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, 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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Wine Industry Responds To Mallorca’s Tourist Draw Image

Ever heard of Gorgollasa? Prensal, perhaps? Try Callet? Or maybe Manto Negro? Welcome to the distinctive native grapes of Mallorca, the largest of Spain’s Balearic Islands, which basks out in the Mediterranean some ways south of Barcelona.

Wine-growing started here with the Romans and continued at a steady pace until the end of the 19th century, when the vine-destroying phylloxera louse laid waste to Europe’s vineyards. Viticulture on Mallorca succumbed too and lay stunned, licking its wounds, for the better part of half a century. In the 1970s, when Spain embarked on its dismaying sellout to mass tourism, the island’s vineyards flickered back to life. Mass tourism requires — along with oceans of beer — mass-produced wines. Mallorca’s wineries obeyed the dictates of the market, confining themselves (with a few notable exceptions) to producing undistinguished plonk.

Mallorca transforms to tourist destination rich in wine culture

Hordes of northern Europeans continue to land on the beaches by the millions each summer, for sure. But in the past 20 years, an alternative touristic offering has developed, aimed at a different kind of traveler. In the once seedy, down-at-the-heels streets of Palma, the island’s capital, exquisite patrician palacios have evolved from dilapidated family homes to chic town hotels. Inland, deliciously well-appointed casas rurales (country hotels) have sprung up amidst the silvery olive groves and almond and apricot orchards. Hikers and bikers relish the challenges of the mountains of the Serra de Tramuntana, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011. And as upmarket tourism has taken root, so too has the demand for better-quality wines, most of them grown in the foothills of the Tramuntana range, with peaks that rear up like jagged vertebrae from southwest to northeast.

If you are up for a vinous adventure and enjoy straying off the usual well-worn paths to taste the fruits of unusual local grapes, you’re going to love exploring Mallorcan wines.

The island has about 40 working bodegas (wineries) today. Here are a half-dozen whose wines grabbed my attention on a recent visit. Check Wine Searcher for suppliers near you, or contact locally based Cellers Artesans d’Europa (cellersartesans@gmail.com), which ships worldwide.

Bodegas Ribas in Consell is the oldest winery on Mallorca, established in 1711 and still owned and run by members of the Ribas family. The 13th generation is represented by brother-and-sister team Xavier and Araceli, whose wine studies took them first to Priorat, Spain (Catalunya), followed by New Zealand, California, France and Argentina. The family is famous for championing indigenous vine varieties, including the almost extinct Gorgollasa, and the 40-hectare (99-acre) vineyard boasts some impressively gnarled old Prensal and Manto Negro root stocks. Their fresh, mouth-filling, no-barrique blanc (white), made from Prensal plus a little Viognier, slips down as a treat at the beach with a plate of grilled sardines, while red Sió partners the lightly pigmented Manto Negro grape with Syrah and Merlot, bolstered by a discreet hint of oak.

Close by in Santa Maria del Camí is Macià Batle, one of the largest bodegas, with about 100 hectares (250 acres). It was founded in 1856 and has seen impressive modernization and investment in the past five years. If I lived on the island, my go-to white would be the entry-level blanc de blanc, a golden, aromatic, crunchy combo of Prensal, Chardonnay and a little Moscatel. Their wide range of reds (sporting lurid labels, including one designed by artists Gilbert and George) successfully combine Manto Negro with international varieties like Syrah, Cabernet and Merlot in varying proportions.

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A selection of Can Majoral bottles. Credit: Sue Style

Vinyes Mortitx is situated on the dramatic, winding road up to Pollensa in a tiny, sheltered valley, which was formerly planted with kiwis and avocados. In 2002, these were uprooted in favor of 15 hectares (37 acres) of vines, both island and mainland varieties. Flaires, a pretty, blush-pink, low-alcohol rosé from Monastrell, Merlot and Cabernet, makes a fine summer aperitif. Come fall, look out for Rodal Pla, a robust but discreetly oaked Syrah/Cabernet/Merlot blend.

