is reliably warm, the midday sun delicious but not impossibly dazzling, the evenings balmy, the nights agreeably cool. Best of all, the crowds have flown north again – to Rome, Milan, Paris, London – leaving you the pick of hotels, B&Bs and villas. And as in any place that’s annually steamrollered by summer crowds, the local people are learning to smile again, they’re more chilled in this back-season, whether in the mercato, trattoria, gelateria or cantina. Continue reading
It’s dusk on a dying summer’s evening and the doorbell rings. Our local chasseur (hunter) is on the doorstep, wreathed in smiles. He’s just been out in the woods checking up on the deer and wild boar population (as he is contracted to do by our commune) and he’s shot a roe deer. It will take him a little while to butcher the beast, but would I like him to set aside the liver for me?
I love game and I’m very partial to the Fifth Quarter (aka offal or organ meats), but I’ve never tasted venison liver. What’s clear from his body language (he’s wriggling and grinning like a delighted spaniel with a prize bone) is that this is quite an honour, and that the liver constitutes something of a trophy. After the merest moment’s hesitation, I tell him yesssss, I’d love it. He disappears to do his butchery, giving me just enough time to pull down from the shelf my fave book on game, Nichola Fletcher’s Ultimate Venison Cookery. On page 199 I read: “Venison liver is one of life’s great gastronomic treats.” Continue reading
One of the [many] perks of living here astride three borders (France, Germany, Switzerland) is that we’re within striking distance of some fine vineyards, each with their own distinctive grape varieties and winemaking styles.
When stocks of Riesling, Gewurz or Muscat dip below danger levels, we head up to Alsace’s Route des Vins. To top up on the Pinot family (Blanc, Gris and Noir, aka Weissburgunder, Graubunder and Spätburgunder) we cross the Rhine to Baden. And when we get homesick for Swiss wines (Petite Arvine, Cornalin, Humagne or even Chasselas), the lack of world-class vineyards in the Basel region is amply compensated by the trusty Coop, which has a good selection of all of the above (go armed with the latest ed. of Chandra Kurt’s Weinseller).
The best way to discover what makes a winery tick, how/where the wine’s grown and how it was made is – of course – to meet the wine maker and taste his/her wines sur place. This is easy around here. For some you can just fetch up on the doorstep; better still, ring to make an appointment. Others have open days when you can taste the full range. Continue reading
Time to get cooking together again! Bettlach workshops will start up again soon and I’ve scheduled four sessions, from Savouring Sicily in September to a full-on Middle East Vegetable Feast in October. In November we’re back closer to home with some New Tastes of Switzerland for a possible future re-edition of my book A Taste of Switzerland, in print continuously since 1992. And finally, December will bring a workshop entitled Christmas is for Sharing, a selection of snappy little holiday bites to tempt even the most jaded/overfed palates. Go to the Workshops page for the full schedule. Continue reading
Tarte tatin doesn’t have to be made of pommes (aka apples). It can also be made with pommes de terre (aka spuds). Here’s a wicked recipe from Geoffroy Vieljeux, erstwhile host at one of the world’s most stylish B&Bs, Mas Parasol near Uzés, now sadly no longer functioning.
We’re talking an upside-down potato tart here. For this you need a bunch of firm, waxy potatoes, a cake tin, olive oil and a salty dough a bit like Salzteig. You arrange said potatoes in said cake tin, drizzle with olive oil, cover with the salty dough and bake. And here’s where we veer away a bit from the real Tarte Tatin, for the crust is completely inedible. Its sole purpose is to imprison all the goodness and flavour of the potatoes beneath and to season them gently the while. When the tatin is ready, you turn it out to reveal the by-now-gently-golden spuds, sitting up and begging to be speared with a fork. Here’s how: Continue reading
Redcurrants have their uses but – full disclosure – blackcurrants are streets ahead on flavour. If you like sorbet cassis, you’re going to love this recipe. Store-bought sorbet (even from Picard) is fine, but home-made blackcurrant ice cream is the business. Here’s how to make your own (and you don’t even need an ice cream maker):
First you cook the fruit briefly, sieve it and let it cool. Next you make a sugar syrup, boil it to the thread stage (not nearly as scary as it sounds, see the recipe), pour it onto egg yolks and beat like crazy. Separately (OK, so you do use a few bowls for this recipe but it’s worth it, I promise) you whip up some cream. Finally you combine all three (purée, yolks + sugar and whipped cream) and chuck it in the freezer. Sorted. Continue reading
Every year in Switzerland on August 1st, Swiss National Day, there’s a big tradition of the farmhouse brunch. This year, 350 farms all around this pint-sized country are opening their doors and barns for the annual shindig. One of our favourites is held at Hof von Allmen in Beatenberg high above Lake Thun at the von Allmen farm. Continue reading
If 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 (or three) of redcurrant jelly, which they stash away, ready to serve with successive Sunday roasts of lamb. Continue reading