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.

Articles by Author

Toad In The Hole Is Uniquely British Comfort Food Image

The British like to mock what they love best. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the irreverent names they give to favorite foods — think bubble and squeak (fried cabbage and potatoes), stargazy pie (a pie with sardines poking their heads out through the pastry), bangers and mash (sausages and mashed potatoes) or even (dare we mention) spotted dick (a steamed pudding made with dried fruit).

My personal favorite is toad in the hole. This epic dish of sausages baked in batter — the same as used for Yorkshire puddings — is a kind of distant cousin of pigs in a blanket. The crucial difference is that the sausages, instead of being tightly swathed in a blanket of pastry, are reclining in a delicious duvet of batter, which billows up agreeably around them. A good toad (as it’s familiarly known) is perfect comfort food for the depths of winter.

The original from my childhood had only sausages, which from memory were a sickly pallid pink, suspiciously straight, very smoothly textured and terminally bland. For a properly tasty toad, I prefer a seriously meaty pork sausage, quite coarsely ground. I like to add bacon chunks too. You could think of it as a way to get the full English breakfast, but for brunch or supper and served with chutney and salad.

Here are a couple of hints to help you arrive at the perfect toad in the hole. First off, make the batter a little ahead — an hour is enough to allow the starch molecules in the flour to relax and absorb the milk and water, which gives a lighter result. Secondly, give the bacon and sausages a bit of a fry-up first so they take on a little color. You can do this in a skillet or in a roasting pan in the oven — the same one in which you will bake the dish. Thirdly, use a metal roasting pan, never a ceramic or glass dish, which is the surest way to a soggy toad. Finally, heat is of the essence. The oven and the roasting pan should be preheated, so that when you pour in the batter it makes a satisfying sizzle and starts to set lightly in the bottom, providing a base for the sausages and bacon to be embraced by the billowing batter.

toad3

toad3
Picture 1 of 5

Sausage slices before being fried for toad in the hole. Credit: Sue Style

Toad in the Hole

Round out toad in the hole with salad and chutney for a complete brunch or supper meal. Credit: Sue Style

Round out toad in the hole with salad and chutney for a complete brunch or supper meal. Credit: Sue Style

Prep time: 15 minutes, plus 1 hour to rest the batter

Cook time: 45 minutes

Total time: 1 hour 45 minutes

Yield: Makes 8 servings

Ingredients

For the batter:

1/2 cup (125 milliliters) water

1/2 cup (125 milliliters) milk

4 ounces all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons melted butter or vegetable oil

4 eggs

A pinch of salt

For the sausages and bacon:

10 ounces (300 grams) cured or smoked slab bacon

4 coarse-cut pork sausages, about 12 ounces (350 grams)

Directions

1. Place all the batter ingredients in a blender and blend till smooth. Scrape down the sides and blend again. Refrigerate the batter for about one hour.

2. Cut rind off the slab bacon and excise any gristly bits. Slice the bacon thickly and cut each slice in squares.

3. Cut the sausages in 1-inch (2.5-centimeter) thick slices.

4. Put the bacon in a frying pan and fry gently till the fat runs and the bacon begins to take a little color, turning the slices once. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon and tip excess fat into a side dish.

5. Add the sausage slices to the pan and fry till lightly colored, turning them until evenly browned.

6. Pour about 1 tablespoon of reserved bacon fat into a roasting pan about 10 inches by 12 inches (25 centimeters by 30 centimeters).

7. Heat the oven to 425 F (220 C).

8. When the oven is good and hot, put the roasting pan inside to heat the bacon fat. Remove pan from the oven and roll the fat around to coat the bottom of the pan — adding a little more fat if necessary.

9. Pour in the batter, then add the fried bacon and sausages, distributing them evenly around the pan.

10. Return the pan to the oven and bake for about 30 minutes or until the batter is a beautifully burnished brown and nicely risen. Serve with chutney and salad.

Main image: Toad in the hole. Credit: Sue Style

Read More
In UK, Stilton Is The Star Of The Christmas Blues Image

In a rural enclave of central England, just off the historic coaching route between London and York formerly known as the Great North Road, there is a celebrated cluster of cheese dairies. Their fame rests on one magnificent product: Stilton, otherwise known as “the King of English cheeses,” which is an indispensable part of any self-respecting British Christmas.

