Articles in History

A tasting of Blandy's Madeira wines. Note the difference in colors, depending on the grape variety used and the age of the wine. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

“Where are the vineyards?” I wondered aloud on a recent visit to Madeira, the small volcanic island belonging to Portugal, perched out in the Atlantic, about 400 miles off the coast of Morocco.

Wine has been the principal product of the island for more than 400 years. Its fame is such that you might reasonably expect on arrival to be greeted with wave upon wave of vitis vinifera, rather as you do when traveling through France’s Champagne region. On the contrary, what you mostly see planted on poios, centuries-old terraces stacked steeply up from the island’s coastal fringe, are verdant banana palms, their floppy green leaves rattled by the frequent winds that gust in off the Atlantic.

Hidden vineyards

Terraces planted with banana palms -- and a few vines -- above Camara de Lobos, Madeira. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

Terraces planted with banana palms — and a few vines — above Camara de Lobos, Madeira. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

I did eventually spot some vines. The holdings are tiny and widely scattered, hanging on for dear life and threatened both by the bananas and the newly built houses and apartments that increasingly encroach on the available space. Trained in the traditional manner over wooden pergolas, the vines often have a crop of potatoes, cabbages, zucchini and beans planted at their feet to make full use of the scarce — and exceedingly fertile — ground.

Despite the near invisibility of its vineyards, Madeira’s wine remains one of the world’s leading fortified wines. Once highly fashionable and sought after, it was reputed to be George Washington’s favored tipple and was served at his presidential inauguration. The term “fortified” means the wine is bolstered by adding grape spirit, which raises its alcohol content (typically to 19% in the case of Madeira, as opposed to the usual 12% to 14% range for table wines), as well as giving it a longer life. Port, that other celebrated Portuguese fortified wine, gets a shot of grape spirit too, but there the similarity ends, because the grape varieties involved and — above all — the process employed in making Madeira differ in significant ways from those used in Port production.

A happy accident

Bottles of 1966 Madeira wine in Blandy's cellars. The grape variety (Bual), date of vintage and winemaker are stenciled in traditional style directly onto the bottles. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

Bottles of 1966 Madeira wine in Blandy’s cellars. The grape variety (Bual), date of vintage and winemaker are stenciled in traditional style directly onto the bottles. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

The wine starts out life in the usual way, with the grapes picked in late summer, then crushed and fermented, and grape spirit added to arrest fermentation — so far, so familiar. From here, things start to get interesting. During its long journey to maturity, Madeira is exposed to the unlikely twin enemies of heat and air, to emerge not only unspoiled but with extraordinary added layers of flavor and complexity. As Richard Mayson puts it in his recently published book “Madeira: the Islands and Their Wines,” “Heat and air, both the sworn enemies of most wines and winemakers, conspire to turn madeira into one of the most enthralling of the world’s wines, as well as one of its most resilient.”

The discovery that wine could be heated and come to no harm — and even improved by it — was a happy accident. The island has always been strategically important for trans-Atlantic shipping, and over the centuries, countless vessels have paused here to restock with provisions before the long sea journey from Europe across the Atlantic to the Americas and beyond. Provisions always included casks of wine, which by the nature of things were exposed on board to great heat. When the ships berthed and the wine was found to be perfectly good — even better than when it departed — the shippers set about reproducing the same conditions in their cellars back home, placing the huge, wooden wine casks on the upper floors of their wineries to bask in the summer heat.

Worth the expense

Casks of Madeira wine maturing in the cellars of Blandy's, a leading Madeira producer. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

Casks of Madeira wine maturing in the cellars of Blandy’s, a leading Madeira producer. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

Nowadays, a faster (and cheaper) way to reproduce this step is to heat the wine artificially in large containers called estufas, but the finest Madeiras are still aged in wooden casks, heated only by the island’s year-round sunshine. This process, called the canteiro method, is lengthier and more gentle and gives the wines their characteristic, slightly caramelized, faintly smoky aromas with exotic hints of honey and dried fruits.

A premium bottle of Madeira is always expensive, because of the time and skill needed to nurse it to perfection. One consolation — and a considerable selling point — is that once the wines have survived the rigors of heating and oxidation, they are good to go for up to 100 years. Blandy’s, one of the top Madeira producers based in the capital, Funchal, still has a barrel of 1920 wine stored in its cellar, awaiting its moment.

Once bottled, Madeira can be opened and sampled, the cork replaced and the bottle stored upright in a dark place for weeks or months without the contents coming to any harm. “If ever there was a wine to take away with you to a desert island,” comments Mayson, “this is it.”

Today, the chief market for Madeira is France, followed by the island of Madeira itself. Portugal, surprisingly, consumes little Madeira, but the UK remains a big fan, with Japan, Germany and the U.S. not far behind. Check www.winesearcher.com for your nearest supplier.

Top Madeira producers (commonly known as “shippers”) include Blandy’s, Henriques & Henriques, Barbeito and H.M. Borges.

Main photo: A tasting of Blandy’s Madeira wines. Note the difference in colors, depending on the grape variety used and the age of the wine. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

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The iconic Katz’s Delicatessen is known for its sandwiches -- and a starring role in a movie. Credit: Copyright 2013 Thomas Hawk

Boasting 567 entries, “Savoring Gotham: A Food Lover’s Companion to New York City” serves up a feast of foodie knowledge for the Gotham native and novice alike.

savoring

"Savoring Gotham: A Food Lover's Companion to New York City"

Edited by Andrew F. Smith

Oxford University Press, 2015,

760 pp

»  Click here to buy the book

Edited by Andrew F. Smith and featuring the writing of more than 150 contributors, the tome includes entries on notable foods and beverages, restaurants and bars, historical sites and events, cuisines, personalities and brands from throughout the city’s five boroughs.

