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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
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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.
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
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
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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.
“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
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
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
24 medium-sized new potatoes
24 bay leaves
A drizzle of olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
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
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)
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
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.
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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)
25 to 30 elderflower heads
4 cups (1 liter) water
2.2 pounds (1 kilogram) sugar
Grated zest and juice of 2 untreated lemons
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.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
3 egg yolks
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
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
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.
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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.
Makes about 1 cup
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
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
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
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
Rhubarb excites mixed emotions. Ambrose Bierce, dyspeptic satirist and author of “The Devil’s Dictionary,” described it as “the vegetable essence of stomach ache.” John Thorne, the pen behind the cult culinary newsletter Simple Cooking, is clearly a fan, fantasizing about those two ideal mates, rhubarb and strawberries, “whose tastes and textures meld into a sort of subtle transcendental oneness.”
You may — like Bierce — despise this curious vegetable (into which botanical category it more accurately falls). Or perhaps you share Thorne’s fondness for it and are currently celebrating its reappearance in markets, shops and gardens after the seemingly endless winter. Either way, you can hardly miss it if you live in the Northern Hemisphere, for its moment is now.
Rhubarb’s color comes from light, or lack thereof
Broadly speaking, rhubarb falls into two categories. Firstly, there is the so-called “forced” kind, which appears in late winter and early spring. It is cultivated in warm sheds in total darkness and in some places is still traditionally picked by candlelight.
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Because the plant is never exposed to light, photosynthesis does not occur. The stalks take on a brilliant, lipstick-pink color while the (inedible) leaves are a rather anemic yellow. Rhubarb treated in this way is also the tenderest and most flavorsome. Some of the most celebrated is grown in the Rhubarb Triangle in west Yorkshire, England, which in 2010 received Protected Designation of Origin, or PDO, status under the name Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb.
The second type is field rhubarb, which appears from late spring through summer, depending on the local climate. Because this kind is grown outdoors in full daylight, the stalks are pale green in color and tinged with only a suspicion of pink, and the texture is noticeably coarser and the foliage deep green.
You can use either sort for this delicious, meringue-topped tart, which has its roots in Alsace, France, but it’s undeniably prettier if you use forced rhubarb. If using field rhubarb, you may need to peel away the outer, fibrous layer before chopping it in pieces.
To avoid the risk of a soggy bottom to your tart (ever-present with rhubarb because of its high water content), dredge the fruit with sugar and leave it in a bowl for several hours, or better still overnight. This way it will render much of its juice.
The baking then falls into three steps. First, bake the sugared fruit “dry” in its pastry case, then mix some of the juice with cornstarch, egg and cream, pour it over the fruit and bake again. Finally, daub it with the meringue and return the tart to the oven for its final baking. The ground nuts act as extra waterproofing between fruit and pastry, as well as adding an agreeably nutty crunch.
Rhubarb Tart with Meringue Topping
Serves 4 to 6
1¾ pounds (800 grams) rhubarb
10 ounces (300 grams) sugar, divided
8 ounces (250 grams) piecrust or puff pastry
2 to 3 tablespoons ground almonds or hazelnuts
2 teaspoons cornstarch
½ cup (150 milliliters) crème fraîche or light cream
3 egg whites, plus a pinch of salt
1. Trim the rhubarb, cut in 1-inch (2-centimeter) chunks and put them in a bowl.
2. Sprinkle with 5 ounces (150 grams) of the sugar, mix up well and leave to macerate for several hours or overnight until the rhubarb releases most of its juice. Stir occasionally to make sure the sugar is well distributed.
3. Tip the rhubarb into a colander set over a bowl. Reserve the juice.
4. Heat the oven to 400 F (200 C).
5. Roll out the pastry and settle it into a 12-inch (30-centimeter) quiche pan with a removable base. Prick the pastry with a fork and scatter a thin layer of ground nuts in the bottom.
6. Arrange the rhubarb on top of the nuts.
7. Bake for 20 minutes or until the pastry is beginning to color and the rhubarb is lightly cooked.
8. Measure out half a cup of the reserved juice and mix in the cornstarch, stirring till smooth. Add this to the egg and crème fraîche, whisking well together till smooth.