This grand, cylindrical, semi-hard blue cheese has always enjoyed a royal reputation, which its producers have gone to great lengths to nurture. As Jenny Linford, author of “Great British Cheeses,” observes, Stilton is one of only a handful of British cheeses to have been protected and defined by law. In 1936, the producers banded together to form the Stilton Cheese Makers’ Association, or SCMA, for promotional purposes and to manage the brand and ensure quality production. In 1996 they secured Protected Designation of Origin status for their cheese, a label reserved for traditional products that are prepared, processed and produced within a specific region and thus have unique properties.

Stilton has a raw-milk counterpart in Stichelton

Six dairies in the counties of Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Derbyshire are responsible for rolling out more than 1 million Stiltons every year, with sales climaxing around Christmas. The SCMA, in its wisdom, has specified the use of pasteurized milk for its cheese. Raw-milk cheese fans can seek out Stilton’s alter ego Stichelton, which has taken the ancient name of the village of Stilton (where — perversely — it may no longer be made, because the village falls outside today’s permitted production area).

Even though all Stilton must now be made from pasteurized milk, there are significant and interesting variations from dairy to dairy. “Very few people realize how much Stilton cheeses can vary depending on the creamery which makes them,” Linford commented in a recent email. Her recommendation is to sample cheeses from different producers until you find one you like. Her personal preference is for Colston Bassett Stilton, made specially for Neal’s Yard Dairy; I have a soft spot for Cropwell Bishop Creamery.

You may be vaguely familiar (or even helplessly infatuated) with Stilton, but if you’re not, what can you expect from this festive cheese? Its nicely nubbly crust is an appealing, burnished gold color, dotted with small, regularly occurring holes — evidence the maturing cheese was pierced with needles to allow the characteristic internal blue veins to develop. Flavorwise, I like to place it in the center of the blue cheese spectrum, somewhere between the salty, crumbly Roquefort from southern France and the luscious Gorgonzola from northern Italy. Its pale ivory paste flecked with blue delivers a smooth, satisfying, mushroomy punch that speaks to me of middle England (and of Christmas).

Most often, Stilton is presented in smallish, ready-cut wedges, which is fine. But at least once in the life of any trembling cheese-lover, the chance to go for bust with a half-cylinder, typically weighing about 9 pounds (4 kilograms), will present itself. Seize it. Fold over a snow-white linen napkin, wrap it around the cheese like a corset and fix with a couple of pins.

 Stichelton with a scoop, photographed at Fromagerie Bernard Antony in France. Credit: Sue Style

Stichelton with a scoop, photographed at Fromagerie Bernard Antony in France. Credit: Sue Style

If you can lay hands on a Stilton scoop (see picture), go for it. With the help of this traditional tool, which resembles a tiny trowel, burrow gently into the cut surface of the cheese. In our Yorkshire household, the trick when scooping out a respectable helping of cheese (closely monitored by other family members) was to edge as close to crust as you dared without breaking the wall — a cardinal sin for which severe penalties were levied. For lack of a scoop, you can cut slender, horizontal slices (with crust) from the top of the cheese — but never wedges, which would be hugely greedy and punishable by Stilton deprivation for the rest of the year.

Besides the half cylinders, you can also buy whole, infant Stiltons, which weigh in at around 5 pounds (2 kilograms). But in rather the same way that a magnum of wine delivers even more than double the pleasure of a regular 750-milliliter bottle, baby Stiltons never quite match up to the full-sized cheese for sheer pizzazz and total, creamy perfection. Resist the temptation to buy Stilton in a pot — the pots are nice, but the cheese (overly salted and a bit dry) seldom is.

To go with the cheese, offer a selection of cheese biscuits (with coarse-milled oatcakes leading the pack), slices of rustic country bread or soda bread, or slivers of walnut and dried fruit loaf or even pumpernickel.

And finally, which wine goes best? Port is often invoked, but for my taste this feisty, fortified wine delivers a sledgehammer blow at the end of what is not, by any measure, a light repast (think roast turkey, stuffing, Brussels sprouts, roast potatoes, bread sauce, Christmas pudding AND whipped brandy butter). Some favor Sauternes, or Tokaji, “the wine of kings and the king of wines” to partner this “King of English cheeses.”

