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).

Elderflowers are having a moment – and it’s now

elder tree in flowerThe elder tree has no pretensions to grandeur. It grows wild in hedges and ditches, along the banks of streams, on the edge of motorways, in forgotten corners of farmyards and abandoned gardens, even in graveyards.

Right now, in early summer, it’s having its moment. All of a sudden, in a brief blaze of glory, this rather scruffy little tree bursts into a shower of beautiful, white, lace-like flowers, which fairly knock you back with their delicate scent. In our neighbourhood over the next few weeks, countless chefs, housewives and hobby cooks will be spotted hunting in the hedgerows, picking the blossoms and placing them carefully in large baskets. It’s a brief and glorious moment in the life of any dedicated forager – two or three weeks at most – and if you don’t pick the flowers by about the middle of June (around here, at any rate), they’ll be well on their way to becoming elderberries.

1-09-IMG_0543Here’s a pair of recipes that make the most of these wonderful wild and edible flowers. One is for syrup (aka cordial), which you make by infusing the fresh flowers in a sugar syrup with lemon juice. The other combines said syrup with light cream, Greek yogurt and just enough gelatine to give a lightly set panna cotta. Keep a splash of syrup for fruit salads too, or stir some into a compote of rhubarb with strawberries. And pluck a few feathers off the flowers and scatter them on top of any dessert for a knockout effect.

Hugo

 

Best of all, have a Hugo, far and away the best early summer aperitif, a lot less sweet and much more fun than the ubiquitous blackcurrant-based Kir: pour a little elderflower syrup in the bottom of a large wine glass, top it up with sparkling wine (Sekt in the Black Forest, Crémant in Alsace), add plenty of ice, a slice of lemon or lime and a sprig of mint et voilà.

 

 

 

Elderflower syrup or cordial

Makes about 4 cups (1 litre)
Ingredients
25-30 elderflower heads
4 cups (1 litre) water
1 kg sugar
Grated zest and juice of 2 untreated lemons

  • Wash the elderflowers and spin them dry in a salad spinner.
  • Place them in a large bowl.
  • Put the water, sugar and grated lemon zest in a large pan, heat gently, stirring, till the sugar is dissolved, then allow to boil for 5 minutes.
  • Remove from the heat, stir in the lemon juice and pour the syrup over the elderflowers.
  • Let cool, then cover the bowl with clingfilm and refrigerate for 5 days.
  • Set a colander over a large bowl and strain the syrup. Discard the flowers. Strain the syrup again, this time through a muslin or fine cloth to make sure there are no impurities.
  • Pour into bottles and keep in the fridge till needed. The syrup will keep for several months (we’re still drinking our 2014 vintage).

Elderflower panna cotta with strawberry coulis

1-white choc mousseServes 6
4 sheets of gelatine
300ml whipping cream
50g sugar
finely grated zest of ½ a lemon
100ml elderflower syrup
300g Greek yogurt
250g strawberries
1 teaspoon Balsamic vinegar
icing sugar to taste (1 – 2 tablespoons)

  • Put the gelatine sheets in a bowl, cover with cold water and leave until floppy.
  • Put the cream, sugar and lemon zest in a small pan and stir over gentle heat till the sugar is dissolved and you can no longer hear crystals crunching about.
  • Lift gelatine sheets out of the water, squeeze out excess water, drop sheets into pan of cream and sugar and stir till dissolved (about 1 minute).
  • Add elderflower syrup and allow the mixture to cool. When cool, add the Greek yogurt and whisk until smooth.
  • Pour panna cotta into glasses and refrigerate till set.
  • For the coulis, hull and wash the strawberries.
  • Place in a blender with Balsamic vinegar and icing sugar to taste and blend till smooth.
  • Once the panna cottas are set, pour some coulis on top and decorate with tiny stars of elderflower plucked off the flowerheads or other edible flowers (pansies, borage, thyme etc.) and/or wild strawberries.

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L’Auberge Paysanne, Lutter

auberge paysanne sign2I love the French expression “une valeur sûre”, meaning “a sure thing”, “a safe bet”, or even “a slam dunk”. It’s how folks around here describe the Auberge Paysanne in Lutter, buried in the bucolic southernmost corner of Alsace known as the Sundgau. This classic hotel-restaurant, dripping with geraniums from May to October (the window boxes have just been planted up), is owned and run by Christiane Litzler and her daughter Carmen. I’ve long since lost count of how many times we’ve eaten there (it’s one of our locals) and it never fails. Continue reading

A Fishy Fix

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Fish market, Catania, Sicily

Of all the workshops I do, the fishy ones are probably my faves. We kick off with a visit to the fish counter of a nearby supermarket to check out what’s on offer and get familiar with the names – in English (for most of us the working language), French (France has the freshest and best fish offer in our three-country corner) and German (for those shopping in Switzerland or Germany). Next day we cook up our fishy feast. Continue reading

