Sue Style is into food, wine and travel and writes about all three – sometimes separately, often in combination. She comes originally from Yorkshire and has migrated over the years to London, Madrid, Fontainebleau, Mexico City and Basel. She’s now happily ensconced in southern Alsace, France, within spitting distance of that region’s vineyards and conveniently placed for cross-border raids into Switzerland and across the Rhine to Baden/Germany, both of whose wines and food she explores at every opportunity. Lately, she’s discovered Catalunya, where both her children have had the good taste to settle. She's the author of nine books on subjects ranging from Mexican food through the food and wines of Alsace and of Switzerland to creative vegetable cookery. The most recent, published October 2011, is "Cheese: Slices of Swiss Culture," devoted to the finest Swiss farmhouse cheeses and the talented people who make them. Her articles appear in Decanter, France Magazine, Culture Cheese Magazine, FT Weekend, and on her website, suestyle.com. She gives sporadic cooking workshops in her Alsace kitchen and leads bespoke vineyard tours in the region.

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Fresh Apricots: In Tarts, Roasted, Or In Rich Jam Image

Apricots — the gorgeous, golden fruit that is blushed with pink by the early summer sun — arrived in Europe from the East, China, perhaps, or India. Later they made their way across the Atlantic to the New World in the pockets of 17th-century English settlers.

Apricots are now firmly established in continental climates on both sides of the pond — Mediterranean regions and California are noted producers — that offer the right combination of cold winters and intensely hot summers. Right now, in central Europe, my favorites are coming in from Switzerland’s Valais region, where they bask in the sunbaked foothills of the Alps on the southern side of the River Rhone.

Sometimes — though not reliably — apricots are fine to eat raw, with the advantage that the pit or stone comes away cleanly from the flesh. You don’t even need a knife: Just pull apart the two halves with a gentle tug, and the pit will come free.

All too often, though, they are either unripe or woolly. These are the ones to use in jam, or baked in a tart or baked in the oven with sugar and spice. You can compensate for their lack of ripeness by judicious sweetening, while woolliness works just fine in jam.

If your visit to the farmers market this week yielded an abundance of apricots, or you’ve been the lucky recipient of a tray of ripe fruit from a neighbor whose tree has fruited bountifully this month, turn them into jam, or bake them in a fragile pastry shell or poach them in juice with a scattering of fragrant cardamom seeds and serve them cold with ice cream.

Apricot Jam With Lavender

Apricot Jam with Lavender. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

Apricot Jam With Lavender. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

This lightly set jam sings of summer. Apricots, especially if fully ripe, have little pectin of their own. For this reason, it’s best to use quick-setting jam sugar with added pectin, which ensures a good set in a shorter cooking time, thus preserving all the jam’s fresh fruitiness.  

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 15 minutes to bring up to a boil plus 5 to 10 minutes fast boiling

Total time: 30 to 35 minutes

Yield: Makes eight 1-pound (450 gram) jars.

Ingredients

4 1/2 pounds (2 kilograms) apricots

3 pounds, 5 ounces (1.5 kilograms) quick-setting jam sugar with added pectin

Juice of 1 lemon

8 fresh lavender sprigs

Instructions

Put a saucer in the freezer for testing the jam later.

Cut apricots in half and remove the pits (stones). Cut in half again if very large.

Place apricots in a large preserving pan with the sugar, lemon juice and lavender sprigs. Stir to mix well and leave for a few hours or overnight until the juices run and the sugar is dissolved.

Bring the mixture up to a boil, stirring. From the moment it reaches a vigorous boil, count 5 minutes (be careful it doesn’t boil over — reduce the heat a little if necessary). Then start testing for a set: Remove the saucer from the freezer, pour a little into the saucer, let it cool slightly and then draw your finger through the jam: A distinct channel should form, and remain formed. If it does, setting point has been reached; if not, give the jam a little longer — up to 5 minutes more — and test again.

Once the jam has reached setting point, transfer it into warm jam jars, cover tightly and label.

Apricot Tart With Redcurrants or Alpine Strawberries

Fresh apricots are the perfect choice for a seasonal dessert. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

Fresh apricots are the perfect choice for a seasonal dessert. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

Apricots make plenty of juice when baked, so take a page out of the Swiss bakers’ books: Sprinkle a layer of ground nuts in the bottom of the pastry to give a waterproof layer, as well as great flavor and texture.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 30 minutes

Total time: 45 minutes

Yield: Makes 6 servings.