Living here in Alsace, where we faithfully observe the Christmas Stilton tradition, my preference goes to a local, late-harvested Riesling, Pinot Gris or Gewurztraminer (Domaine Weinbach, René Muré or Zind-Humbrecht all do wonderful Vendanges Tardives). For a real treat, we uncork a treasured Sélection de Grains Nobles, which is not only late harvested but also botrytised and combines depth and complexity with a tingling spine of acidity to counterbalance the wine’s natural sweetness.

Where to buy Stilton

A tower of Colston Bassett Stilton. Credit: Neal's Yard Dairy Like

A tower of Colston Bassett Stilton. Credit: Neal’s Yard Dairy
Like

In the UK

Try top top cheesemongers throughout Britain, including these London shops:

La Fromagerie, Moxon Street

Neal’s Yard Dairy at Borough Market and Covent Garden

Paxton & Whitfield, Jermyn Street

Harrods in Knightsbridge

Fortnum & Mason, Piccadilly

Whole Foods, Kensington High Street

Caviar House & Prunier at London Heathrow

In the U.S. (East Coast):

Formaggio Kitchen, Cambridge, Mass.

Murrays, Greenwich Village, New York City

Artisanal Premium Cheese, New York City

Where to buy Stichelton

In the U.K.: top cheesemongers in Britain, as above

In the U.S.: Formaggio Kitchen, Cambridge Mass.

In France: Fromager Bernard Antony, Vieux-Ferrette, Alsace

Main image: Stilton. Credit: Credit: Cropwell Bishop Creamery

Read More
5 DIY Edible Gifts To Impress Everyone On Your List Image

Christmas is for sharing, and some of the best gifts to share are the ones you’ve made yourself. The only snag about edible gifts is that once you’ve conceived and created them, put them up in clever containers and wrapped and labeled them with a holiday flourish, it can be a bit of a wrench to part with them. Steel yourself — or better still, make enough to keep some for yourself.

Winter chutneys go beautifully with a holiday ham, meat or game pie, or pâté en croûte. This super-simple date chutney (see recipe below) — a recipe from my mother, who used to make it every Christmas — is a double pleasure because it’s just a leisurely chopping and mixing job. There’s no cooking at all, so the apartment is not invaded with penetrating vinegary fumes. It benefits from keeping for a few weeks, so the flavors ripen nicely and will last for several months.

If you have herbs growing in your garden or terrace, the more robust perennial ones like rosemary, thyme and winter savory will still be good to go. Throw some in a food processor with sea salt and grind till fine for a wonderfully aromatic herby salt (see recipe below). The color when freshly ground is a delicate herbaceous green. This will fade after a few weeks, but the flavor lingers on. Add a note to the gift label with serving suggestions: It’s wonderful scattered over roast vegetables either before they go into the oven or as they come out (for even more flavor) or sprinkled onto focaccia or other bread before baking.

The softer, more delicate herbs work best in a moist mix like pesto. Instead of the usual basil-pine nut combo, try one with pumpkin seeds, loads of flat-leaf parsley and grated Parmesan or Grana Padano, whizzed together to a verdant paste. A bright green blob floated on top of deep orange pumpkin soup is a thing of beauty, or you can stir it into pasta or risotto or serve with cold turkey, duck breasts or grilled fish.

Around Christmas here in Alsace, France, on the border with Switzerland and Germany, baking reaches fever pitch at this time of year. Whether you visit friends at home, buy bread at the baker’s or attend the local hunt, you will be plied with Guetzli (Switzerland), bredele (Alsace) or Weihnachtsbrödle (southern Germany) at every turn. And here I have to own up to my sad little secret: I really, really don’t care for them and find that, at a time of major carb-overload, most are just not worth the calories (for me). However, I do make an honorable exception for Brunsli (see recipe below), moist, dark chocolate, almond-laden cookies laced with Kirsch brandy from Basel, Switzerland.

Finally, if life gives you lemons, make citrons confits, or salted lemons (see recipe below), which will bring a golden Mediterranean glow to your kitchen and make an especially welcome midwinter gift. In this recipe, from chef Thierry Voisin, former chef at Les Crayères in Reims, France, the lemons are first blanched, then packed into jars and covered with a sweet-salty syrup. They are a bit softer and less briny than the kinds packed in a jar with kosher salt, and they’re ready to use sooner than the salt-packed quarters. The finely diced peel (discard the pith) gives a bright, zesty lift to meat stews, tagines, couscous and all manner of vegetable dishes.

