About Sue Style

Originally from Yorkshire I've lived and worked in Spain, France, Mexico and Switzerland, now based in southern Alsace. Author of 9 books, the latest about Switzerland's finest farmhouse cheeses. I freelance for anyone who'll buy my stuff (FT Weekend, Decanter, France Mag, Culture Cheese Mag et al) plus I give cooking workshops and lead bespoke vineyard tours in Alsace and Baden (just across the Rhine).

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.

2-catalognaAt my Spring Farmer’s Market workshop this time last week I proudly laid out all the trophies I’d hunted down in my favourite farmer’s markets, farm shops and supermarkets and we got to work on our menu. Beets went into mini ‘panna cottas’ topped with Parmesan crumble. Peppers, courgettes and aubergines got the hots under the grill and in the ridged grill pan and were then interleaved in a terrine with fresh goat’s cheese and sun-dried tomato pesto.

1-7-IMG_0071Spinach was tumbled in a big pan, worked into a soufflé base, baked flat and then layered with cream cheese and smoked salmon. Leeks got together with prosciutto in a sort of posh pasty, which we served with a wild garlic pesto, while a wicked mix of kohlrabi, coco beans, baby carrots, navets and radishes met their match in a lightly spicy, vaguely Thai-inspired curry sauce with coconut milk, cilantro, lemongrass and lime leaves. We even managed to find a vegetable – rhubarb (yes, turns out it’s not a fruit) - for the dessert, which we did up in typically Alsatian style as a meringue-topped tart.

The recipe that almost stole the show was the beetroot ‘panna cotta’ with its Parmesan crumble – even a hardened beet-hater was won over by the delicious  contrast of smooth, sweet beets + cream + a lick of Balsamic vinegar with the salty, crumbly Parmesan topping. We served them in small (100ml) glasses as a little amuse-gueule, but they’d work equally well in larger glasses or ramekins for a full-blown starter.

BEETROOT ‘PANNA COTTAS’ WITH PARMESAN CRUMBLE

beet panna cottaMakes 8 x 100ml glasses
50g flour
50g grated Parmesan
50g butter
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp dried thyme
2 sheets gelatine
2 cooked, peeled beetroot (about 300g), diced small
1 tablespoon Balsamic vinegar
300ml whipping cream
Salt and white pepper

  • For the crumble heat the oven to 180°C.
  • Mix together in a food processor the flour, Parmesan, butter, thyme and pepper to give a crumbly consistency
  • Tip the crumble out on a baking tray lined with non-stick paper and bake for about 15 minutes or until golden and crisp. Remove and let cool, then break up the crumble.
  • Cover the gelatine sheets with cold water and leave till floppy.
  • Put the diced beetroot in a food processor or blender with the Balsamic vinegar and process or blend to a smooth puree – you’ll need to keep stopping the motor and squashing down the beetroot to make sure it blends smoothly and evenly
  • Heat the cream in a small saucepan over gentle heat.
  • Squeeze out the gelatine sheets, add to the warm cream and stir until dissolved.
  • Add to the beetroot in the processor or blender and blitz till perfectly smooth.
  • Season with salt and pepper.
  • Pour the mixture into glasses or ramekins, leaving a little headspace for the crumble, and put in the fridge to set.
  • Just before serving, sprinkle on a thickish layer of crumble.

Empordà Calling

It 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.

IMG_8519-001Vines have been laboriously cultivated here since the Greeks arrived on the coast at Empuriés in the sixth century BC and established their Palaia Polis. The Romans followed, expanding and building upon the Greek city (the site is a must on any Empordà itinerary) and exporting their wines throughout the empire. Later, in medieval times, it fell to the monasteries, including that of the wildly beautiful Sant Pere de Rodes perched high above the sea, to continue the wine-growing tradition. Empordà’s golden age of viticulture began in the 1760s and continued for a century. Ample evidence of this viticultural richness can be found in the extensive network of terraces and dry stone walls that still indent the steep hillsides of the magnificent Cap de Creus National Park.

Then came phylloxera, which arrived from southern France in the 1870s and laid waste to these northern Catalan vineyards. It was a disaster from which – at least in terms of quantity – Empordà never recovered: of the 40,000 hectares of vines planted then, the figure now stands at under 2,000.