“Mention New York City food, and most people think of the white-hot restaurants of the moment, with their media-savvy celebrity chefs, glittering patrons and sky-high prices. Upscale restaurants have long been an exciting part of the city’s foodscape, but they are at one far end of the broad, colorful spectrum of New York eateries,” Smith says in an introduction. “Inhabiting the starry heights are temples of haute cuisine, such as Per Se and Le Bernardin; at the low end are hot dog carts and old-school Mexican taco trucks. In between, over the past 300 years, have been all kinds of eating places: cafeterias, diners, luncheonettes, drugstore counters, fast-food chains, delis, cafes, coffee shops, juice bars, doughnut shops, ice cream parlors, cocktail lounges, dive bars, and corner sweet shops, not to mention theater snack bars, supermarket delis, farmers markets, social club dining rooms, kiosks and vending machines. Today, New Yorkers have more 50,000 eating places to choose from.”

Combining food history with current culinary trends, the text richly explores New York City’s diverse food cultures, as well as its contributions to global gastronomy. A hefty volume that even dons a New York bagel on its spine, it makes for a smartly dressed member of any foodie library sure to be referenced again and again. (Full disclosure: I am one of the book’s contributors.)

Here’s just a taste of “Savoring Gotham”:

Baked Alaska

Although named for the 49th state, baked Alaska had its roots in New York City. Credit: Copyright 2012 VXLA Photo

Although named for the 49th state, baked Alaska had its roots in New York City. Credit: Copyright 2012 VXLA Photo

A delightful amalgamation of dessert foods, baked Alaska is a sponge cake topped with ice cream and covered with delicate peaks of meringue, browned in the oven. Although named for what would become the United States’ 49th state, baked Alaska found its name in New York City. The igloo-shaped dessert was first christened in the late 19th century by Charles Ranhofer, French chef de cuisine of Delmonico’s, one of New York’s most prestigious restaurants from 1837 to 1923. Baked Alaska’s naming was purportedly to honor and commemorate the United States’ purchase of Alaska in 1867.

Eggs Benedict

Eggs benedict may have originated at Delmonico's or The Waldorf in the 1890s. Credit: Copyright 2010 Ariel Dovas

Eggs Benedict may have originated at Delmonico’s or The Waldorf in the 1890s. Credit: Copyright 2010 Ariel Dovas

Whether topped with ham, bacon, salmon or spinach, all signs point to New York City as the origin of brunch favorite eggs benny. While it is unknown for which wealthy Benedict the dish was named, the velvety and savory dish probably originated at Delmonico’s or The Waldorf in the 1890s, though New York’s Hoffman Hotel and Union Club both lay claim to it as well.

Ellis Island Food

The first meal for many immigrants may have been a box lunch at Ellis Island. Credit: Copyright 2005 Wally Gobetz

The first meal for many immigrants may have been a box lunch at Ellis Island. Credit: Copyright 2005 Wally Gobetz

What did the millions of immigrants who entered the United States at Ellis Island between 1892 and 1924 eat for their first meal on American soil? Most likely they purchased a boxed lunch for 50 cents or a dollar, depending upon the size. Some boxed meals included roast beef, ham, cheese or bologna sandwiches, while others featured foods like a loaf of bread, sardines, sausages, apples, bananas, pies and cakes.

Fraunces Tavern

Fraunces Tavern is still a restaurant, as well as a museum, in the financial district. Credit: Copyright 2011 Dan Nguyen

Fraunces Tavern is still a restaurant, as well as a museum, in the financial district. Credit: Copyright 2011 Dan Nguyen

By the mid-18th century, taverns increasingly served as centers of community life. In fact, General George Washington dismissed his troops at the end of the Revolutionary War at Fraunces Tavern. Built in 1719, the tavern is now a museum and restaurant in the financial district open for Gothamites and tourists alike to visit.

Hellmann’s Mayonnaise

Richard Hellman began his food career between 83rd and 84th Streets in Manhattan. Credit: Copyright 2005 Thomas Edwards

Richard Hellman began his food career between 83rd and 84th Streets in Manhattan. Credit: Copyright 2005 Thomas Edwards

The creamy roots of America’s best-selling mayonnaise are also in Gotham. While Richard Hellman began his food career with his wife running a delicatessen between 83rd and 84th Streets in Manhattan, he also developed the first shelf-stable mayonnaise. He began selling it in 1912 in glass bottles affixed with a label featuring three blue ribbons to indicate its “first prize” quality, which can still be found on supermarket shelves today.

­Jane Nickerson

The New York Times' first food editor was Jane Nickerson, from 1942 to 1957. Credit: Copyright 2009 Scott Beale/Laughing Squid

The New York Times’ first food editor was Jane Nickerson, from 1942 to 1957. Credit: Copyright 2009 Scott Beale/Laughing Squid

Often overshadowed by her successor, Craig Claiborne, Jane Nickerson was The New York Times’ first food editor from 1942 to 1957. Her daily column was titled, “News of Food.” Writing with a strong sense of ethics and news, her reviews paved the way for the Times’ expanding food coverage.