Ingredients

2 pounds (1 kilogram) apricots

1 8-ounce (225 grams) ready-rolled round of puff pastry or pie crust, or 8 ounces (225 grams) puff pastry or pie crust

A little butter for the pan

3 tablespoons ground almonds or hazelnuts

3 tablespoons granulated or light brown sugar or to taste

5 to 6 spays of redcurrants or a handful alpine strawberries for garnish

Icing sugar to dust the tart

Instructions

Cut the apricots in half, remove the pits (stones), then cut in half again if very large.

Lightly butter a 12-inch (30-centimeter) quiche pan with removable base

Unwrap the round of puff or pie crust (or roll out the puff pastry or pie crust to a circle slightly larger than the quiche pan) and lay it in the buttered pan, pressing it gently into the corners with lightly floured knuckles.

Prick the pastry bottom with a fork and sprinkle with the ground nuts.

Arrange the apricots tightly in the pan in concentric circles, facing upwards, setting them up pertly like little cocked ears.

Sprinkle the fruit with sugar.

Heat the oven to 400 F (200 C) and bake the tart for 30 to 35 minutes or until the fruit is tinged with gold and the pastry golden-brown.

Remove tart from the oven and set it on a rack. Let it cool.

To serve, remove the outer ring from the pan, leaving the tart on its base, and place the tart on a serving plate. Garnish with redcurrant sprays or alpine strawberries and shake some icing sugar on top through a sieve or tea strainer.

Baked Apricots With Orange Juice and Cardamom Seeds

Baked Apricots with Orange Juice and Cardamom, Ice Cream and Chopped Pistachios, Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

Baked Apricots with Orange Juice and Cardamom, Ice Cream and Chopped Pistachios, Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

If you find the apricots scored at the farmers market are a little tart or not especially well-flavored, here’s the way to go: Cut the fruit in half, bake them in orange juice with a sprinkling of sugar and some cardamom seeds, and serve well chilled with a sprinkling of chopped pistachios and lightly sweetened crème fraiche or vanilla ice cream.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 15 to 20 minutes

Total time: 20 to 25 minutes

Yield: Makes 6 servings.

Ingredients

2 pounds (1 kilogram) apricots

1 cup (250 milliliters) orange, grapefruit or pink grapefruit juice

6 to 8 cardamom pods, split, seeds only

4 to 5 tablespoons brown sugar

Vanilla ice cream or crème fraiche for serving

2 to 3 tablespoons chopped green pistachios (optional, for garnish)

Instructions

Cut the apricots in half and discard the pits (stones).

Arrange them in one layer in a large ovenproof dish, cut sides down.

Pour on orange juice and sprinkle with cardamom seeds and sugar.

Heat oven to 425 F (220 C).

Bake the apricots until soft but not collapsed — 15 to 20 minutes depending on ripeness.

Remove from the oven.

Tip the juice into a shallow pan and boil down hard to reduce by half.

Pour reduced juice back over the apricots, let cool and then refrigerate.

To serve, arrange 3 to 5 apricot halves (depending on size) facedown in small bowls and spoon some juice over. Place a blob of crème fraiche or a scoop of ice cream in the middle and sprinkle with chopped pistachios if wished.

Main photo: Apricot Tart With Redcurrants or Alpine Strawberries. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

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Spring Garlic Jazzes Up Dips, Salsas, Sauces Image

New garlic (not to be confused with green garlic, the kind that looks a bit like scallions or spring onions, with the greenery attached) has plump bulbs that are fully formed. The cloves are easy to peel and deliciously damp — in some parts it’s known as “wet garlic.”

Because this kind hasn’t been hung out to dry with a view to storage, it will not keep for long, so you need to use it up pronto. It works especially well in recipes that call for raw garlic cloves: New garlic is less pungent and peppery and more digestible than its aged cousin.

At the market in Saint Cézaire-sur-Siagne in Provence, France, in early May, the first of the season’s new garlic was on sale. I snapped up several heads and bore them home delightedly.

If you can get your hands on new garlic, here are three recipes to showcase its flavor.

Fava Bean Dip With New Garlic and Cream Cheese

Fava Bean Dip with New Garlic and Cream Cheese. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

Fava Bean Dip With New Garlic and Cream Cheese. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

This pale green hummus-inspired dip is great in early summer, when fresh fava or broad beans and new garlic are in season. The beans replace the chickpeas of regular hummus and there’s cream cheese instead of tahini, plus a topping of toasted seeds at the end for texture. You need to buy about 2 pounds (1 kilogram) of beans in the pod to arrive at about 8 ounces (250 grams) of shelled beans. Spread this dip on crusty bread or toasted pita or serve with chicken, veal, fish or crunchy-cooked spring vegetables (zucchini, radishes, baby carrots, sugar snaps and small turnips).