IMG_8514-001Quantity certainly suffered; but quality is a different story. By the 1990s a few bodegas, led by the pioneering Castillo Perelada, were beginning to grasp the potential for improvement but it’s in the past decade that things have really taken off. Rafel Sabadí, sommelier at Restaurant Roser 2 in L’Escala, describes Empordà today as “en plena efervescencia”, bubbling with life. A bunch of young, highly motivated winemakers, fresh from their oenology studies, are busy renewing those ancient terraces and dry stone walls, resurrecting old vines – principally Garnatxa and Carinyena – and planting new ones. Their wines have bags of character and a strong sense of place, marked by the Mediterranean and given a good dose of tough love by the tramuntana winds that blast across the mountains from the north, stressing and ventilating the vines in equal measure.

The map on the DO Empordà website gives a clear idea of the region and will help you to shape your travels. The majority of bodegas are situated in Alt (Upper) Empordà), north of Figueres with a handful more in Baix (Lower) Empordà, out towards the coast from Girona. Most require an appointment and make a modest charge for the visit.

The most northerly vineyard is Vinyes dels Aspres in Cantallops, where talented wine maker David Molas works with 30 hectares of vines planted on slate and granite. Top of the range is S’Alou, an impressive Garnatxa/Carinyena/Cabernet Sauvigon/Syrah blend while Blanc dels Aspres, an old-vine Garnatxa Blanca, is one of the region’s best-value whites. Just to the south in IMG_8498-001Capmany, Carme Casacuberta at tiny Vinyes d’Olivardots is one of the new generation to have swelled the ranks of DO Empordà members from 26 to 50 in recent times, harvesting her first crop in 2006. Look out for Gresa, a four-grape blend including some from 100 year-old Carinyena vines, which snagged the top award at Arrels del Ví, the annual wine fair and Empordà showcase held in Sant Martí d’Empuriés (7-8 June 2014).

It’s worth visiting Joan (Catalan for Juan) Fabra at Marti Fabra in Sant Climent Sescebes to taste the full range from this exciting bodega, but if time is short you can find their wines (favourites are Masia Carreras, both white and red) on the lists of the top restaurants in the region, including Pera Batlla in L’Armentera. And while you’re at it, note the modest mark-ups applied by the region’s restaurants, which adds to the delight of dining out here.

Coca y Fito-001Before heading out to the coast, make a date to visit Mariona Parals at Roig Parals in Mollet de Peralada. Top of their range is Camí de Cormes, a muscular wine from 120 year-old Carinyena vines (known here as Samsó), whose 15% alcohol is tempered by the grape’s natural acidity. More accessible is Tocat de l’Ala, a stylish, young-at-heart wine from old-vine Carinyena and Garnatxa made in a joint venture with Montsant winemakers Coca i Fitó.

Last stop should be at the new kid on the vine block, Hugas de Batlle. Tastings are prefaced by a bone-shaking tour in a 4 x 4 of their four dramatically sited vineyards, carved into IMG_8516-001the hillside high above Colera with sweeping views out to sea. Later, as we sip a flowery Moscatel/Garnatxa blend and sniff the spicy, brambly aromas of Coma de Vaixell (Merlot and Cabernet), Edu Hugas de Batlle reminds us of the four key elements they have to play with: vines, sea, mountains and tramuntana winds, all captured in the bottle.

“It’s over two thousand years since the Greeks first brought vines to Empordà,” concludes Dominic Abernethy, the brains behind the Arrels del Ví wine fair and proud champion of the region’s wines, “but it’s only thanks to the dramatic rise in quality in the past decade that they’re finally gaining recognition.” Time for a visit.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

If you have just one day in Empordà, consider this route that takes you through vineyards, olive groves and umbrella pines with the Albera mountain range as backdrop and out to the coast via Cadaqués to L’Escala. Tastings at both Terra Remota and Mas Estela and visit to Dalí Museum must be pre-booked.

IMG_8504-001MORNING: Start the day at Terra Remota, a massive, brand-new, organic winery (first vintage 2006) between Capmany and Sant Climent Sescebes created by French couple Marc and Emma Bournazeau. For another day, note their picnic lunch option beneath the pine trees (€38 for two with Jabugo ham, local sausages, cheese, fruit and the house wine), before continuing eastwards on the country road to 1-IMG_8526Llança. Then head south along the winding coast road to just short of Port de la Selva and take a right turn up to La Selva de Mar. Press on through the village and up a cement track into a wild valley criss-crossed with hiking trails – Sant Pere de Rodes is just up over the top. Hidden at the end of the track is the beautiful Mas Estela estate where Nuria and Diego Soto-Dalmau and son Didac, established here since 1989, will show you their range of naturally produced organic and biodynamic wines.