Fresh (Uncooked) Date Chutney

Fresh (Uncooked) Date Chutney. Credit: Sue Style

Fresh (Uncooked) Date Chutney. Credit: Sue Style

Prep time: 10 minutes (15, if you don’t use a food processor)

Total time: 10 to 15 minutes plus 2 to 3 weeks of maturing

Yield: Makes 4 1-pound (450-gram) jars

Ingredients

1 pound (450 grams) pitted dates

1 pound (450 grams) raisins or sultanas

1 pound (450 grams) apples

1 pound (450 grams) onions

1 pound (450 grams) brown or raw sugar

1 tablespoon salt

Plenty of freshly ground pepper

1/2 teaspoon cayenne

2 cups (1/2 liter) cider vinegar or wine vinegar

Directions

1. Put the pitted dates and raisins or sultanas in a food processor.

2. Quarter and core the apples (don’t peel) and chop them roughly.

3. Add the apples to the food processor along with the peeled and chopped onions.

4. Add brown or raw sugar, salt, pepper, cayenne and vinegar and process thoroughly till quite finely chopped and well mixed. (Alternatively, chop dates, raisins/sultanas, apples and onions finely together, then tip them into a bowl and stir in the sugar, salt, pepper, cayenne and vinegar.)

5. Spoon into clean, dry jars and label.

Note: The chutney is best when matured for a couple of weeks, and it will keep for several months.

Herby Salt

Prep time: 10 minutes

Total time: 10 minutes

Yield: 2 4-ounce (100-gram) jars

Ingredients

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, stripped off stalks

1 tablespoon winter savory leaves, stripped off stalks

10 sage leaves, torn

7 ounces (200 grams) sea salt (sel de Guérande or similar) or kosher salt

Directions

Put the thyme, savory and sage leaves in a food processor, add the salt and process till fine. It will turn a beautiful jade green color. This will fade after a week or two, but the flavor will remain hauntingly herby.

Pumpkin Seed and Parsley Pesto

Pumpkin Seed and Parsley Pesto. Credit: Sue Style

Pumpkin Seed and Parsley Pesto. Credit: Sue Style

Prep time: 10 minutes

Total time: 10 minutes

Yield: about 1 cup pesto

Ingredients

1 good bunch of flat-leaf parsley, leaves only (about 1 ounce, or 30 grams)

2 tablespoons hulled green pumpkin seeds

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan or Grana Padano

Pinch of salt

1 small clove garlic, mashed

6 tablespoons olive oil

Directions

1. Put parsley leaves, pumpkin seeds, cheese, salt and garlic in a blender.

2. Blend until well-chopped, stopping to scrape down every now and then — add a little water if necessary to make the blades turn.

3. Pour in the olive oil in a steady stream and continue blending till very smooth, scraping down if necessary.

4. Tip into a dish or jar and cover tightly.

5. The pesto will keep in the fridge, unopened, for up to a month. Once broached, cover with a thin layer of olive oil to exclude air.

Basler Brunsli

Basler Brunsli. Credit: Sue Style

Basler Brunsli. Credit: Sue Style

Prep time: 25 minutes (plus 1 hour to refrigerate the dough and 1 hour to allow the Brunsli to dry out before baking).

Cook time: 5 minutes

Total time: 2 hours 30 minutes

Yield: Makes 20 to 30, depending on size

Ingredients

4 ounces (100 grams) dark chocolate, (Lindt Excellence, for example)

5 ounces (150 grams) sugar, plus extra for rolling out dough

8 ounces (250 grams) ground almonds

2 tablespoons flour

2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 egg whites

Pinch of salt

2 tablespoons Kirsch

Directions

1. Melt the chocolate in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water (or microwave for 1 to 2 minutes). Stir till smooth, then set aside till cooled but still melted.

2. Mix together in a large bowl the sugar, ground almonds, flour, cocoa powder and cinnamon.

3. Beat the egg whites in a bowl with a pinch of salt till snowy but still creamy — don’t overbeat or they will be hard to incorporate smoothly.

4. Fold the egg whites into the dry ingredients.

5. Stir in the cooled, melted chocolate and Kirsch and press the mixture together to form a firm dough. (It’s a good idea to use latex gloves because the dough is very sticky.)

6. Refrigerate the dough for 1 hour.

7. Sprinkle a working surface with sugar (do not use flour) and roll or pat out the dough to about half an inch (1 centimeter) thick.