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 2 minutes

Total time: 12 minutes

Yield: Makes 4 servings

Ingredients

8 ounces (250 grams) shelled fava beans (fresh or frozen)

A pinch of salt

3 tablespoons chopped cilantro

Juice of 1 lime or 1/2 a lemon

1 clove new garlic, crushed

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 ounces (50 grams) cream cheese

1 teaspoon za’atar spice mixture

A pinch of crushed chilies or piment d’Espelette

1 tablespoon mixed seeds (sesame, poppy, linseed, sunflower)

Directions

1. Bring a pan of lightly salted water to a boil, drop in the shelled beans and cook for 4 to 5 minutes or until just tender.

2. Drain the beans, then pop them out of their leathery skins.

3. Place prepared beans in a food processor or blender, add the salt, cilantro, lime or lemon juice and garlic and process till smooth.

4. With the motor still running, drizzle in the olive oil; scrape down the sides and reblend.

5. Add the cream cheese, za’atar spice mixture and crushed chilies or piment d’Espelette and blend again.

6. Tip the mixture into a small dish or bowl and refrigerate.

7. Put the seeds in a small frying pan without any extra oil (they have enough of their own) and heat steadily, shaking the pan from time to time, till the seeds are golden brown and fragrant.

8. Sprinkle the seeds over the dip just before serving.

Salsa of Roasted Tomatoes, New Garlic and Chilli

Salsa of Roasted Tomatoes, New Garlic and Chilli. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

Salsa of Roasted Tomatoes, New Garlic and Chili. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

A Mexican-inspired spicy salsa — the tomatoes, garlic, onion and chilies get a toasting on a griddle or in a dry frying pan (no oil) before they go into the blender, which intensifies the flavor and gives them a smack of smoke. Don’t peel the tomatoes, but blend them with their toasty skins. Serve with barbecued meats, tacos or quesadillas.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 0 minutes

Total time: About 15 minutes

Yield: Makes 4 servings

Ingredients

4 ripe medium tomatoes

2 cloves new garlic, unpeeled

1 to 2 fresh chilies (serranos, jalapeños or bird’s eye)

2 scallions, halved lengthwise

1 teaspoon salt

Directions

1. Rinse the tomatoes and place them on a griddle or in a dry, ungreased frying pan with the unpeeled garlic, chillies and spring onions.

2. Heat until the chilies, tomatoes and onions are lightly toasted and the garlic soft. The chilies will be ready first — remove them so they don’t burn. Keep turning the tomatoes and prop them up against one another, so they toast evenly. They’re done when little brownish-black flecks appear all over the skin and they are a little softened.

3. Remove all ingredients from the griddle or pan. Remove stems from the chilies, split them open, scrape out the seeds and chop roughly (use rubber gloves if you are sensitive to chili heat.)

4. Slip the garlic out of its skins. Do not peel the tomatoes.

5. Place chillies, garlic, tomatoes and scallions in the blender with 1 teaspoon of salt and blend till smooth.

Refrigerate the sauce till needed.

Creamy Sauce of New Garlic, Chili and Cilantro

Creamy Sauce of New Garlic, Chilli and Cilantro. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

Creamy Sauce of New Garlic, Chili and Cilantro. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

A pale green sauce that’s done in a flash. For a quick supper, serve with linguine, adding a few lightly steamed vegetables. You can also pour it around chicken breasts or roasted quail or serve under white fish filets or salmon for a great color contrast.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 25 minutes

Total time: 30 minutes

Yield: Makes 1 cup

Ingredients

6 cloves new garlic

1 cup (250 milliliters) whipping cream

A pinch of salt

1 fresh chilli, red or green, seeds removed, finely chopped (optional)

A small bunch (about 1 ounce, 25 grams) cilantro, leaves and stalks

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1/2 cup (125 milliliters) water

Directions

1. Slip the garlic cloves out of their jackets and place in a small saucepan.

2. Add the cream, salt and chili (if using) and bring to a gentle simmer.

3. Simmer for 20 minutes or until the garlic is quite soft.

4. Mix the cornstarch with the water.

5. Tip the sauce into a blender, add the cilantro leaves and stalks and cornstarch and blend till smooth.

6. Return sauce to the pan and bring to a boil again. Simmer for about 5 minutes, whisking with a small wire whisk, until thickened — no longer, or the sauce will lose its fresh green color. If too thick, add a little more water to give a lightly coating consistency.

Main image: New garlic. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

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Celebrate Spring Asparagus With 3 New Ideas Image

One of the things I love best about living in deepest southern Alsace, France, is that we have proper seasons. Each season brings its own special treat: In fall we get gorgeous ceps and chanterelles, freshly foraged or sourced at the farmers market. During winter it’s the turn of a whole range of seasonal sausages, recalling a time when by tradition the family pig was slaughtered and sausages were freshly made.

