Vineyards around Durbach in the Ortenau region of Baden
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
Basel 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. Continue reading
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
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. Continue reading
It’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