Tiny Son Prim (8.5 hectares, 21 acres), owned and run by the Llabrés family and situated between Inca and Sencelles, gets my vote for some of the island’s most original, keenly priced, Mediterranean-inflected wines. The bodega majors on Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot, with a little input from Manto Negro. Of their wines (they do both single varietals and blends), I particularly favored the Merlots: firstly a fragrant, gently blushing white and then an alluring, curvaceous, characterful red.

Mesquida Mora is a new winery set up by Barbara Mesquida, one of the few female wine makers on the island. She recently struck out on her own with 20 hectares (50 acres) of local and international varieties, which she farms biodynamically with minimal intervention in the vineyard and little or no sulfur added in the cellar. Look for Acrollam (Mallorca, spelt backwards), a deep golden mouthful of Prensal with Chardonnay, or Trispol, a dense ruby-red combination of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and the rare, rustic Callet.

At Bodegas Can Majoral in Algaida, brothers Biel and Andreu started as hobby winemakers in 1979, gradually increasing their holding to its current tally of 17 hectares (42 acres) and converting to organics along the way. They combine an acute sense of terroir with an unshakeable belief in the indigenous Mallorcan varieties and their potential to produce quality wines. The tongue-twisting Butibalausí comes in white and red versions, the former a sprightly, easy-drinking drop made from low-acid Prensal boosted by Chardonnay and Parellada, one of the grapes traditionally used for cava. If you rejoice in the resurrection of threatened indigenous rarities, try to track down a bottle of their Gorgollasa, a distinctive, highly aromatic red wine which they produce in tiny quantities from just 1 hectare (2.5 acres) of their vineyards.

Main photo: Colorful labels from Macia Batle. Credit: Sue Style

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5 Chilled Soups To Help You Beat The Heat This Summer Image

Iced soups are perfect for sweltering summer days, lip-smacking good and super refreshing — think salad in a glass or bowl. Best of all, most don’t need cooking. Here are five recipes, three of them pillar-box red and the other two the palest of greens.

Chilled soups cover the color spectrum

The three reds include a couple of gazpachos, both of them slight variations on the classic tomato-pepper-onion-garlic-olive combo. One brings watermelon to the mix, to provide a sweet counterpoint to the tomatoes’ acidity; the other adds strawberries. The third is salmorejo, gazpacho’s first cousin. It’s a typical supper dish in Cordoba, Spain, where summer temperatures routinely soar into the hundreds. There’s a distinct family likeness with gazpacho, but salmorejo has no cucumber, onions or peppers, and the result is thicker, smoother and sinfully creamy (but without cream).

For the two green soups, one has a European feel to it, featuring lightly cooked zucchini with loads of tender herbs. The other looks to Asia for its inspiration, in a smooth emulsion of cucumber, green chili, coconut milk, cilantro and avocado.

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Gazpacho with strawberries. Credit: Sue Style

Gazpacho With Strawberries

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 0 minutes

Total time: 10 minutes, plus several hours to chill the soup

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients

½ pound (500 grams) tomatoes

½ pound (500 grams) strawberries

1 small red pepper

½ green pepper

½ a cucumber

1 clove garlic, mashed

⅓ to ⅔ cup (100 to 150 milliliters) olive oil

Splash of sherry vinegar

Salt and white pepper to taste

Mint sprigs

Instructions

1. Quarter tomatoes and remove cores. Roughly chop tomatoes and put in a large, deep bowl (or blender/food processor).

2. Remove stalks from strawberries, rinse well and add to the bowl/blender.

3. Remove seeds and cores from both kinds of pepper and chop the flesh roughly. Peel the cucumber, cut in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds with a teaspoon. Chop flesh roughly.

4. Add chopped peppers and cucumber to the bowl/blender along with the crushed garlic.

5. Blend till very smooth, then add the oil in a steady stream till gazpacho is smooth and somewhat lighter in color.

6. Season with salt, pepper and 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar.

7. Chill the gazpacho.

8. To serve, spoon into glasses and garnish with mint sprigs.

Gazpacho With Watermelon

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 0 minutes

Total time: 10 minutes, plus several hours to chill the soup

Yield: 4 to 6 servings, makes about 6 cups (1.5 liters)

Ingredients

2 pounds (1 kilogram) tomatoes

1 red pepper

1 cucumber

1 medium red onion

1 pound (500 grams) watermelon, preferably seedless, weighed after skinning

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar

½ cup (125 milliliters) olive oil, plus a little more to drizzle on top for serving

Salt and pepper to taste

2 to 3 Romaine lettuce leaves, finely shredded, for garnish

Instructions

1. Remove cores from tomatoes and discard. Cut flesh in quarters and put in a large bowl (if using a hand-held blender for the soup) or in a blender or food processor.