Early spring brings lamb’s lettuce (aka mâche), which grows wild throughout the vineyards, and wild garlic (ramps or ramsons) from damp corners of the forest. Morels, those delectable, sponge-like mushrooms that point their wrinkled noses up through the newly green pastures (or, if you’re lucky, among the wood chippings in your newly planted rose bed), are another seasonal delicacy. A little later comes rhubarb, which finds its way into sublime, meringue-topped tarts. Right now, as spring gets fully into its stride, asparagus is having a moment.

For anyone who has never visited Alsace in May or June, it’s difficult to convey the almost religious fervor associated with this wonderful vegetable. During its brief but intense season, some restaurants give themselves over entirely to serving nothing but great, steaming mounds of asparagus. (The standard portion is about 2 pounds per person.) Huge trestle tables and long wooden benches are the order of the day; napkins are tucked into collars in time-honored French fashion and the feast gets underway. The mighty white spears are served naked and unadorned save for thin slices of ham (cooked, cured and smoked) and a choice of mayonnaise, Hollandaise or vinaigrette sauces.

Here are three recipes that make much of both the green and white kinds.

Salad With Asparagus, Ham and Soft-Boiled Eggs

Salad With Asparagus, Ham and Soft-Boiled Eggs. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

Salad With Asparagus, Ham and Soft-Boiled Eggs. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes

Total time: 30 minutes

Yield: 2 servings

Ingredients

8 ounces green asparagus (about 10 spears)

1 tablespoon olive oil

Sea salt

2 eggs

For the dressing:

1 teaspoon mild mustard

6 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons vinegar

A pinch of sugar

2 tablespoons finely chopped herbs in season (parsley, tarragon, mint, chives, lovage

Salt and pepper to taste

For the salad:

2 good handfuls mixed salad leaves (iceberg, Little Gem, lamb’s lettuce, arugula, etc.)

4 slices cooked or cured ham, cut in thin strips

Thinly sliced radishes (optional)

Directions

1. Snap the woody ends off the asparagus and lay the trimmed spears in a small roasting pan. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and roast in a hot oven (400 F, 200 C) for 10 to 15 minutes until just tender when pierced with a sharp knife (timing will depend on thickness). Shake the pan once or twice so they roll around and cook evenly. Alternately, cook in a ridged grill pan over high heat for 10 to 15 minutes or until just tender when pierced with a sharp knife, shaking once or twice. Set asparagus aside.

2. Put two eggs in a small pan of cold water, bring to a boil and count 3 minutes from when the water starts to boil. Drain the eggs, place them in cold water until cool, then peel. Leave them whole.

3. For the dressing, place the mustard, olive oil, vinegar, sugar, chopped herbs and salt and pepper in a jam jar, cover with a lid and shake vigorously until emulsified.

4. To assemble the salads, place a selection of salad leaves on plates, arrange asparagus spears on top, scatter with ham strips and optional radishes and place an egg on top of each one. Drizzle with some dressing.

Green and White Asparagus Stacks With Herby Vinaigrette and Prosciutto or Smoked Salmon

Green and White Asparagus Stacks With Herby Vinaigrette and Prosciutto or Smoked Salmon. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

Green and White Asparagus Stacks With Herby Vinaigrette and Prosciutto or Smoked Salmon. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

Prep time: 15 minutes, plus 10 minutes to assemble the stacks

Cook time: 20 minutes

Total time: 35 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

1 pound each of white and green asparagus

A sprinkling of sea salt, plus a pinch more for boiling water

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 shallot, finely chopped

A good handful of mixed tender herbs (flat-leaf parsley, lovage, chives, tarragon)

5 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon vinegar (use sherry, white wine or cider vinegar)

Salt and pepper to taste

10 ounces soft fresh goat’s cheese

6 thin slices prosciutto or smoked salmon

Flat-leaf parsley to garnish

Directions

1. Peel the white asparagus, making sure not to leave any tough strips of peel, and trim the green asparagus.

2. 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.

3. Strain this herby stock, put it back into the pan, bring to a boil and reduce to about a cup by fast boiling.

4. 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 425 F (220 C) oven or until a knife inserted in the thickest part feels tender. You can also boil or steam the asparagus 10 to 15 minutes if you prefer.

5. For the herby vinaigrette, place the chopped shallot, herbs, reduced stock, oil and vinegar in the blender and blend until smooth — seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.

6. 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.

7. Cut each asparagus spear in three pieces — if fat, slice in half lengthwise as well.

8. 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).