8. Cut into shapes with cookie cutters (hearts, Christmas trees, half-moons etc.) and lay them on a baking sheet lined with non-stick baking parchment. Recycle any trimmings and cut out more shapes.

9. Leave the unbaked Brunsli at room temperature for 1 hour to dry out a little, otherwise they fall apart when baked.

10. Heat the oven to 475 degrees F (240 degrees C) and bake Brunsli for 5 minutes — they will turn a shade paler and start to dry out a bit around the edges, but should remain moist in the middle.

11. Remove Brunsli from the oven and let cool on a rack.

12. Once cool, pack in cellophane bags and tie with pretty ribbons, or store in an airtight tin.

Salt-Preserved Lemons

Salt-preserved Lemons. Credit: Sue Style

Salt-preserved Lemons. Credit: Sue Style

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 15 minutes

Total time: 20 minutes, plus 2 to 3 weeks’ maturing

Yield: Makes 4 preserved lemons.

Ingredients

4 lemons, untreated

4 ounces (100 grams) salt

5 ounces (150 grams) sugar

2 cups (1/2 liter) water

3 to 4 sprigs of fresh thyme

Directions

1. Put the lemons in a saucepan, cover with cold water and bring the water to a boil.

2. When the water boils, tip it away; repeat the process twice more.

3. Press the drained lemons firmly into a Mason or Kilner glass jar.

4. In the same pan, dissolve the salt and sugar in 2 cups of water and pour it (hot) over the lemons.

5. Push the thyme down into the liquid.

6. Snap the lid shut while the lemons are still hot.

7. Cool, refrigerate for 2 to 4 weeks before using (or bestowing on favored friends). The lemons will keep for several months.

Main image: An herbed salt. Credit: Sue Style

Read More
Falling In Love With Chiles En Nogada Image

Chiles en nogada would be my desert-island dish. Or the one I’d ask the executioner to lay out for my last meal. What is it? Quite simply one of the triumphs of Mexican cuisine, consisting of dark green, roasted and peeled poblano chilies filled with a spicy, crunchy, salty-sweet mix of meat, fruit and nuts, bathed in a cool creamy sauce of shelled, peeled walnuts and scattered with a final flourish of pink pomegranate seeds.  It’s a dish reserved for autumn — in Mexico, it’s traditionally served on Independence Day, which falls in mid-September.

Why reserved for fall? Because you need walnuts that have recently been catapulted from their green casings and plopped fresh to the ground — one of the most evocative sounds of the season. Only with fresh walnuts (also known as “green walnuts”) can you peel away the papery skin encasing the nut, which, if left intact, would spoil both the look and taste of the sauce.

Hard work worth the result

It’s a supremely tedious chore that only a madwoman would embark on alone (or maybe at all, unless she was uncompromisingly crazy about chiles en nogada and full of nostalgic memories of eating this iconic dish). It’s a good idea to enlist the help of anyone who happens to be passing by — it’s tedious, yes, but companionable. (I taught the dish once in a workshop, when the students’ many hands made light work of the peeling.)

The end result is a supremely serendipitous combination of  flavors, a symphony in red, white and green (which, not by chance, are the colors of the Mexican flag, the dish having been created for Independence Day) and an appealing balance of warm and cold.

Some cooks dip the stuffed chilies in batter and then fry them before coating with the walnut sauce. I think this is gilding the lily and prefer to simply coat the warm poblanos with the cool sauce.

Walnuts. Credit: Sue Style

Walnuts. Credit: Sue Style

Chiles en Nogada

Prep time: 1 hour (or less, if you can find plenty of helpers to peel the walnuts)

Cook time: About 20 minutes

Total time: About 1½ hours

Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients

For the chiles:

8 canned chiles poblanos (from 2 large cans, 15 ounces [430 grams] drained weight, or 8 fresh poblanos, roasted and peeled)

1 tablespoon oil

2 pounds (1 kilogram) mixed ground pork and beef

Salt to taste

2 onions, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

2 fresh green chilies (jalapeños or similar), de-seeded and finely chopped

One 10-ounce (400 grams) can peeled tomatoes

3 cloves

½ teaspoon cumin seeds

½-inch (1-centimeter) piece of cinnamon stick

½ teaspoon black peppercorns

3 tablespoons raisins or sultanas

3 tablespoons blanched almonds, roughly chopped

1 pear, peeled, cored and chopped

1 apple, cored and chopped

For the sauce:

24 fresh walnuts

1 thick slice white bread, crusts removed, cut in cubes

6 ounces (175 grams) crème fraiche

5 ounces (125 grams) cream cheese

A little milk

For garnish:

Pomegranate seeds

Flat-leaf parsley

Instructions

1. Rub or rinse off any stray bits of skin from the chilies and remove any seeds.

2. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and fry the minced meat with a pinch of salt, tossing and turning till it loses its raw color and starts to brown.