2. Remove stalk and seeds from red pepper, set aside a chunk for the garnish (enough for about 2 tablespoons, finely chopped) and roughly chop the rest. Add to bowl/blender.

3. Peel cucumber, set aside a 1-inch (3-centimeter) chunk for the garnish and roughly chop the rest and add to bowl/blender.

4. Chop the onion finely, set aside about 1 tablespoon for the garnish and add the rest to bowl/blender.

5. Set aside a chunk of watermelon (enough for 2 tablespoons, finely chopped) for the garnish, chop the rest roughly and add to bowl/blender.

6. Add sherry vinegar and blend the soup till really smooth. If you want and can be bothered, push it through a strainer to remove any wayward pips, but this is a counsel of perfection and the soup will be fine without straining.

7. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

8. With the blender motor still running, add the olive oil in a steady trickle, continuing to blend till well mixed and emulsified.

9. Chill the soup well.

10. Put the finely chopped garnishes (including shredded lettuce) in ramekins, keeping each kind separate.

11. To serve, pour gazpacho into bowls or glasses, drizzle a thread of olive oil on top of each serving and hand around the different garnishes for everyone to sprinkle on as the mood takes them.

Salmorejo (Iced Tomato and Bread Soup from Córdoba, Spain)

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 0 minutes

Total time: 20 minutes, plus several hours to chill the soup

Yield: Makes enough for 6 soup bowls or 10 to 12 small glasses

Ingredients

4 ounces (100 grams) day-old bread, trimmed of crusts (weighed after crusts have been removed)

1¾ pounds (750 grams) tomatoes (4 to 5 medium)

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 apple, peeled, cored and chopped

4 tablespoons sherry vinegar or wine vinegar

½ cup olive oil

Salt to taste, about 1 teaspoon

2 hen eggs or 12 quail eggs

2 to 3 slices cured ham (ibérico, serrano, prosciutto etc.)

Instructions

1. Cut the bread in chunks, put in a bowl and pour on just enough cold water to cover. Leave to soften.

2. Quarter the tomatoes and put them in a blender with the crushed garlic and chopped apple (or place in a large bowl and use a hand-held blender).

3. Add the vinegar and blend till smooth.

4. Tip the soaked bread into a colander, press or squeeze out all excess water, add to the blender and blend once more.

5. With the motor still running, dribble in the oil in a steady stream — the salmorejo will thicken and turn from rosy pink to the color of an Andalusian sunset.

6. Season with salt to taste and blend again.

7. Chill the salmorejo for several hours.

8. For the garnish, bring a saucepan of water to a boil, drop in the eggs and boil (10 minutes for hen’s eggs, 3 minutes for quail’s eggs).

9. Drain eggs, refresh in cold water and peel.

10. Chop the hen’s eggs fairly finely; cut quails’ eggs in half. Cut the ham in fine strips.

11. Serve salmorejo in small bowls or glasses, and scatter strips of ham and chopped/halved eggs on top.

Iced Zucchini Soup With Crème Fraiche and Herbs

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 10 minutes

Total time: 15 minutes, plus several hours to chill the soup

Yield: Makes 6 cups (1.5 liters) or 4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

2 medium zucchini, about 1½ pounds (750 grams)

Salt

A generous handful of tender fresh herbs (try flat-leaf parsley, mint, chives and tarragon)

3 cups (750 milliliters) chicken stock, preferably home-made

A scant cup (200 milliliters) crème fraiche, plus a little more for the garnish

Instructions

1. Top and tail the zucchini, slice fairly thinly and steam or cook in boiling water with a pinch of salt for 6 to 8 minutes or until barely tender. Alternatively, put trimmed, sliced zucchini in a microwave-safe dish, add half a cup of water and a pinch of salt, cover with microwave-safe clingfilm and microwave on maximum power (900 watts) for 6 to 8 minutes.