Manhattan Clam Chowder

Manhattan clam chowder is known for being made with tomato broth, rather than milk. Credit: Copyright 2011 Julia Frost

Manhattan clam chowder is known for being made with tomato broth, rather than milk. Credit: Copyright 2011 Julia Frost

Although its name might suggest otherwise, Manhattan clam chowder actually has no real connection to New York City. An important dish in early American cuisine, chowders made effective (and delicious) use of New England’s plentiful seafood resources. Manhattan clam chowder’s defining (and highly contentious) characteristic is its substitution of tomato broth for milk.

Katz’s Delicatessen

The lines are always long at the popular Katz's Delicatessen. Credit: Copyright 2010 Scott Beale/Laughing Squid

The lines are often long at the popular Katz’s Delicatessen. Credit: Copyright 2010 Scott Beale/Laughing Squid

Well-known as the location of Meg Ryan’s famous faux orgasm in “When Harry Met Sally” (1989), Katz’s was founded a century earlier in 1888. Serving sandwiches topped high with cured meats, Katz has been turning swift and savory business ever since. Figures from the 1950s claimed the deli served more than 10,000 sandwiches a day. Today, Katz’s is even open all night long on weekends for those looking to order “what she’s having.”

Main photo: The iconic Katz’s Delicatessen is known for its sandwiches — and a starring role in a movie. Credit: Copyright 2013 Thomas Hawk


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In Provence, Christmastime comes to an official close on Feb. 2. This is not just maddening French bureaucracy but a recognition that Candlemas Day denotes the feast of the purification of the virgin and the beautiful Provençal Nativity scenes made from clay figurines called santons are to be put away for another year.

It will mark the end of several weeks of festivities starting Dec. 4, the feast day of St. Barbara, when everyone plants a few seeds of wheat or lentils on a bed of damp moss. Gradually, these seeds turn into tufts of green, which will be used to decorate the festive tables over the coming weeks — although the celebrations may be a bit muted if the seeds have failed to sprout. This is not a good sign, but perhaps an excuse for an extra glass of elegant Chateau Simone white or rosé or a licorice-based Ricard from Marseille.

Christmas traditions have diminished in the south of France much as they have elsewhere as time moves on. This is not an indication of any less enjoyment, but an evolution to suit more modern mores. The famous gros souper (grand supper) used to be eaten before Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, followed by the réveillon, the “awakening” supper, on return. For many families, however, this has merged into the meal taken on Christmas Day around a table decorated with holly and roses of Jericho, white cloths and candles.

The gros souper was traditionally a meatless yet hearty meal, hence its alternate name of souper maigre (lean supper); it remains essentially simple, fresh and abundant. As Gilles Conchy, owner of Provence Gourmet cookery school, explained at his country house near Aix-en-Provence, there is no single set menu and meals are adapted to regional produce and local availability.

In inland Provence particularly, vegetables play a major role: spinach with garlic and parsley, chard and cardoon, raw celery with anchoiade, olive tapenade, the small but sweet vibrant orange-bronze potimarrons (pumpkins) of the South mashed with black truffle. As elsewhere in France, festive meals frequently begin with oysters and foie gras — in Conchy’s case, violet artichokes with pine nuts, tomatoes and fresh goose foie gras — but thereafter it may include a light garlic and herb broth, Sisteron lamb with herb butter, a chestnut-stuffed turkey or goose, capon, guinea fowl, salt cod with aïoli or a fish bourride, and Banon cheese. The poet of Provence, Frédéric Mistal, recalled a gros souper at the turn of the 19th century that also included snails and gurnard with olives.

Sweet treats for the holidays

Treize Desserts for Christmas in Provence, France. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clarissa Hyman

Treize Desserts for Christmas in Provence, France. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clarissa Hyman

Thirteen loaves of bread were once offered to symbolize Jesus and the apostles. Today that reference is incarnated in the Treize Desserts, the plate of 13 desserts. These are not, as I discovered to the relief of my waistline, a succession of creamy concoctions, but a ritual lineup of delicious things to nibble, most famously four types of nuts and dried fruit or mendicants to represent the Catholic religious orders that require vows of poverty.

After that, it’s a question of region, town or individual family, but items generally include a flat cake made with olive oil (around Aix they add anise seeds and orange-flower water), black and white nougat flavored with lavender honey and Provençal almonds, clementines, candied fruit, quince paste, dates, prunes, green melon, white grapes and the lozenge-shaped almond Calissons d’Aix sweetmeats. According to tradition, guests must sample a little of each dessert with some sweet vin cuit prepared in the autumn.

The appearance of the three wise men on Epiphany is celebrated with a galette des rois (cake of the Magi), as it is in the rest of France. The Provençal version, however, is quite different from the traditional puff pastry one and takes the shape of a crown-shaped brioche encrusted with candied fruits symbolizing the jewels of the Magi.

In Marseille, Candlemas celebrations are dazzling — their roots are in ancient pagan rites of preparation for the end of winter. The blessing of the navettes takes the edible form of biscuits in the shape of the rowing boat that reputedly brought the Saint Maries to the shores of Provence.

Winter in Provence is not just luminous blue skies, Cezanne landscapes and the scent of wild herbs; it is also animated Christmas markets, Nativity scenes, santon fairs, Mass in the ancient Provençal language and time-honored pastoral plays, processions and ceremonies. Soon after Candlemas, the first of the almond trees will bloom — once, Aix was the celebrated center of the almond trade. With this, the cycle of the year begins again in this most magical of French provinces.

Rack of Lamb With Pink Fir Apple Potatoes

Rack of lamb. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clarissa Hyman

Rack of lamb. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clarissa Hyman

Recipe courtesy of Gilles Conchy of Provence Gourmet.