1-1-1383918289626LUNCH:

Return to the coast road and make your way across the rugged Cap de Creus peninsula to the whitewashed fishing village of Cadaqués, made famous by Dalí who settled in nextdoor Port Lligat. Share some creative tapas for lunch at Compartir.

1-IMG_1520AFTERNOON:

Fifteen-minute stroll round to Port Lligat to the Dalí museum. Return to Cadaqués and drive back inland to Castelló d’Empuriés and across the Aïguamolls wetlands to L’Escala to check in at Hostal d’Empuriés. Time for an evening swim in the bay, or a reviving session in the spa.

EVENING AND OVERNIGHT:

Hostal dining roomEither dine in-house in Restaurant La Teresita, with delicious views out over the bay; or go round to dinner at El Roser 2 in L’Escala – a 15-minute walk or a 5-minute drive. In summer you can take the Carrilet tourist train which stops by the entrance to the Empuriés Museum (one train per hour until midnight).

 

WHERE TO STAY, EAT AND RELAX

Can Xiquet, Cantallops: Five chic modern rooms with vineyard views and restaurant serving local food with short wine list favouring the best local producers. www.canxiquet.com

Hotel Peralada Wine Spa and Golf, Peralada: Four-star country club-style hotel under same ownership as [but different spelling from] Castillo Perelada winery, pioneers of quality wines in Empordà, including Cava Gran Claustro Brut Nature, Finca Malaveïna and their newly released Ex Ex 10, a startling 100% Cabernet Franc wine from their experimental vineyard, which just received 94 Parker points. Restaurants, wine bar, wine spa (vinotherapy), indoor and outdoor pools, golf course. www.hotelperalada.com

Hostal de Empuriés, L’Escala: White-painted, low-slung 1920s-built hotel perched on the beach next to the Empuriés archaeological site, thoroughly but respectfully modernised with new annexe at the back. Food by consultant chef Rafa Peña of Restaurant Gresca in Barcelona, seafront terrace, epic breakfast buffet and spa. www.hostalempuries.com

1-20130821_180130Hotel & Spa Mas de Torrent, Torrent: Comfort and customary Relais & Châteaux elegance in this stone-built former masía with pool, spa, two restaurants with Mediterranean-inspired food by chef Jorge Garrido and monthly tastings by sommelier Pere Palmada. A good base for exploring Baix Empordà bodegas (Can Sais, Mas Oller et al). www.mastorrent.com

RESTAURANTS

El Roser 2, L’Escala: Prime position with picture windows onto L’Escala’s famous bay, top fish and seafood from chef Jordi Sabadí and expert advice from his sommelier brother Rafel, well versed in Empordà wines. Good-value lunch menu weekdays. www.elroser2.com

1-IMG_7256Restaurant Pera Batlla, L’Armentera: Inspirational food by chef Antonia Quiñones in an old watermill with large terrace and cosy stone-walled dining room. Local fish, shellfish and meat, vegetables from her kitchen garden and wines (nearly 70% from Empordà) selected in tune with the house preference for local, characterful products. www.perabatlla.com

K La Gina, Garriguella: Designer tapas and coques (Mediterranean flatbread) with many local wines by the glass, mojitos, “gin-tonics”, tasting events and live music at weekends. www.klagina.es

Can Batlle, Garriguella, Tel. +34 972 53 05 98: Simple, family-run village restaurant with a rabbit warren of vaulted dining rooms and large terrace, hugely popular with locals and visitors alike for classic Catalan cuisine – the daily lunch menu is a steal.