2. Trim the herbs, reserve a few sprigs for garnish and chop the rest roughly.

3. Drain the zucchini, tip into a blender, add the roughly chopped herbs and blend till smooth.

4. Add the stock and crème fraiche and blend again. You may need to do this in two batches, or blend the soup in a large bowl using a hand-held (stalk) blender.

5. Check the seasoning, adding more salt if necessary.

6. Chill the soup thoroughly.

7. To serve, float a blob of crème fraiche on top and garnish with the reserved herb sprigs.

Iced Cucumber Soup With Avocado and Cilantro

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 0 minutes

Total time: 10 minutes, plus 30 minutes to salt the cucumber and several hours to chill the soup

Yield: Makes 4 cups (1 liter)

Ingredients

2 large cucumbers, about 2 pounds (1 kilogram) total

1 teaspoon salt

Optional: 1 fresh green chili (jalapeño or similar), or a pinch of cayenne or Espelette pepper

1 avocado

14 ounces (400 milliliters) coconut milk

5 ounces (150 milliliters) Greek yogurt

Plenty of chopped cilantro plus a few sprigs for the garnish

Juice of 1 lime

Instructions

1. Peel the cucumbers and cut in half lengthwise. Scoop out seeds with a teaspoon and chop flesh into small chunks. Place in a colander, sprinkle with salt and leave in the sink to drain for about 30 minutes.

2. Cut the chili in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds with a teaspoon. Cut the chili in very fine strips, then chop finely.

3. Cut the avocado in half, remove the pit and peel and chop the flesh roughly.

4. Rinse the cucumbers in cold water and shake dry.

5. Put the cucumbers, chopped chili (or cayenne/Espelette pepper), avocado, coconut milk, yogurt, cilantro and lime juice in a blender and blend till smooth. Be careful not to overdo this or the soup may curdle.

6. Check the seasoning and add more salt if needed.

7. Chill the soup well.

8. Float an ice cube on top and add sprigs of cilantro to serve.

Main photo: Iced Zucchini Soup With Crème Fraiche and Herbs. Credit: Sue Style

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Summer Love: 5 Reasons To Visit Italy’s Umbria Image

Little, landlocked Umbria is not the obvious choice for those looking to vacation in Italy. For many people, all roads lead to Rome. For others it’s the Amalfi Coast, or Tuscany, the Cinque Terre or even Puglia. But Umbria has many trump cards and plenty to recommend it, especially in summer. Here are five reasons to place the region high on your bucket list.

Because it’s not Tuscany, though it’s right next door

If you’re the kind to prefer the challenge of crab to the sweet simplicity of lobster, then you may be one to favor Umbria over its better-known neighbor. Umbria is Tuscany’s country cousin, gently rustic with a clutch of unshowy, medieval hilltop villages — think Montefalco, Spello and Bevagna — set in rolling green countryside and framed by swathes of silvery olive groves and holm oak forests. It has fewer busloads of tourists and more mindful travelers (like you and me).

To feast on summer truffles

Known locally as scorzoni – the name evokes their rough, almost warty peel (avere la scorza dura means “to be thick-skinned” — these fragrant tartufi are harvested by faithful truffle hounds between May and August. Summer truffles are not so crazily scented (nor as crazily priced) as their winter or white counterparts, but they still pack a seductive punch. Buy them fresh or put up in jars from any of the tiny Aladdin’s-cave delicatessens that are such a tempting feature of Umbria’s towns, packed with strings of sausages, red onions, peppers, hunks of local cheese, bags of pasta and other delights.

At La Vecchia Farmacia just through the Porta Vecchia leading into beautiful, earthquake-ravaged Nocera Umbra, la mamma does a mean antipastone (jumbo-sized antipasto) of local cured meats, melon, sharp sheep’s-milk cheese with crunchy honey and a succulent truffle omelet thrown in as a wild card, followed by strangozzi, robust ropes of typically Umbrian pasta showered with tartufi.

For the exciting wines from Umbria

Italy has a dizzying number of grape varieties, few of them household names and many barely known outside their immediate vicinity. Umbria has its fair share of these strictly local varieties, which are well worth seeking out.