Yield: Makes 6 servings

Ingredients

2 racks of lambs of 6 chops each (about 3 1/2 pounds)

Half a stick of unsalted butter

Salt and pepper to taste

Provençal dried herbs (thyme, rosemary and savory) to taste

2 pounds of small pink fir apple potatoes, unpeeled

12 cloves of garlic, unpeeled

3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil

Directions

1. Cover the lamb with slightly softened butter into which you have mixed salt, pepper and herbs. Place in an oven-safe dish.

2. In a bowl, mix the rinsed but unpeeled potatoes with more herbs, salt, pepper, olive oil and the unpeeled garlic cloves. Arrange these around the sides of the lamb.

3. Cook at 375 F for 40 minutes.

4. Remove the lamb from the oven and slice the chops from the rack. They should be slightly pink on the inside. If not cooked enough, put the chops back in the dish and in the oven for a couple of minutes.

5. Serve the lamb with the potatoes.

Mashed Potimarron With Truffles

Mashed Potimarron With Truffles. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clarissa Hyman

Mashed Potimarron With Truffles is shown with tapenade canapés. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clarissa Hyman

Yield: Makes 8 servings.

Ingredients

2 medium-size potimarron (pumpkins)

5 teaspoons heavy cream

1/3 to 1/2 ounce black truffle

Salt and pepper to taste

Parmesan cheese to taste

Directions

1. Open the potimarron and remove the seeds. Peeling is optional, but it is advised if you can’t get Provençal pumpkins.

2. Cut potimarron into large diced chunks.

3. Steam for 20 minutes.

4. Once steamed, mash the potimarron with the cream, grated truffle, salt and pepper.

5. Turn into an oven dish, top with a little grated parmesan cheese and broil till it browns a little.

Cardoons With Anchovies

Yield: Makes 6 servings.

Ingredients

1 cardoon, about 3 1/2 pounds (Choose the curvy, white variety.)

Juice from 1 lemon

1 handful plus 6 tablespoons flour

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

12 anchovy fillets

4 cups of milk, gently heated

Grated Swiss cheese

Directions

1. Separate the cardoons into branches. With a knife, remove the “threads” on both sides of each branch.

2. Rinse and cut into 1 1/2-inch slices.

3. Drop the cardoon pieces into a pot of water acidulated with lemon juice as you go.

4. Heat another large pot of salted water and stir in a handful of flour. When it boils, drain the cardoons from the first pot, add to the boiling water and cook for an hour.

5. In a frying pan, heat the olive oil, onion, garlic and anchovies over medium heat. Drain the cardoons and add to the pan. Turn the heat to low.

6. Combine the remaining flour and the milk in a saucepan and stir until it thickens.

7. Place the sauce in an oven dish with the cardoons. Top with a little Swiss cheese and broil until it browns a little.

Bourride (Fish Stew With Aïoli)

Bourride made with monkfish. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clarissa Hyman

Bourride made with monkfish. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clarissa Hyman

Yield: Makes 4 servings.

Ingredients

For the fish stock:

Salt and pepper to taste

1 fish head

1 onion

2 leeks

1 celery branch

7 ounces white wine

For the aïoli:

2 cloves of garlic

1 egg yolk, at room temperature

1 teaspoon mustard

Salt and pepper to taste

4 ounces olive oil

4 ounces sunflower oil

1 soup spoon lemon juice

For the bourride:

1 ounce olive oil

1 yellow onion, thinly sliced

2 to 3 branches of dried fennel

1 bay leaf

Orange peel (a coin’s worth)

4 large potatoes, sliced a quarter of an inch thick

Salt and pepper to taste

2 egg yolks, at room temperature

4 slices white fish (conger eel, cod, angler fish, whiting or bass, for example)

Salt and pepper to taste

4 slices of grilled bread

Directions

For the fish stock:

1. In a saucepan, combine 3 1/2 pints of water, salt, pepper, the fish head, onion, leeks and celery and slowly bring to a boil.

2. Skim off the top layer, then lower the heat.

3. Add the wine and simmer for 30 minutes (no more). Check the stock occasionally while cooking and skim if necessary.

4. Filter the stock through a colander.

For the aïoli:

1. Peel and crush the garlic, then combine the garlic paste with one egg yolk, mustard, salt and pepper.

2. Mix the oils and start to add the garlic mixture drop by drop very slowly, whisking all the while. This process is delicate, so never stop whisking and only when your aïoli starts to come together can you start to dribble in the oil a little faster.

3. About halfway through the process, add the lemon juice.

4. Set aside in the refrigerator.

For the bourride:

1. In a cooking pot, layer the ingredients in the following order: the thinly sliced onion, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the fennel branches, the bay leaf, the orange peel, the sliced potatoes, salt and pepper.

2. Brown these ingredients 2 to 3 minutes on high heat without stirring. (Shake your pot a little so the onions do not burn.)

3. Add enough warm fish stock to barely cover the ingredients. Cover the pot and cook for 10 minutes at medium heat.

4. Place the slices of fish on top and as much stock as is needed to cover the fish.

5. Cover the pot and cook for 6 to 8 minutes. Check to make sure the fish and potatoes are cooked, then remove from the heat.

6. Soak the grilled bread in fish stock and set aside.

7. Remove 2 tablespoons of aïoli for each serving and set aside.

8. Put the remaining aïoli in the cooking pot, add 2 egg yolks and 9 ounces of fish stock. Mix over very low heat and keep stirring until the sauce thickens.

9. Pour the sauce on the soaked bread. Place a slice in each serving dish and top with the fish and potatoes. Use the reserved aïoli as a mayonnaise and offer a little extra fish stock for those who want extra moisture.