3. Scrape it into a dish and in the same pan (adding a little more oil if needed) fry the onion, garlic and fresh chilies without allowing them to brown. Add the chopped tomatoes and a little salt.

4. Bang the spices about a bit in a mortar and pestle or under the blade of a large knife till roughly crushed and add them to the pan with the raisins or sultanas, chopped almonds, pear and apple.

5. Return the meat to the pan, season with salt to taste and simmer for about 10 minutes to combine all the flavors and to reduce somewhat.

6. Fill the poblanos with the meat mixture and lay them in an ovenproof dish with the opening downwards, so the filling doesn’t spill out. Refrigerate if not serving immediately.

7. For the sauce, shell the walnuts and put them in a bowl, then cover with boiling water. Fish them out one by one and remove the light brown papery membrane as best you can, using the point of a sharp knife to help you.

8. Put the nuts in a food processor with the bread and blend or process to a breadcrumb-like texture. Add the crème fraiche and cream cheese and blend till completely smooth — don’t overdo it or it may curdle. Add enough milk to give a coating consistency and season with salt.

9. About 30 minutes before serving, heat the oven to 350 F (180 C) and bake the chilies for about 20 minutes or until nicely warmed through.

10. To serve, spoon cold sauce over the warm chilies, scatter with pomegranate seeds and garnish with parsley.

Main photo: Chiles en nogada. Credit: Sue Style

Read More
Gelato For Breakfast? It’s The Sicilian Way Image

For sheer decadent deliciousness, gelato with brioche is hard to beat. Where on God’s earth did such a gorgeous idea ever take root? In Italy’s Sicily, that’s where. And it’s not even some kind of exotic dessert, reserved for high days and holidays. Sicilians eat gelato con brioche for breakfast.

Long before we left home for our late September break on the island, excitement at the prospect of trading up from yogurt, fresh fruit, cereal and toast to lashings of ice cream sandwiched inside a sweet, buttery bun began building up. In idle moments while planning the trip, we pondered which flavors we might go for: darkest chocolate, Nutella, coffee or pistachio? Or maybe mango, peach, strawberry or blueberry? And could Sicilians routinely break their fast on ice cream and brioche, or had we been fed an urban myth?

That first morning in Sicily, we piled into the car and drove to the city of Ragusa Ibla to find out. Threading our way through the cool, shaded streets on the way to the center, we happened upon chef Ciccio Sultano drawing on an early-morning cigarette outside his world-famous restaurant, Il Duomo. Could he point us to the best place to get gelato? Ma certo (of course). It all depended whether we wanted a cafe, where we could have the full works seated at a table, or a gelateria, where it would be breakfast on the hoof.

We chose the cafe option and settled down at pavement tables on the square below the Duomo, etched in dazzling white like a gorgeous Baroque birthday cake iced in white against an azure sky. At any moment, we expected police cars to screech to a halt and for Inspector Montalbano, Andrea Camilleri’s famous Sicilian serial cop (the TV series was filmed here), to leap out with his uniformed team in hot pursuit of some hapless criminal.

We placed our orders and leaned back expectantly. After a gentle pause, breakfast arrived. Cappuccinos with smileys traced in frothy milk, freshly squeezed orange juice, a couple of cannoli front-loaded with ricotta and candied fruits, and the long-awaited pièces de résistance: cushions of warm, softly yielding brioche cradling sinfully smooth, ice-cold gelato. We wrapped our hands around them, took a bite, moaned in pleasure, munched again. Heaven.

Pick a bold flavor for gelato con brioche

I could hardly wait to get home to try reconstructing the experience. Two things to keep in mind for gelato con brioche. First, choose ice creams that are assertively flavored and richly colored — vanilla just doesn’t do it. I’ve given two recipes, one for palest peach, the other for deep purplish black currant, but you could just as well buy gelato (but one that believes in itself).