Grechetto was used traditionally in white blends, but is increasingly made as a varietal. The resulting wine can be anything from pale straw colored to a deeper gold with citrus-like, peachy aromas and a good backbone because of its naturally high acidity.

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Summer truffles in a jar. Credit: Sue Style

With Trebbiano Spoletino, things get even more interesting. Not to be confused with boring old Trebbiano (aka Ugni Blanc) from anywhere else, the Spoletino variety gives honeyed, golden wines of distinctive character and a mind of their own. Traditionally in Umbria (and still today in some wineries), Spoletino vines were planted at the foot of mature trees, up which they clambered — they were known as vigne maritate, vines that are “married with” the trees.

The Umbrian red to look for is Sagrantino, distinguished and meaty with deep color, pronounced cherry and blackberry flavors and good tannins: a wine to have and to hold.

Taste a selection with a simple meal at Il Pinturicchio in Spello, whose owner, Mirko Trippa Buono, is a member of the Italian Sommeliers Association. Or for a lesson in what’s on the move in the Umbrian wine world, book a tasting at Arnaldo Caprai, a large (336 acre, 136 hectare) winery with a slick, state-of-the-art tasting parlor and wine shop outside Montefalco, where Marco Caprai has made it his business to explore and experiment with these age-old Umbrian varieties, especially Sagrantino, and bring them to their fullest expressive potential.

For a drop of Umbrian DOP olive oil

The region’s gorgeous, herbaceous extra virgin oil is pressed from Moraiolo, Frantoio and Leccino olives. The area between Assisi and Spoleto is regarded as one of the best sub-regions in the Umbria DOP (protected designation of origin), and you’ll find countless places dotted along the Strada dell’Olio (olive oil route) where you can taste and buy EVOO, ready for drizzling over your next batch of bruschetta.

Le Case Gialle above Bevagna and Marfuga in Campello di Clitunno are two of the top, prize-winning producers, both of them with an agriturismo (farmhouse bed and breakfast) attached. Also worth a visit is the Fondazione Lungarotti belonging to the eminent Lungarotti winemaking family in Torgiano, which includes both a Museum of Olives and Oil (MOO) and a Wine Museum (MUVIT).

For the spirituality

Most people flock to Assisi, but it can be quite a challenge to keep hold of the spiritual dimension there, surrounded as you inevitably are by the nervous chatter of umbrella-chasing tour groups. An early morning visit will spare you the worst of the crowds and give you a few quiet moments to enjoy the superb scenes from the life of St. Francis frescoed onto the walls of the Upper Church.

For an altogether different experience, seek out some of the smaller, out-of-the-way abbeys such as the 12th-century Abbazia di Sassovivo outside Foligno, famous for its Romanesque cloister of double columns decorated with marble and mosaic motifs, still a working monastery of the Piccoli Fratelli di Gesú and a haven of peace and tranquility. In the corner of the tiny garden stands a statue of the Virgin. Beside it a sign reads, in Italian, “This space set aside for private prayer,” and then — in English — “No picnic please!”

Main photo: Bruschetta with Umbrian olive oil. Credit: Sue Style

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3 New Ways To Prepare A Summer Fave: New Potatoes Image

New potatoes are the summer cook’s best friend. Firm and waxy with a wonderful sweet flavor and gossamer-thin skins, there’s no need to peel them — in fact it would be criminal to do so, for loads of flavor and much of the goodness lurks just under the skin.

All they need is a good scrub and — voilà — they’re good to go. Drop them into a pan of judiciously salted water, bring to a boil, cook till tender and serve with fresh butter and snipped mint leaves.

Plenty of ways to enjoy new potatoes

Boiling is not the only way to go with new potatoes. Because they keep their figure when cooked, they respond well to roasting or baking. For real drama and a winning dish that never fails to draw gasps from guests, try a “tatin” of new potatoes baked under a salty, herby crust. The whole thing is inverted for serving, like a tarte tatin, to reveal the spuds in all their golden glory. Or cut them almost in half, slide a bay leaf into the cut, drizzle with olive oil and roast till golden.

And remember that new potatoes come in many colors; any potato that is harvested early, be it white, gold, russet, red or purple, qualifies as new. A dish of purple potatoes mixed with brilliant green sugar snap peas and anointed with a little melted butter makes an arresting summer statement.