Main image: A Provençal Nativity scene made from clay figurines called santons. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clarissa Hyman

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The Christmas market in Antwerp, Belgium. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

In spite of recent tragedies and unrest in Europe, a beloved, centuries-old tradition continues this holiday season. From the United Kingdom to Eastern Europe and myriad countries in between, the annual outdoor Christmas markets are now in full swing.

Beginning in the early Middle Ages, the original markets were established to provide meat and other provisions for Christmas dinner. Some, such as Striezelmarkt in Dresden, Germany, lasted only one day. Others, including Christkindlmarkt in Vienna, Austria, stayed open through Advent. Today, they generally run from mid-November to Jan. 1.

Although dozens of cities host seasonal bazaars, several stand out for their old-world charm, delicious foods and exceptional handicrafts. You can banish the thought of buying tchotchkes mass-produced in faraway lands. The specialties offered at these markets are local and handcrafted.

Vienna, Austria

The Christmas market in Vienna, Austria. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

The Christmas market in Vienna, Austria. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

In Vienna, roughly 20 Advent fairs dot the cityscape. However, if you want to experience a market in all its glittering glory, head to the 19th-century Rathausplatz, or Town Hall Square. At Rathausplatz, twinkling lights, carolers, puppet shows and a young, blond woman playing Christkindl, the market’s Christ child, join 150 merchant stalls in celebrating the season. As of Nov. 19, as an act of European solidarity, the square’s towering Christmas tree now displays the blue, white and red colors of the French flag.

With Vienna’s ornate, neo-Gothic city hall, or Rathaus, looming behind them, shoppers stock up on wooden toys, glass ornaments, beeswax candles, candied fruits, roasted chestnuts and glasses or 750-mililiter bottles of weihnachtspunsch. Comprising red wine, brandy, rum, oranges, cloves, cinnamon and other spices, this heated punch is a warming, seasonal treat.

Prague, Czech Republic

The sweet pastry trdelnìk is commonly on offer at Christmas markets in Prague, Czech Republic. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

The sweet pastry trdelnik is commonly offered at Christmas markets in Prague, Czech Republic. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

The striking Czech Republic capital of Prague sponsors five Christmas markets. One of the largest takes place in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, World Heritage site of Old Town Square. Surrounded by Baroque and Gothic architecture, a medieval astronomical clock and the imposing, 14th-century Church of Our Lady before Tyn, this is an especially festive event. Solo musicians, folk bands and choirs perform daily. Horse-drawn carriage rides; a nativity scene; stabled sheep, donkeys and goats; and an enormous Christmas tree enhance the merry mood.

Similar to the other Prague markets, Old Town Square vendors showcase Bohemian crystal, garnet and amber jewelry; carved wooden toys; ornaments; marionettes; and sundry Czech goods. They also provide ample opportunities to nosh on grilled sausages, potato pancakes, deep-fried flatbread called langos and the sweet pastry known as trdelnìk. Coiled around a metal spit, rotated over an open fire until browned and then rolled in a mixture of sugar and nuts or cinnamon, trdelnìk is a must for hungry patrons.

Cologne, Germany

The Christmas market in Cologne, Germany. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

The Christmas market in Cologne, Germany. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

While Dresden’s Striezelmarkt may be the country’s oldest, Germany boasts of an array of atmospheric marketplaces. This includes the seven Weihnachtsmarkte of Cologne.

The grandest happens in front of the 13th-century Roman Catholic, Gothic cathedral and UNESCO World Heritage site, Cologne Cathedral. More than 160 wooden stalls filled with German lacework, blown glass, nutcrackers, leather goods, woodcrafts, roasted nuts, bratwurst, beer, mulled wine, gingerbread and fruitcake line the cathedral square.

Along with regional crafts and cuisine, the Cathedral Weihnachtsmarkt contains western Germany’s largest Christmas tree. Roughly 82 feet tall, this Nordmann fir shimmers with more than 50,000 LED lights. For a bird’s-eye view of the sparkling tree and city, climb the 553 steps of the cathedral’s south tower. The brave can take in these breathtaking sights from a 328-foot-high observation platform.

Stockholm, Sweden

Stockholm, Sweden’s first holiday market occurred on Stortorget in the city’s Old Town, or Gamla Stan, more than 500 years ago. Located outside the Nobel Museum near the Royal Palace, today’s Christmas mart features authentic Swedish pottery; glassware; knitted accessories; mulled wine, or glögg; pepparkakor, or ginger cookies; saffron buns; elk meat; and reindeer sausage. Whatever you do, just don’t tell children where the sausage came from.

In addition to these locales, travelers will find charming, historic expos in Amsterdam, Netherlands; Antwerp, Belgium; Barcelona, Spain; Budapest, Hungary; and Copenhagen, Denmark, among others. Some, such as the market in Frankfurt, Germany, date back hundreds of years. Others, such as in Manchester, England, have existed for merely a decade or two. All include the traditional foods and arts of their regions.

Main image: The Christmas market in Antwerp, Belgium. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

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Skeletons in a Halloween-themed parade. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

It’s once again time to greet the coming of winter with rounds of sugary treats, pranks, parades and parties. Yes, Halloween has arrived.

Our sugar-sweet revelry hasn’t always been the standard, though. Centuries ago the ancient Celts marked the end of the harvest season and start of winter not with tricks and ghoulish outfits but with a sacred observance known as Samhain. On that day they held feasts, lit enormous bonfires and made sacrifices of crops and livestock to protect them during “the darker half” of the year. Believing that the doors to the afterlife opened Oct. 31, they also saw Samhain as the time to communicate with the dead.

