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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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

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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

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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.

spuds

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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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