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New potatoes with bay leaves. Credit: Sue Style

“Tatin” of New Potatoes With an Herby Salt Crust

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 1 to 1¼ hours

Total time: About 1½ hours

Yield: Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients

18 to 24 medium-sized new potatoes

14 ounces (400 grams) flour

14 ounces (400 grams) kosher salt

1 tablespoon dried herbes de Provence or thyme

2 egg whites

A scant cup (about 200 milliliters) warm water

1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil

Directions

1. Heat the oven to 425 F (220 degrees C). Scrub the potatoes, but do not peel them.

2. Mix together the flour, salt and herbs in a large bowl.

3. Make a well in the center of the flour mix and add egg whites.

4. Add the water, gradually draw in the flour and salt from the sides and mix together till it forms a stiff dough.

5. Knead on a floured surface till smooth — if too sticky to your hands, add sprinkles of flour. If too dry, splash on a little more water and work it in.

6. Cut a piece of baking parchment to fit the bottom of a 12-inch (30-centimeter) cake pan.

7. Arrange the potatoes close together in the pan to form a flower shape and drizzle with olive oil.

8. Roll out the crust thickly on a floured board to the same diameter as the pan.

9. Lay it on top of the potatoes, tucking it inside the pan edge so there’s no overhang and the potatoes are snugly encased beneath the dough.

10. Bake the potatoes for 1 to 1¼ hours or until the crust is golden brown and hard and you can hear sizzling noises from the potatoes.

11. Leave the pan in the turned off oven till ready to serve.

12. Invert a large plate over the pan and carefully turn the tatin out onto the plate. The crust will form a base and the potatoes will be uppermost.

13. To serve, spear potatoes with a fork and lift them off the crust. Discard the crust, which is impossibly salty.

Roasted New Potatoes With Bay Leaves and Olive Oil

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 1 hour

Total time: 1 hour 10 minutes

Yield: Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients

24 medium-sized new potatoes

24 bay leaves

A drizzle of olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. Heat the oven to 400 F (200 degrees C). Scrub the potatoes well, but do not peel.

2. Make a deep, lengthwise cut in each potato without going right through and slide a bay leaf inside each one.

3. Brush a little olive oil in the bottom of a baking tin or ovenproof dish just large enough to take all the potatoes in one layer.

4. Arrange the potatoes tightly together in the dish with the bay leaves uppermost, season with salt and pepper and drizzle with more olive oil.

5. Bake the potatoes for about an hour or until golden and fragrant.

Purple Potatoes and Sugar Snap Peas With Herbs

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 20-25 minutes

Total time: 30 minutes

Yield: Serves 2 to 3

Ingredients

1 pound (450 grams) small purple potatoes

7 ounces (200 grams) sugar snap peas

1 teaspoon salt

1 ounce (25 grams) sweet butter

A handful of fresh herbs, roughly chopped (try mint, chives and flat-leaf parsley)

Directions

1. Scrub the potatoes well, but do not peel.

2. Trim the sugar snap peas.

3. Put the potatoes in a saucepan with water to cover and the salt.

4. Bring to a boil and boil for 15-20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender when pierced with the point of a sharp knife.

5. Add the sugar snap peas and boil for 2-3 minutes more or until barely tender and still beautifully green.

6. Drain the vegetables, melt the butter in the pan, return the vegetables to the pan and roll them around in the butter till sizzling.

7. Tip the vegetables into a dish and sprinkle with chopped herbs.

Main photo: A tatin of new potatoes. Credit: Kerrin Rousset

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2 Ways Elderflower Can Make This Your Lucky Day Image

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

In northern Europe, where it grows in abundance, countless traditions and superstitions are associated with it. Hidden in its dark green, dense foliage were benign spirits whose role was to keep the bad guys at bay; from its rustling leaves came words of advice whispered into the wind. According to legend, the elder was never struck by lightning, and some pagan traditions advised that the tree should not be cut for burning, for fear of bringing bad luck.