For the peach version, it helps to have an ice cream maker because it freezes rock hard; for lack of such a kitchen toy, make the gelato mixture, freeze it till semihard, then either tip it into a food processor and whisk it up till smooth or beat it like crazy with a hand-held mixer. Then return it to the freezer.

The black currant one can be made without an ice cream maker as the egg yolk-sugar syrup combination gives a softer, smoother ice that doesn’t need churning or beating as it freezes.

Then the brioches. These should not be the French-type Julia Child variety with a little topknot perched on top, which would be hard to cleave in two and even harder to fill with your gelato. You need a flattish, sweetish, buttery, eggy, burnished bun (think along the lines of a burger bun, but nicer) that can easily be opened up, stuffed with ice cream — ideally with both your chosen flavors — reassembled and eaten on the hand. For breakfast.

Peach Gelato With Brioche

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: None

Total time: About 20 minutes, plus several hours to freeze

Yield: Makes 6 servings

Ingredients

Peach gelato ready for the freezer. Credit: Sue Style

Peach gelato ready for the freezer. Credit: Sue Style

1 pound (500 grams) ripe peaches (yellow or white fleshed)

5 ounces (150 grams) sugar

Juice of 1 lemon

8 ounces (250 grams) Mascarpone

5 ounces (150 grams) Greek yogurt

6 brioches, about 2½ inches (6 centimeters) in diameter

Directions

1. Put the peaches in a bowl and cover with boiling water.

2. Count to 10, then pour away the water and peel the peaches. Remove the pits and chop the flesh roughly.

3. Put the chopped peaches in a food processor with the sugar and lemon juice and process till smooth.

4. Add the Mascarpone and Greek yogurt and process again.

5. Freeze in a metal container for 2 hours or until the ice cream begins to harden around the edges. Beat with a hand-held electric mixer or hand-held blender to smooth it out and prevent ice crystals from forming. Return to the freezer to harden and beat/blend again after another couple of hours.

6. Remove from freezer to fridge at least an hour before serving so it softens up.

7. Split 6 brioches in half, not quite through, fill with gelato, close up as best you can and serve at once.

Black Currant Gelato With Brioche

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes

Total time: About 40 minutes, plus several hours to freeze the gelato

Yield: Makes 6 servings

Ingredients

Blackcurrant gelato ready for the freezer. Credit: Sue Style

Black currant gelato ready for the freezer. Credit: Sue Style

1 pound (500 grams) black currants

8 ounces (250 grams) sugar

3 egg yolks

1¼ cups (300 milliliters) whipping cream

6 brioches, about 2½ inches (6 centimeters) in diameter

Directions

1. For the purée, wash the fruit and put it in a pan with 4 ounces (125 grams) sugar and 3 tablespoons of water.

2. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 5 minutes, just enough so the juice runs. Don’t overdo this step; you don’t want jam, but fresh-flavored ice cream.

3. Push the fruit through a sieve, pressing hard to eliminate pips, and let the purée cool.

4. Put the remaining sugar in a small pan with half a cup of water and heat gently till the sugar is dissolved and the syrup is clear, not cloudy.

5. Raise the heat, bringing the syrup to a rolling boil, and continue boiling for about 5 minutes to the “thread stage”: dip a fork into the syrup and allow it to cool briefly (so you don’t burn yourself), then pinch a drop or two between finger and thumb repeatedly. As you separate finger and thumb, the syrup should form a slender thread.

6. Remove syrup from the heat and allow the bubbles to subside.

7. Using a hand-held electric mixer, start beating the egg yolks in a bowl then pour in the hot syrup in a steady stream. Continue beating till the mixture is pale, thick and doubled in bulk (about 10 minutes).

8. In a separate bowl, beat the cream till stiff.

9. Fold together the purée, egg mixture and cream, lifting and folding with a wire whisk to make sure they are well mixed.

10. Pour the ice cream into a suitable receptacle (a recycled ice cream container or metal bowl, for example) and freeze.

11. Remove ice cream from freezer about 10 minutes before serving.

12. Split 6 brioches in half, not quite through, fill with gelato, close up as best you can and serve at once.

Main photo: Peach and black currant gelato stuffed in brioche for a traditional Sicilian breakfast. Credit: Sue Style

Read More
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.

mallorca2

mallorca2
Picture 1 of 5

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

Read More