9. Cut the prosciutto or smoked salmon in thin strips, then arrange over the asparagus stacks and drizzle herby vinaigrette around. Garnish with parsley.

Stir-fried Asparagus and Mushrooms With Toasted Sesame Seeds

Stir-fried Asparagus and Mushrooms With Toasted Sesame Seeds. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

Stir-fried Asparagus and Mushrooms With Toasted Sesame Seeds. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 15 minutes

Total time: 20 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

2 pounds green asparagus

8 ounces mushrooms

3 teaspoons sesame seeds

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 teaspoons sugar

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

1 garlic clove, chopped

A walnut-sized piece of ginger, peeled, grated

Directions

1. Snap the woody ends off the asparagus and cut the spears on a slant in 2-inch (5-centimeter) pieces. Trim the mushrooms and slice or quarter them.

2. Put the sesame seeds in a small frying pan and heat till nicely toasted and fragrant — don’t let them burn! Tip them onto a plate to cool.

3. Mix together the soy sauce and sugar and reserve.

4. When you’re ready to start the stir-fry (it takes barely 10 minutes), warm some soup plates in a lightly warmed oven.

5. Heat 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil in a wok or paella pan and fry the garlic and ginger very briefly till golden — keep tossing and turning it so it doesn’t burn.

6. Add the trimmed asparagus and mushrooms and fry briskly, lifting and turning with two wooden spoons for about 10 minutes or until asparagus is just tender but with a bit of bite — keep the vegetables on the move and keep tasting until done to your liking. Stir in the reserved soy sauce and sugar and cook another 1 to 2 minutes.

7. Serve the vegetables over rice and scatter toasted sesame seeds on top.

Main photo: Freshly cut asparagus. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

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The Swiss Twist To England’s Tea Tradition at Bettys Image

To understand about Bettys, the legendary, Swiss-born, Yorkshire-based café-tea rooms, celebrated for their exquisite chocolates and classy cakes, you need to go back to at least 1907. This was the year when an impecunious young baker named Fritz Bützer set off from his native Switzerland across France in search of work in prosperous Edwardian England.

From Calais, France, he made the rough crossing over the Channel to Dover, England. On arrival, exhausted, seasick and with a sketchy command of English, he discovered he had lost the precious piece of paper on which he had scribbled the name of the town where a job had been promised. All he could remember was the name sounded something like bratwurst. He tried this out forlornly on a few passers-by, before an elderly gentleman came to the rescue. “Oh, you mean Bradford!” cried his savior, and the man promptly took Bützer to King’s Cross station, where he put him on a train up to Yorkshire. In Bradford, the young baker tracked down a chocolate shop owned by a fellow Swiss, where he found work.

Bettys born in England of Swiss roots and inspiration

The Bettys in Harrogate, England. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

The Bettys in Harrogate, England. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

Within a few years, the ambitious baker — by now also an accomplished chocolatier — had set his sights on opening a high-class tea room of his own. For this he realized that the refined spa town of Harrogate, which lay some 20 miles to the north, was going to be a better bet than coal-stained, industrial Bradford. Bradford was where the money was made; Harrogate was where the spending power resided. He also understood the disadvantages, in this post-World War I period, of having a German-sounding name, so he changed it to the more French-sounding Frederick Belmont. In 1919 he opened his first café in Harrogate. Bettys was born.

Today, Bettys is a household name — though the question of “Who was Betty?” remains unanswered. The Harrogate café has been joined by others in York, Ilkley, Northallerton and at the stately home Harlow Carr. They’re magnets for discerning customers from all around north Yorkshire and far beyond, lured by the promise of exquisite chocolates and magnificent iced or seasonal cakes, or in search of coffee, brunch or lunch and a break from a strenuous day of retail therapy. There’s also a thriving mail-order business.

A signature brand

A Bettys delivery van. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

A Bettys delivery van. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

Harrogate remains the center of Bettys operations. At the Craft Bakery on an industrial estate just outside the town center, every single bread, bap, cake, pikelet, scone, muffin or iced fancy destined for the various café-tea rooms is freshly made and baked daily. These are then dispatched to Bettys branches around the county by a fleet of cream-colored vans, each one proudly bearing the Bettys name inscribed in curly script on the sides.

In the bakery, white-coated employees, looking more like lab technicians than bakers, bend low over trays of supersized, raisin-speckled scones known (and trademarked) at Bettys as Yorkshire Fat Rascals, carefully placing on top of each one a pair of glacé cherries and a couple of blanched almonds. At the other side of the bakery, a batch of freshly baked loaves — between 20 and 30 different kinds are baked each day — are plucked, crackling and chuntering, from the jaws of a massive wood-fired oven.