Sticks cut from elder branches were pressed into service in a variety of ways. Sicilians used them for spearing snakes or driving away robbers, Serbs, in their wedding ceremonies, used them to bring happiness to the bridal pair. In Slovakia, the hollow sticks were made into reedy flutes, while English country folk kept pieces in their pockets as talismans to protect against rheumatism; elder is still used in traditional Chinese medicine for the same purpose. In Alsace, France, more prosaically, the sticks were made into water pistols, whistles, pea-shooters or even rudimentary drinking straws.

Window of opportunity short for elderflower

It’s in early summer that the elder comes into its own. All of a sudden, and in a brief moment of glory, this otherwise unremarkable tree bursts into a shower of beautiful, white, lace-like flowers, which perfume the air with their heady scent. At this time of the year in Alsace, the Black Forest and Switzerland, chefs, housewives and hobby cooks can be spotted in the hedgerows, picking the blossoms and placing them in large baskets.

Some of the flowers will be put up into syrups (see recipe), cordials or flavored vinegars to be served in drinks or added to desserts. Others are dipped in a light batter, fried till crisp and fragrant and nibbled straight off the stalk.

Here are two delightful recipes that make the most of elderflowers, one for the syrup (or cordial, as it is also known) made by infusing the fresh flowers in a sugar syrup with lemon juice and another for a delicate elderflower semifreddo.

The syrup can be used in other ways too: Add a splash to fruit salads — it’s particularly lovely combined with lightly cooked rhubarb and strawberries — or use it to perfume a crème anglaise or panna cotta.

Best of all, for a delicate, less sweet version of the ubiquitous blackcurrant-based Kir, pour a little in the bottom of a large wine glass and top it up with sparkling wine (Sekt in the Black Forest, Crémant in Alsace), plenty of ice, a slice of lemon or lime and a sprig of mint — a perfect early summer aperitif.

Elderflower Syrup or Cordial

Yield: Makes about 4 cups (1 liter)

Ingredients

Elderflower. Credit: Sue Style

Elderflower. Credit: Sue Style

25 to 30 elderflower heads

4 cups (1 liter) water

2.2 pounds (1 kilogram) sugar

Grated zest and juice of 2 untreated lemons

Directions

1. Wash the elderflowers and spin them dry in a salad spinner.

2. Place the elderflowers in a large bowl.

3. 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.

4. Remove from the heat, stir in the lemon juice and pour the syrup over the elderflowers.

5. Let cool, then cover the bowl with cling film and refrigerate for 5 days.

6. Set a colander over a large bowl and strain the syrup. Discard the flowers. Strain the syrup again, this time through muslin or fine cloth to make sure there are no impurities.

7. Pour into bottles and keep in the fridge till needed. The syrup will keep for several months.

Elderflower Semifreddo

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients

3 egg yolks

1 egg

1 cup (250 milliliters) elderflower syrup

A splash (about 4 tablespoons) of dry white wine

2 cups (500 milliters) whipping cream

Fresh fruit and edible flowers to garnish

Directions

1. Place the egg yolks, whole egg, elderflower syrup and wine in a large metal bowl set over a pan of simmering water. The bottom of the bowl should not touch the water but sit above it.

2. Beat with a wire whisk or hand-held electric mixer until the mixture thickens and lightens in color and almost doubles in bulk, about 15 minutes.

3. Fill an even larger bowl, or the sink, with cold water and set the bowl with the egg mixture in it. Continue beating till the mixture feels barely warm to the touch.

4. In another bowl, beat the cream till stiff, add 3 to 4 tablespoons to the cooled egg mixture and fold it in using a wire whisk.

5. Tip all the egg mixture into the cream and fold the two together, lifting and folding with a wire whisk. There should be no white splotches of cream visible.

6. Pour the semifreddo into a loaf tin lined with cling film or tip into dariole molds or individual containers. Freeze for at least 4 hours or until firm.

7. Serve in slices (if molded in a loaf tin), or turn out individual molds. Garnish with fresh fruit and edible flowers.

Main photo: Elderflower semifreddo. Credit: Sue Style

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With A Hint Of Love Potion, Lovage Lifts Pesto And Soup Image

Lovage, a leafy green perennial herb related to celery, catches me by surprise every spring. During winter it goes doggo, leaving little clue to its whereabouts. Then, just as the days lengthen and the temperature creeps up, pale green shoots start to poke their noses above the soil, at about the same time asparagus is making its first moves.