As time passed and the pagan Celts converted to Christianity, their sober holiday took on a new name and a few new traditions. All Hallows’ Eve kept the fall fare and communing with spirits, but it replaced the fiery activities with bobbing for apples and lighting lanterns crafted from root vegetables.

Over the years All Hallows’ Eve evolved into a day of tricks and sweet treats. However, if you crave a more authentic, wholesome Halloween, feature an assortment of harvest foods and activities at your next holiday fete.

Pumpkins have a storied history

The ritual of carving pumpkins dates back to "neep lanterns" in medieval Europe. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

The ritual of carving pumpkins dates back to “neep lanterns” in medieval Europe. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

Who hasn’t helped a family member or teacher turn an everyday pumpkin into a spooky jack-o’-lantern? In America carving a pumpkin borders on a rite of passage. The ritual stems from the “neep lanterns” of medieval Europe. Made from hollowed-out potatoes, turnips, rutabagas and beets, these lamps were placed on gravestones and in the windows of homes to welcome back deceased family and friends.

While the exteriors of the vegetables beckoned the dead, the interiors appeared at seasonal, medieval feasts. Leftover potatoes were made into such Irish specialties as champ and colcannon — a mixture of potatoes, cabbage and onion, while turnips and rutabaga were simply mashed and served.

When Halloween washed up on American shores, the root vegetables were swapped out for plump pumpkins. The seeds, rather than the flesh, of the pumpkin were what people consumed. Roasted in the oven and sprinkled with salt, pumpkin seeds remain a mainstay of Halloween gatherings.

A spicy Halloween treat

Pumpkin seeds make for a seasonal treat. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

Pumpkin seeds make for a seasonal treat. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

For a spicier take on the usual roasted treat, preheat your oven to 350 F. Evenly spread 3 cups roasted pumpkin seeds over a shallow baking sheet and toast for 10 minutes. Note that if you are using seeds taken directly from a pumpkin, you will need to roast the seeds for 90 minutes at 250 F before moving onto this step.

As the seeds are toasting, melt 1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter. Place the butter, 2 tablespoons light brown sugar, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom and 1/4 teaspoon allspice in a large bowl and stir until well combined. Add the hot pumpkin seeds, toss to coat and allow the seeds to cool before serving.

Apples also played an important part in Samhain. The Celts believed that, based on the number of seeds it contained, a sliced apple could predict marriage and wealth. This soothsaying evolved into the British game of unmarried people attempting to bite an apple floating in water to determine who would be their spouse.

Along with bobbing for apples on All Hallows’ Eve, the Irish played snap apple. In this game partygoers tried to bite an apple suspended from a doorframe or tree limb. Whoever bit or ate the entire apple first won.

To add an American twist to snap apple, dangle a caramel, rather than plain, apple from the string. Hard, glossy candy apples work, too, but prove a bit more painful to the teeth.

In addition to acting as prognosticators and games, apples were a staple of autumn meals. They were eaten raw as well as boiled, mashed or baked in breads, cakes, dumplings and pies. Placed between wooden presses and squeezed of their liquid, they were drunk as juice and cider. In modern times they serve an even sweeter role, starring in the aforementioned caramel and candy apples.

Beyond pumpkins and apples

Pumpkins are a relatively new traditional fall food. In the past, grains had been a staple at the fall harvest table. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

Pumpkins are a relatively new traditional fall food. In the past, grains had been a staple at the fall harvest table. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

No celebration of the fall harvest would be complete without a nod to grains. Porridge, flat bread, buns and the unleavened, pan-fried bread of wheat and barley called bannock were among the early grain-based fare.

While porridge and bread may not impress 21st century Halloween guests, spicy barmbrack will. Reminiscent of fruitcake, Irish barmbrack contains cloth- or paper-wrapped objects — a coin, ring, dried bean or pea — said to predict the future of those who find them. For original Halloween fun, add fortune-telling bread to your menu.

The same can be said of cookies cut out in the shapes of ghosts, pumpkins, witches, cats and other scary creatures. When the American custom of trick-or-treating began in the late 1930s, children often received homemade pumpkin-shaped cookies. To spruce up this traditional sugar cookie, add two teaspoons of almond, lemon or orange extract to your dough and swap out that tired pumpkin for an array of unusual cookie cutters.

Barmbrack

Barmbrack. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

Barmbrack. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cook time: 40 minutes

Total time: 70 minutes

Yield: One 8-inch, round loaf

Ingredients

3/4 cup dark raisins

1/4 cup golden raisins

1/4 cup dried cranberries

1/4 cup roughly chopped dates

1 1/4 cups hot black tea

Dried bean, ring and penny (optional)

Parchment paper (optional)

1/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon allspice

1 large egg, at room temperature

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1/3 cup milk, warmed slightly

Directions

1.Place the raisins, cranberries and dates in a medium bowl. Pour the hot tea over the fruit and set aside. Allow the fruit to steep for 20 to 30 minutes.

2. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease and line an 8-inch cake pan with parchment paper and set aside. If adding favors to the bread, tightly wrap the dried bean, ring and coin in separate strips of parchment paper and set aside.

3. In a large bowl whisk together the sugars, flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice until well combined.

4. In a small bowl mix together the egg, melted butter and milk.

5. Make a well in the flour mixture and pour the liquids into the center. Using a spatula or spoon, mix the dry and wet ingredients together.