Sweet treats

A dark chocolate Easter egg from Bettys. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

A dark chocolate Easter egg from Bettys. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

Chocolate is huge at Bettys, and the link with Switzerland has endured: All the couverture, the raw material for the vast selection of Bettys chocolates, comes from Felchlin, the famous, family-owned chocolate specialist in canton Schwyz in the heart of Switzerland. Easter is similarly huge in the Bettys calendar, rivaling Christmas as their busiest time of the year. (A 1932 poster from the company’s archives solemnly reminds customers that “there is NO present quite as appropriate at Easter Time as a Bettys Easter Egg.”)

Eggs, pralines and assorted truffles aside, Bettys is famous for its chocolate novelties: There’s a new one born every year. The large Bettys family of badgers, hares, Gloucester Old Spot pigs, hens, rabbits, piglets and lambs was recently joined by a romp of milk chocolate otters, reflecting the theme (appropriately, given the waterlogged state of much of Britain this winter) of river banks.

Almost 100 years on, Bettys cafés seem to go from strength to strength. Elegant and understated, warmly lit and buzzing with life, they are the kind of places where you almost expect Lady Mary from “Downton Abbey” to sweep in with her shopping and settle down to smoked salmon sandwiches and pink Champagne.

Beaming waitresses in crisp white aprons recite the day’s specials, notebooks poised in midair. A recent menu featured local sausages from a butcher in the Vale of York served with Rösti, followed by a seriously decadent dark chocolate and raspberry torte filled with fresh raspberries and a silken chocolate buttercream: Yorkshire bratwurst with Switzerland’s signature potato dish and a magnificent Swiss chocolate creation. Fritz (alias Frederick) would have been proud.

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Chicory Greens, Hot Or Cold, Evoke Season’s Extremes Image

Chicory is the cool kid on the winter salad block. It belongs to a ravishing and rewarding family of overwintering plants, and it can be found in many shapes, sizes and colors. Radicchio is chicory; so are curly endive, frisée, escarole and catalogna (aka puntarelle). Even dandelions come from the same stock.

Sown in fall, chicories go right through winter. When left to brave the elements outdoors, they develop a wonderful intensity of color (carmine red, dark glossy green), depending on the variety. If, on the other hand, the plants are dug up at the beginning of winter and the leaves are cut back to the bone, with the roots replanted indoors and grown beneath the soil without exposure to light, they develop heads of tightly packed, ivory-white leaves fringed with yellow. This practice, known as blanching, was discovered by accident in the 1850s in Belgium — and it explains why the plant is known in some parts as Belgian endive.

Bitter flavor of chicory complements seasonal cooking

Bitterness is one of the hallmarks of the chicory family. It’s just what the body needs in the winter months, providing a welcome fillip in the midst of all those rich, stodgy foods and creamy sauces. Most of us meet the chicory family in salads, where that bitter touch can be beautifully offset with a sweetish dressing — balsamic or blood orange juice are both fine additions to regular vinaigrette, or use them to deglaze the pan after flash-frying cubes of fish or shellfish to toss over your salad. A generous platter of multicolored chicories interspersed with slivers of apple, pear or kumquats or a scattering of pomegranate seeds is a treat for all the senses.

Finally, don’t forget that this robust vegetable takes kindly to a bit of a roasting. This mellows it beautifully, particularly when finished with a good dollop of cream and grated cheese (think pecorino or Parmesan).

Winter Warm Salad of Chicory and Lamb’s Lettuce With Scallops, Shrimp or Red Mullet

Winter warm salad of chicory and lamb’s lettuce with scallops, shrimp or red mullet. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

Winter warm salad of chicory and lamb’s lettuce with scallops, shrimp or red mullet. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 5 minutes

Total time: 20 minutes

Yield: Makes 2 servings.

Ingredients

For the vinaigrette:

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar, cider vinegar or lemon juice

Salt and pepper to taste

A pinch of sugar

For the fish and salad:

8 ounces red mullet filets, 8 scallops or 8 ounces peeled, raw shrimp

A handful of mixed winter salad leaves (lamb’s lettuce, dandelions s, ruby chard)

2 Belgian endives (ideally, 1 white and 1 red)

2 to 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Salt and pepper to taste

2 tablespoons olive oil

Juice of 2 blood oranges

Sprigs of fresh herbs (chervil, chives, dill) or sprouted seeds (cress)

Directions

1. Make the vinaigrette by whisking together the oil, vinegar (or lemon juice), salt, pepper and sugar in a small bowl or jar. Set aside.