1-2-20131108_145923

Compartir, Cadaqués Stylish, top quality, excellent value plates to share (= compartir) from ex-El Bulli team. Large patio fringed by orange trees, cool dining rooms, attentive multilingual service and wine list assembled with help from former El Bulli sommelier Ferran Centelles. www.compartircadaques.com

SHOPPING AND SIGHTS

El LledonerArrels del Ví, Sant Martí d’Empuriés:

Meet the top wine growers of DO Empordà, taste their wines and buy at ex-cellar prices at this annual open-air wine fair organised by local resident Dominic Abernethy in the beautiful medieval village of Sant Martí d’Empuriés. 2014 dates: 7-8 June. www.arrelsdelvi.com

1-IMG_1516Salvador Dalí House-Museum, Port Lligat:

Suitably quirky shrine to the surrealist artist, originally a fishing shack on the beach and his home from the 1930s till 1983, internet booking essential. www.salvador-dali.org/museus/portlligat/en_index.html

1-IMG_2383Greco-Roman Archaeological Site, Empuriés: Extensively excavated remains of Greek and Roman settlements on the coast between L’Escala and Sant Martí. Guided tours daily in summer. www.mac.cat/eng/Branches/Empuries

IMG_7264-1Museu del Suro (Cork Museum), Palafrugell: See how the bark is peeled off the local cork oaks, boiled, pressed, cleaned, shaved and cut to shape in this former cork factory, once the town’s biggest employer. www.museudelsuro.cat

How to reach Empordà:

By car: from France via A9 Languedocienne motorway and across the border at La Junquera, or from Barcelona via AP7 motorway
By train: AVE (high-speed train) to Figueres and hire a car
By plane: to Barcelona (British Airways, easyJet) or Girona (Ryanair) and hire a car

[A version of this article is currently running in the March 2014 issue of Decanter]

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

1-IMG_0009

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

Spring and Summer Workshops

After a break for the holidays, my workshops will soon be starting up again. Here’s the proposed schedule for the next months:

1-IMG_8860Raid the Pantry – Thursday 20th  February, 09:30 – 13:30

Ever wondered if you could live for a month (or three) on the contents of your store cupboard/fridge/freezer? We’ll stage a raid on the pantry and transform a selection of staples into simple suppers as well as dinner party specials

mktpadua2Spring Farmer’s Market – Thursday 20th March , 09:30 – 13:30

Spring brings an appetite for fresh, bright, vegetable-rich food. This workshop will sparkle with colours and flavours fresh from the farmer’s market: starters, side dishes, main courses and flatbreads. [Includes an optional visit to my favourite Lörrach Saturday morning market to see, select and buy seasonal produce]  

Easter Lamb Workshop – Thursday 10th April, 09:30-13:30

lamb rack2For our Easter workshop – a special request/suggestion from one of my regulars (thanks Florence!), not advertised in the ECP program – we’ll be focusing on lamb prepared 3-4 different ways, with spring vegetables to complement and a dessert in which chocolate will certainly play a significant part.

IMG_5315-1

Modern French Bistro, Thursday 8th May, 09:30 – 13:30

Are you hankering after the kind of bistro food that’s always used to be a cornerstone of French cuisine but which seems to have gone AWOL? We’ll revisit and update some fast French bistro favourites: warm salads, fish, steak/duck breast, gratins and classic French desserts.

 

chiles rellenosA Spicy Summer Feast, Thursday 5th June, 09:30 – 13:30

When summer comes, the living – not to mention cooking and eating – should be easy. This workshop will feature a selection of simple, lightly spicy summer specialities with distinct Mexican and Asian accents.

 

All workshops cost CHF110 or €90, which covers your printed recipe booklet and a full lunch menu with wines to match our chosen food.

Looking forward to seeing lots of you again for some fun mornings together!

There’s Life Beyond Skiing in the Valais

Chamoson-001If your thrills when holidaying in Switzerland’s southernmost region have so far been limited to black runs down to Verbier or Zermatt, and the only Valaisan wine to have passed your lips is a jug of après-ski Fendant (shame on you), it’s time to get ready for a different kind of white-knuckle ride. Continue reading

Smoked Salmon & Fennel Quiche

IMG_8798-001Quiche is my go-to supper dish, after I’ve staged a lightning raid on the fridge/freezer/store cupboard. Here’s one that provided a refuge for the last bits of our Christmas smoked salmon and a couple of lonely fennel bulbs lurking in the veggie drawer. Most people think cheese is obligatory in quiche; it isn’t (even in quiche Lorraine). Here it would definitely be de trop. Continue reading

Favourite Holiday Wines (red)

IMG_8784Over the hols we scored some cracking sparklers and whites but there was no shortage of toothsome reds either. It’s been an unusually (for us) carnivorous few days, so meaty reds were required. Direct democracy ruled when it came to choosing the Christmas menu and the popular vote went to a rib of roast beef with potatoes done in duck fat and a gorgeous mix of butternut and red onions with tahini.  Continue reading