9. Remove the tart from oven and pour the mixture over the fruit.
10. Return the tart to the oven and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes or until the custard is lightly set.
11. Beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff, add the remaining 5 ounces (150 grams) of the sugar and continue beating till stiff and glossy and you could turn the bowl upside down without the whites falling out.
12. Remove the tart from oven and reduce the temperature to 325 F (170 C).
13. Spoon the meringue mixture over the top, fluff it up with a fork and return the tart to the oven for another 15 to 20 minutes or until the meringue is firm and very lightly colored.
14. Cool the tart on a rack. Serve at room temperature for maximum flavor.
Main photo: Forced rhubarb is bright pink in color. Credit: Sue Style
“There are better vegetables than kohlrabi,” Jane Grigson wrote in her classic “Vegetable Book.” “And worse,” she added as an afterthought.
Faint praise can be so damning, and kohlrabi suffers more than most from this kind of lukewarm billing. This is a shame, and I’ve never fully understood the reasons. Raw, this curious bulbous vegetable makes a toothsome, crunchy salad that’s fairly bursting with goodness; cooked — stir-fried or gently steamed and lavishly buttered — its natural sweetness comes to the fore. And because it’s fairly neutral in flavor, it also lends itself to a bit of Indian or Mexican saucery.
The name, which elides Kohl (cabbage) with Rübe (turnip), gives a clue to what to expect. It belongs to the brassica family — think cabbage, sprouts, broccoli and today’s recently (re)discovered superfood, kale. As for the turnip part of the name, this refers to its size and shape rather than its flavor, which leans more toward the fresh sweetness of peeled broccoli stalks than the ripe barnyard aroma of turnips.
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The fruiting body or edible part looks like a root but grows above rather than below ground. Slender stalks and leaves (also edible) sprout directly from its smooth outer skin, which can be either pale green or a rather fetching shade of purple.
According to the late Alan Davidson in his masterly “Oxford Companion to Food,” kohlrabi’s origins are shrouded in mystery, though the earliest records of its cultivation in Europe seem to place it in 14th-century France. It’s possible that medieval French cooks loved kohlrabi, but the love affair has long since faded: My (French) seed catalog describes it as an excellent vegetable that is “not yet well enough known or appreciated in France.” Jean Bardet, one of the first French chefs to take vegetable cookery seriously, observes wistfully in his book “A La Découverte des Saveurs du Potager“ that this great little bulb deserves to be far better known.
Kohlrabi’s true heartland is Germany and neighboring countries. Of late I’ve spotted it in all three countries here on my doorstep, whether in the superb farmers market in Freiburg, Germany, which gathers Saturday mornings around the city’s grand sandstone cathedral, or at my local farm shop in Switzerland, or in our friendly neighborhood supermarket here in Alsace, France. It’s less well-known in the United Kingdom and the United States, though it’s increasingly found in farmers markets, and it crops up regularly in community supported agriculture, or CSA, vegetable boxes.
Elsewhere, kohlrabi is a familiar sight piled high in markets throughout the Middle East — Yotam Ottolenghi, the Israel-born chef and best-selling food writer, describes Jerusalemites’ love affair with this vegetable, which they particularly value in fresh, crunchy salads. It’s also popular in India, where its gentle flavor and firm texture make it a fine candidate for a mixed vegetable curry (see recipe).
If you’re lucky enough to be able to buy kohlrabi, make sure the bulbs look fresh and sprightly, not tired and wrinkled. Look for ones that have greenery still attached (also edible; chop and cook it briefly in butter) as that’s a clue to their freshness. Above all, think small: The best kohlrabi are barely as big as a tennis ball.
Kohlrabi and Apple Salad With Lime Dressing
For the dressing:
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Juice of 1 or 2 limes
1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard
A pinch of sugar
6 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
For the salad:
2 well-flavored dessert apples
Plenty of cilantro to garnish
1. Start the dressing by mixing together salt, pepper, juice of 1 lime, mustard and sugar in a bowl or jam jar, stirring or shaking until the salt and sugar dissolve.