2. Trim the red mullet filets and remove any bones with tweezers. Slice them on a slant to give lozenge-shaped pieces. If using scallops, separate the meat from the corals and peel away the muscle band attatching it to the shell (if this has not been done for you). If using the corals (as is customary in Europe), prick these with a pin so they don’t explode on frying. Wash fish or shellfish and pat dry with paper towels.

3. Trim the root ends from the endives and separate the leaves. Arrange leaves in a star shape in soup bowls, alternating the colors.

4. Finely slice any trimmings from the endives and pile these up with the lamb’s lettuce and dandelions in the center. Sprinkle on the vinaigrette.

5. Shortly before serving, put the flour in a plastic bag, add salt and pepper, put in the shellfish or fish and shake to dust lightly in flour. Tip into a colander and shake off any excess flour. Don’t do this too far ahead, or the shellfish/fish will absorb the flour and make a gluey mess.

6. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a heavy pan, toss in the shellfish or fish and fry very briefly — 1 to 2 minutes — turning once. Arrange over the salads.

7. Tip the blood orange juice into the pan with 1 tablespoon oil, turn up the heat and let it bubble up to thicken and reduce, scraping up any nice fishy bits.

8. Spoon the reduced blood orange dressing over the salads, sprinkle with fresh herbs or sprouted seeds of your choice and serve at once with crusty bread.

Salad of Belgian Endive, Radicchio, Lamb’s Lettuce, Kumquats and Avocado

Salad of Belgian endive, radicchio, lamb’s lettuce, kumquats and avocado. Credit: copyright 2016 Sue Style

Salad of Belgian endive, radicchio, lamb’s lettuce, kumquats and avocado. Credit: copyright 2016 Sue Style

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: None

Total time: 10 minutes

Yield: Makes 6 servings.

Ingredients

For the dressing:

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 teaspoon coarse-grain mustard

2 tablespoons walnut vinegar

6 tablespoons walnut oil

A pinch of sugar

For the salad:

About 8 ounces mixed salad leaves (lamb’s lettuce, rucola, baby dandelion leaves)

2 heads Belgian endive

1 small radicchio

6 kumquats

1 avocado

A handful of walnuts

Sprigs of dill

Directions

1. Make the dressing by placing the salt, pepper, mustard, walnut vinegar, walnut oil and sugar in a jam jar, covering with a lid and shaking vigorously till smooth and emulsified.

2. Wash and spin dry the salad leaves.

3. Remove outer leaves of Belgian endive and slice very thinly lengthwise.

4. Shred the radicchio finely.

5. Wash the kumquats and slice them wafer-thin.

6. Peel and pit the avocado and cut in segments.

7. Arrange the sliced endive, salad leaves and shredded radicchio decoratively on a large serving plate, add finely sliced kumquats and avocado segments, scatter walnuts and dill on top and spoon the dressing over.

Gratin of Belgian Endive With Walnut and Parmesan Crumble and Parma Ham

Gratin of Belgian endive with walnut and Parmesan crumble and Parma ham. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

Gratin of Belgian endive with walnut and Parmesan crumble and Parma ham. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 15 minutes

Total time: 30 minutes

Yield: Makes 2 servings.

Ingredients

1 ounce butter

2 teaspoons brown sugar

3 Belgian endives, white or red, halved lengthwise

For the crumble:

1 thick slice sourdough bread, crust removed, cut in cubes

1 1/2 ounces walnuts

2 ounces grated Parmesan

1 teaspoon thyme

Salt and pepper to taste

5 tablespoons Greek yogurt

2 to 3 tablespoons milk

3 ounces (75 grams) Parma or another cured ham, sliced

Flat-leaf parsley, chopped (optional)

Directions

1. Melt the butter with the sugar in a heavy frying pan or sauté pan — if you have one that will go in the oven, so much the better.

2. Fry the endives, facedown first, then the other sides, until golden brown and a little softened.

3. Place the sourdough cubes, walnuts, grated Parmesan, thyme and salt and pepper to taste in a food processor and process to crumbs. Stir in the yogurt and enough milk to give a porridge-like consistency.

4. Spread this mixture over the endives. (Refrigerate if not baking immediately.)

5. Heat the oven to 400 F and bake the endives for about 15 minutes or until tender when poked with a skewer and the topping is bubbly.

6. Lay the ham on top — it will subside agreeably into the hot endives and the warmth will release some of its cured flavor without cooking it.