Empanada Explorations

07-097-IMG_0876On our travels around Argentina last month, we carried out an intensive benchmarking exercise on empanadas, those cheeky little pastry turnovers with artfullly pinched and pleated edges that you find pretty much all over South America. They probably found their way to the continent via Spain, though they’re quite different from the large tray-baked empanadas found in Galicia, which are usually filled with tuna and sold by the slice. Continue reading

Torrontés and Tango, Malbec and Empanadas Part IV: Argentina March 2015

By Monty Style

Day 15 – From Salta City to Los Molinos

We drive south to Los Cerillos, then west into some of the most beautiful mountain scenery imaginable from Los Cerillos to Cachi and Molinos.

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We scale the Cuesta del Obispo (Pass of the Bishop), a dramatic feat of engineering but not a worrying, vertigo-inducing road. It climbs gradually up through green farmland somewhat reminiscent of Perthshire until near the peak your mind shifts to the red and gray of the Torridon Hills in Wester Ross. Except of course for the height and overall scale. Highest point on road 3380 m. Continue reading

Torrontés and Tango, Malbec and Empanadas Part III: Argentina March 2015

By Monty Style

Day 11 – Lares de Chacras to Salta City

1-27-20150321_123551Scrabble by the pool, simple, good lunch in the garden of Bodega Pulmary a few blocks from the lovely Lares de Chacras, then off to the airport heading for Salta City.
Landed in light rain surrounded by green hills and fields. An exemplary car rental chap called Daniel handed over our Renault Duster which is spacious and serves us well.

Continue reading

Torrontés and Tango, Malbec and Empanadas Part II: Argentina March 2015

By Monty Style

Day 6 – Martindale to the Uco Valley, Mendoza

Flew 90 minutes from BA’s Jorge Newbery airport to Mendoza in a comfortable Embraer of Aerolineas Argentinas, the state-owned carrier. Their route map shows “Las Malvinas (Arg.)”. On arrival we took possession of a brand new rented Ford Eco Sport. Obliged to sign a statement that we would make a special contribution to repair costs “if we rolled it over”. Supposedly happens quite often.

1-01-20150313_080724-1Drove south on route 40 past Luján de Cuyo and Chacras de Coria through scrubland, then turned west to Tupungato, climbing gently up to 1200m., 90 minutes from Mendoza. We are staying 2 nights at Posada Salentein [guesthouse of eponymous winery], which sits on a wooded crest amid their vineyards looking east down the Uco Valley. A good dinner accompanied of course by Salentein wines: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Malbec 2013 and a sparkling wine of late harvested grapes. Continue reading

Torrontés and Tango, Malbec and Empanadas Part I: Argentina March 2015

ARGENTINA DIARY, 7th-26th March 2015, by Monty Style

Day 1 – Buenos Aires arrival

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Street view outside MALBA, Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires

Endless flat grasslands below the 777 which floats motionless down to Ezeiza airport. After 13-and-a-bit hours’ flight we’re perfectly on time. Punctual and comfortable seats, but service- and meal-wise British Airways is not competitive at all. Dishwater coffee reminiscent of the UK 20 years ago.
Elegant all glass airport buildings. Simple immigration then formal-looking scanners gobble up and spew out all items of luggage. Nobody collects the customs declaration I carefully filled in.
Buenos Aires is at first sight an ecologist’s dream: fresh green plane trees line the streets, cedars adorn the many parks which, viewed from our taxi, are clean, cars are compact and traffic is unhectic, the sky is blue and unpolluted. Continue reading

Tapas in Seville

1-bitter oranges  Alcazar gardens CordobaWhether you’re shivering out there in New York, Maine or Ontario, or huddled under a European canopy of endless grey, now’s the time to consider a short break in Seville. You can tank up on tapas and winter sunshine, stroll the street beneath impossibly blue skies and catch a glimpse of those famous oranges, still dripping from the trees in the gardens of the Alcázar. And if you can’t get down there, you can always dream…of tapas, mainly. Continue reading

Les Burgers à la française

1-4-20150222_142705“Shock is the reaction of some people…who learn that real French people living in France eat hamburgers” wrote Julia Child in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, first published in 1961. Not any more. Burgers are big hereabouts – according to a recent article in Business Insider, France is McDonald’s “most profitable country outside the US. Sales were up 4.8% through the first seven months of the year, and CEO Jean-Pierre Petit, who is rounding his 10th year as McDonald’s France’s CEO, has said 2014 will be its greatest absolute sales year ever. In 2013 sales reached 4.46 billion euros.” Continue reading