6. Drain the dried fruit and add it to the dough, stirring well to combine. Spread the dough evenly in the pan. If using the optional favors in the bread, stick them into the dough now and place the bread into the oven. Lower the temperature to 325 F and bake for 40 minutes.

7. Remove the bread from the oven and allow it to cool for 5 minutes before removing it from the pan. Cool the barmbrack completely on a wire rack before cutting and serving.

Main photo: Skeletons in a Halloween-themed parade. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

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Bengali Fried Eggplants, or Begun Bhaja. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

In the tradition of Bengali Hindus, the auspicious fortnight, or Debipaksha, ends on the full moon night with a prayer to Lakshmi, or Lokkhi in Bengali, the goddess of wealth, peace and prosperity.

In most parts of India, people pray to Lakshmi during Diwali. However, in Bengal, this is done during the festival of Kojagori Lokkhi Puja. This tradition dates back to an ancient king who had promised an artisan he would buy all his wares. The artisan had created an image of Alokkhi, or the anti-Lakshmi, and the king — not wanting to break his promise — bought the image, in turn bringing bad luck and financial distress to his kingdom. Finally, his queen kept a night vigil, fasting and praying to the goddess Lokkhi, who was pleased, and peace and prosperity were restored to his land.

The festival of Kojagori Lokkhi Puja has been one of my favorites, mostly because of the silent power of this very domestic goddess, possibly an ancient measure of preserving the status of the homemaker. The goddess is of a silent and fastidious temperament and is said to favor a calm and peaceful household where there is no waste or turmoil.

The focus of this Puja is, therefore, on the peace and calm of the home and is usually done by the women in the household. In Bengal, a new bride or homemaker is likened to Lokkhi, with a hope of ensuring that careless treatment of her will bring bad luck to the household.

Lokkhi Puja is sandwiched between the flashy Durga Puja, a four-day festival of elaborate fanfare, and Kali Puja, the invocation of the powerful goddess of the night. Somehow these goddesses, with their multiple hands, weapons and fierce aspirations, seem too dramatic for me. The gracious Lokkhi, who stood on an open lotus (a common flower in Bengal) with her pet owl, seems approachable and very real.

In preparation for the festival

Figurines of Lakshmi, called Lokkhi in Bengali, the goddess of wealth, peace and prosperity. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

Figurines of Lakshmi, called Lokkhi in Bengali, the goddess of wealth, peace and prosperity. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

The first task for the festival, usually done the day before, begins with getting the Lokkhi figurines. However, unlike other figurines, the Lokkhi is never immersed in the Ganges. The morning of the puja begins with a scrupulous cleaning of the household, and I remember this being one of the days my grandmother woke me up early so as not to invoke the ire of the goddess, who is not partial to laziness.

The cleaned floors are decorated with alpona, or a traditional design made with rice flour paste that typically has a series of feet that enter the house and none leaving it. My grandmother would leave the rest of the design making to me (often shaking her head at my lack of symmetry in making these patterns), but made the decorations for the central prayer room herself.

Today, with my grandmother gone, none of the decoration happens, but I do have her silver Lokkhi, something she inherited from her mother-in-law.

The foods of the puja are slightly different from the traditional offerings of khichuri seen in other pujas. For Kojagori Lokkhi Puja, you typically see a repast of luchi, or puffed Bengali breads, and a variety of fried vegetables, most commonly potatoes and eggplants. While this may seem simple, eggplant wedges coated with salt, turmeric and cayenne and then deep fried to a soft and sensuous texture and enjoyed with crisp and puffy puris can indeed be something to appease a flighty goddess.

Other traditional offerings include coconut toffee balls, called narus, and various assortments of rice products, such as puffed rice, puffed rice coated with jaggery and, as in all occasions, rice pudding. In an agrarian economy where rice is the main product or crop, prosperity is indeed associated with rice, and it is considered unlucky to run out of rice in a household, probably accounting for my penchant for keeping at least one spare 10-pound bag around to this day.

The preferred flower for Kojagori Lokkhi Puja is the lotus, making it very difficult to procure unless you hit the flower shops first thing in the morning.

To help you bring some peace and happiness to your table, I share with you these recipes for coconut toffee balls, Bengali fried eggplant and potatoes, and my slow cooker rice pudding. As autumn turns into winter, may there be peace and prosperity in everyone’s life.

Narkoler Naru (Coconut Toffee Balls)

Narkoler Naru, or Coconut Toffee Balls. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

Narkoler Naru, or Coconut Toffee Balls. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

Recipe from “The Bengali Five Spice Chronicles”

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 30 minutes

Total time: 45 minutes

Yield: 20 small balls

Ingredients

2 cups grated coconut (I use the frozen variety)

3/4 cup powdered jaggery (cane sugar)

1/2 teaspoon cardamom powder

Preparation

  1. In a wok or skillet over very low heat, cook the coconut, stirring frequently, for 15 to 20 minutes. The coconut should begin turning light brown and aromatic and begin releasing some oil.
  2. Add the jaggery and continue cooking on low, stirring frequently, until the jaggery is melted and the mixture is well browned and very fragrant and toffee-like. Plenty of coconut oil should be glistening in the mixture.
  3. Stir in the cardamom powder and mix well.
  4. Remove from heat and let cool until the mixture is able to be handled.
  5. Shape the mixture into small balls. These balls keep well for a couple of weeks at room temperatures of up to 70 F or refrigerated. If refrigerated, they should be brought the room temperature before serving.