7. Sprinkle with parsley if wished. Serve warm.

Main image: Red and green chicory growing outdoors. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

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Celebrating Jura’s Special Vin Jaune Wines Image

Every year since 1997, a merry band of winemakers and faithful volunteers have staged a Bacchanalian winter wine festival in the heart of France’s Jura region. Known as La Percée du Vin Jaune, it’s the moment when the new vintage of the Jura’s famous Vin Jaune (literally “yellow wine”) is unveiled.

Made from the distinctive Savagnin grape using a process akin to that used for making sherry, protected from spoilage by a shroud of yeast and tucked away in cellar corners throughout the Jura, the wine slumbers in its barrel for more than six years. When ready to be bottled, the precious wine is drawn off from beneath its yeasty layer, transferred into stout little bottles called clavelins, labeled and released onto the market. At the opening of La Percée, a barrel full of wine is hoisted onto the shoulders of strapping young vignerons and carried through the streets. After a series of florid speeches in honor of the famous wine, the barrel is ceremonially broached, the golden liquid bursts forth, glasses are waved wildly in the air and the festival is declared open.

Better with age

Some grand old bottles of Vin Jaune are sold at auction each year at La Percée. This one, from 1928, went under the hammer at $500. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

Some grand old bottles of Vin Jaune are sold at auction each year at La Percée. This one, from 1928, went under the hammer at $500. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

Some of the year’s Vin Jaune will be squirreled away in cellars where it will live to a grand old age. A 1928 bottle went under the hammer at $800 (€720) at last year’s traditional auction of old bottles. Much, though, will be uncorked as soon as released. The best and most typical way to enjoy this distinctive wine is alongside a pungent hunk of aged, salt-speckled Comté. In the Jura, they splash it liberally into the legendary dish Poulet au Vin Jaune et aux Morilles, a triumph of local cuisine in which a Bresse chicken is bathed in a delectable creamy, mushroomy sauce, which is enlivened with the famous yellow wine.

Many people expect Vin Jaune to be sweet. In fact, it is shockingly dry — think Manzanilla sherry rather than tawny port. Seasoned tasters invoke spicy, nutty flavors and praise its structure, complexity and longevity. Vin Jaune virgins are more likely to pull a funny face, like the apocryphal Yorkshireman on holiday on Spain’s Costa del Sol upon meeting his first olive. They are caught off guard by its dryness and find disconcerting hints of curry, resin or boot polish. It’s definitely an acquired taste.

A festive celebration of Vin Jaune

Members of Les Ambassadeurs des Vins Jaunes, elegantly clad in the colors of the famous wine, lead the procession at La Percée. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

Members of Les Ambassadeurs des Vins Jaunes, elegantly clad in the colors of the famous wine, lead the procession at La Percée. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

For stores that stock Vin Jaune in your neighborhood, consult www.winesearcher.com.

While the Percée is a (fairly) serious affair in which the new season’s wine is honored first by the local bishop and then introduced to an expectant audience, this is chiefly a pretext for a joyous winter street party. Throngs of people are bused in from all over the Jura; many more make the trek from Lyon, France, or neighboring Switzerland. There’s even a handful of visitors from the United Kingdom, United States, Japan and China, curious to sample this extraordinary wine.

Because the Percée is held on either the last weekend in January or the first in February, the weather is always freezing, so everyone is swaddled in warm clothes. Some wear full fancy dress, others have mad hats. All are bent on having a good time, sampling and buying wine from the 70 wine growers whose stands are dotted liberally around the town.

Tasting time

Selected bottles of Vin Jaune assembled for tasting at the 2015 Percée. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

Selected bottles of Vin Jaune assembled for tasting at the 2015 Percée. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

A modest entrance fee buys a 4-ounce glass and a booklet of 10 tasting tickets. Thus, it’s quite possible to down an impressive quantity of wine between midday, when the festival opens, and 6 p.m., closing time — and many do. Happily, leaving the event under your own steam is not just discouraged, it’s impossible. Fleets of shuttle buses ferry people in from neighboring villages and towns, a precaution designed partly to keep cars out of the small towns and tiny villages that play host to the festival (the venue changes every year) and partly to keep well-lubricated merrymakers from taking the wheel afterward.

It would be an exaggeration to say sobriety is the order of the day. Yet the Percée is famously good-humored rather than rowdy, a popular festival in every sense (drawing 40,000 visitors this year). After this year’s event, held Feb. 6 and 7, in Lons-le-Saunier, the extraordinary festival that takes months of planning and countless hours of volunteer labor will take a two-year break. This will allow the organizers and winemakers to regroup, take stock and consider whether the festival in its current format best serves the reputation of the unique wines of the Jura region. One thing is for sure: If and when the show returns in 2017, it will be wearing new clothes.

Main photo: A barrel of Vin Jaune is carried through the streets at the opening of La Percée. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

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