In just a month, the plant puts on an impressive spurt of growth, and from these tiny, tentative shoots comes a profusion of feathery, celery-like leaves that stand thigh high. By midsummer, it makes a handsome sight, 3 feet tall and at least as wide.

Lovage has roots as a medicinal herb

Levisticum officinale, to give the plant its botanical name, is quite at home throughout the northern hemisphere. A firm fixture in medieval herb gardens, no part of it went to waste. The leaves were used as a flavoring for soups and broths and even as a love potion — its name, in English as in German (Liebstöckel), hints at its supposed aphrodisiac qualities. The stalks were cooked like celery, and the roots, according to Alan Davidson’s “Oxford Companion to Food,” were put up into a delectable sweetmeat.

Lovage is coming back into favor, though it’s still not the kind of herb you will stumble across in your neighborhood store or supermarket. A few enlightened farmers markets may hold it; some community-supported agriculture groups slip a handful of sprays into their springtime vegetable boxes. Otherwise the best source is the yard — your own or a neighbor’s. It is child’s play to grow — in fact, once it gets into its stride after its winter slumbers, you will be hard pressed to keep pace with its vigorous growth.

Its warm, pungent, distinctly celery-like flavor lends it to all kinds of uses, from soups to pasta to a particular kind of “pesto” (see recipes). For the Romans, indeed, its name was not Levisticum but Ligusticum, on the basis that it flourished on the Ligurian coast, home of the famous — for some, the only — pesto, based on the small-leaved Ligurian basil.

I’ve taken the liberty — risking the wrath of Italian purists — of making lovage into a pesto, adding a little cream cheese to tame the herb’s admittedly feisty flavor. Stir it into a dish of pasta or risotto, or serve it with chicken or duck breasts. And because lovage comes to life when fresh asparagus and new potatoes are reappearing in the markets, I’ve combined it with these two in a fragrant soup.

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Lovage pesto. Credit: Sue Style

Lovage Pesto

Makes about 1 cup

Ingredients

1 ounce (about 30 leaves) of lovage

2 ounces (50 grams) pine nuts or blanched peeled almonds

1 teaspoon green peppercorns in brine, drained and rinsed, or half a teaspoon coarsely ground freeze-dried green peppercorns

1 teaspoon salt

3 ounces (75 grams) cream cheese

A splash of lemon juice

6 tablespoons (100 milliliters) olive oil

Directions

1. Wash lovage leaves and spin dry in a salad spinner.

2. Put the leaves in a food processor with pine nuts or almonds, green peppercorns and salt and process till very finely chopped. Stop the motor and scrape down the sides if necessary.

3. Add cream cheese and lemon juice and process again to a smooth paste.

4. With the motor still running, pour the olive oil through the hole in the funnel till the “pesto” is emulsified to a brilliant green paste.

5. Scrape the pesto into a bowl for immediate consumption. Or, for a longer wait, pack the pesto into an airtight jar or container, cover with a film of olive oil to exclude the air and keep in the fridge for up to two weeks.

Lovage, Asparagus and New Potato Soup

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients

1 ounce (25 grams) butter

8 ounces (250 grams) green asparagus, trimmed and cut in short lengths

2 to 3 scallions, sliced, including some of the green tops

6 cups (1.5 liters) chicken or vegetable broth

3 or 4 new potatoes, diced small

1 ounce (about 30 leaves) lovage

Salt and pepper to taste

Crème fraîche or sour cream to serve

Directions

1. Melt the butter in a large pan and stew the diced asparagus and sliced scallions gently till just tender without allowing them to take color — about 10 minutes. (If you want to garnish the soup with some asparagus tips, fish these out and reserve.)

2. Pour on the broth and bring to a boil.

3. Add the diced new potatoes and lovage leaves, season with salt and pepper to taste and simmer for about 20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender — fish one out to taste it and give the soup a little longer if necessary.

4. Blend the soup till smooth (an immersion blender works well), check the seasoning and adjust if necessary.

5. Float a blob of crème fraîche or soured cream on top to serve and garnish with a lovage leaf and reserved asparagus tips.

Main photo: Lovage Pesto. Credit: Sue Style

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