2. Add the oil and mayonnaise and whisk or shake well to emulsify. Taste to see if it needs more lime juice and add more if necessary.
3. Trim away the thick root ends from the kohlrabi, peel (as if for an apple) and cut in thin strips or grate coarsely. Place in a colander, sprinkle with salt and leave for about 30 minutes — the salt will tenderize the kohlrabi and draw out any bitterness. Rinse under cold water, pat dry and put kohlrabi in a bowl.
4. Quarter and core the apples but do not peel, then cut in thin slices and add to the kohlrabi. Pour on the dressing.
5. Mix well and refrigerate till serving time.
6. Shower with chopped cilantro before serving.
Kohlrabi and Broccoli Quiche With Smoked Ham or Salami
8 ounces (250 grams) broccoli
1 ounce (25 grams) butter
½ cup water
Salt and pepper
1 cup (250 milliliters) whipping cream
¾ cup (150 milliliters) milk
A ready-rolled round of puff pastry (8 ounces or 230 grams)
2 ounces (50 grams) smoked ham or salami, finely sliced
4 ounces (100 grams) semi-hard cheese, cut in cubes
1. Peel the kohlrabi, cut it in half, slice thickly and then cut the slices in half.
2. Peel the broccoli stems and cut in manageable pieces. Separate the florets.
3. Melt the butter in a frying pan, add the trimmed kohlrabi, broccoli and water and season to taste with salt and pepper.
4. Cook over lively heat, shaking the pan from time to time until the water has evaporated and the vegetables are just tender and lightly browned — about 10 minutes.
5. Set them aside to cool.
6. Heat the oven to 400 F (200 C).
7. Unroll the pastry and settle it snugly into a lightly buttered 10-inch (26cm) quiche pan.
8. Scatter the kohlrabi and broccoli over the pastry with the ham or salami.
9. Combine the whipping cream, milk and eggs and whisk until blended.
10. Pour on the eggy mixture and tuck the cheese cubes into the custard.
11. Bake in the lower part of the preheated oven for about 45 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the pastry cooked through.
Kohlrabi, Carrot, Zucchini and Broccoli Curry With Coconut Milk
For the vegetables:
About 8 ounces (225 grams) of broccoli romanesco
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
For the curry:
2 onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, mashed
A walnut-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 10-ounce (400 grams) can chopped tomatoes
½ to 1 teaspoon crushed dried chilies
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil (sunflower or peanut)
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, smashed in a mortar or roughly chopped
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 cups (500 milliliters) coconut milk
1 cup (250 milliliters) water or stock
Chopped cilantro or rucola to garnish
1. Peel the kohlrabi, cut in quarters and cut each quarter in half crosswise to give wedge-shaped pieces. Peel the carrots and cut in thick, slanting slices. Cut the (unpeeled) zucchini in similar-sized pieces. Separate the broccoli into small florets.
2. Put all vegetables in a shallow dish, sprinkle with salt and turmeric and mix the salt and spices in well. Cover with cling film and set aside.
3. For the curry, put the chopped onions, mashed garlic, grated ginger, chopped tomatoes and crushed chilies in a blender or food processor with 1 teaspoon salt and blend/process till smooth.
4. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and fry the crushed coriander and cumin seeds briefly until fragrant — be careful they don’t burn.
5. Tip in the blended onion, garlic, ginger, tomatoes and chilies and fry, stirring, until it creates a thick paste – about 10 minutes
6. Stir in the coconut milk and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes until reduced and well-flavored.
7. Tip in all the vegetables, adding a little stock or water if necessary to give the consistency of pouring cream, bring to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer for about 25 minutes. Taste the carrots (which take the longest to cook) to see if they are tender. Give the curry a few minutes more to cook if necessary.
8. Sprinkle with cilantro or rucola and serve over Basmati rice.
Top photo: Kohlrabi and other vegetables for a vegetable curry. Credit: Sue Style