Begun Bhaja (Bengali Fried Eggplants)

Begun Bhaja, or Bengali Fried Eggplants, with luchi, a puffed bread. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

Begun Bhaja, or Bengali Fried Eggplants, with luchi, a puffed bread. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

Recipe adapted from “The Bengali Five Spice Chronicles.”

When choosing an eggplant, pick with care because a seedy eggplant is a recipe for disaster. Ideally, pick a smaller, smooth eggplant that feels light and has shiny, dark purple skin. This recipe can also be used to cook potato slices.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes

Total time: 35 minutes

Ingredients

1 medium-sized eggplant, about 1 1/2 pounds

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon red cayenne pepper

3 tablespoons rice flour (optional, but it gives it a nice crisp texture)

Oil for deep frying

Directions

  1. Cut the eggplant into slices or wedges and place them in a large mixing bowl.
  2. Add the turmeric, salt and red cayenne pepper to the bowl and toss the eggplant so it is well coated.
  3. Place the eggplant in a colander and let it drain for about 15 minutes.
  4. Spread the rice flour on a clean surface and lightly dip the outer flesh of the eggplant in the rice flour. The flour does not have to be even. It should be a light coating.
  5. Heat the oil in a wok. While the oil is heating, line a plate with plenty of paper towels.
  6. Carefully place a few of the eggplant pieces into the oil and fry for 3 to 4 minutes until very soft and golden.
  7. Drain the eggplant pieces carefully and place them on the paper towel-lined plate.
  8. Fry and drain the remaining pieces of eggplant.
  9. Serve hot with luchis (Bengali puffed bread) or rice and lentils.

Slow Cooker Saffron and Cardamom Rice Pudding

Slow Cooker Saffron and Cardamom Rice Pudding. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

Slow Cooker Saffron and Cardamom Rice Pudding. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

Recipe from “Spices and Seasons: Simple, Sustainable Indian Flavors”

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 5 hours (in a slow cooker)

Total time: About 5 hours

Ingredients

1/2 gallon half-and-half

3/4 cup short-grained rice, such as jasmine rice

6 green cardamoms, lightly bruised

3/4 cup raw turbinado or maple sugar (or more to taste)

1/2 cup chopped nuts such as pistachios or pecans (optional)

Directions

  1. Combine the half-and-half, rice and cardamoms in the slow cooker and set it to cook on high for five hours..
  2. After two hours, remove the slow cooker cover and give the mixture a good stir, ensuring the rice mixes well with the milk. Replace the lid.
  3. After another hour and a half, stir the mixture well. By this point, the rice should be fairly soft and meshing into the milk. Stir in the sugar and let the rice pudding continue cooking for another hour and a half.
  4. Stir well once it is done cooking. Discard the cardamoms if you wish. Let the pudding rest for at least 30 minutes and garnish with nuts before serving if you wish. Serve hot or cold, depending on your preference.

Main photo: Bengali Fried Eggplants, or Begun Bhaja. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

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The López de Heredia winery in Rioja, Spain. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

On a late summer’s weekend in Haro, in the heart of Rioja, northern Spain, a remarkable event took place. La Cata del Barrio de la Estación was an uncommon show of solidarity among seven of Rioja’s leading wineries. The point of the weekend was not simply for the bodegas to show their wines in a spectacular series of tastings (“cata” means wine tasting), but also to shine a spotlight on the famed Barrio de la Estación, the historic area surrounding the town’s railway station where some of the region’s top wineries are clustered.

The idea was dreamed up by British Master of Wine Tim Atkin together with Guillermo de Aranzábal, president of La Rioja Alta, one of the oldest (established in 1890) and most esteemed wineries, and head of the association designed to develop tourism in the famed station area. De Aranzábal approached his fellow winemakers, who jumped at the idea. Within a year of the initial informal discussions, the fully fledged project was in place.

The event opened with cava and selected wines served in the impressive cellars of Bodegas Roda, flanked by massive oak casks, one of the defining features of Rioja. Afterward, some of Rioja’s finest wines were showcased at the gala dinner prepared by Michelin-starred chef and local hero Francis Paniego, as well as at the professional tasting staged at Bodegas Bilbainas the following day. Over the course of the weekend, all seven wineries opened their doors and cellars to the public. In brilliant September sunshine, some 5,000 people wandered from winery to winery (all are within walking distance of one another), glass in hand, eager to sample this extraordinary lineup of Rioja wines. The weekend was declared a resounding success by all concerned — the wineries, the local tourist authorities and the general public — and there are rumors (and hopes) that it may become an annual event.

Wines shown at the professional tasting ranged in age from 1981 to 2013, while those tasted in-house were of the latest vintage to be offered on sale. Below is a selection presented by the seven participating estates. Rioja of this quality is widely exported. Check wine-searcher for your nearest supplier.

Bodegas Bilbainas, Viña Pomal Gran Reserva

Viña Pomal Gran Reserva from Bodegas Bilbainas. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Viña Pomal Gran Reserva from Bodegas Bilbainas. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Bodegas Bilbainas was founded in 1901 and occupies pride of place right beside Haro station. In 1997 the estate was acquired by the Catalan-based Codorniú group, which has invested handsomely in both hardware and oenological expertise. Viña Pomal is its signature brand, made principally from Tempranillo with a little added Graciano for color and aging potential. Gran Reservas are aged at least two years in American oak, a further year in oak casks and three more years in bottle. Garnet-red tinged with russet, richly perfumed, supple and elegant, this is a wine to have and to hold.

López de Heredia, Viña Tondonia Reserva

Vina Tondonia Reserva from López de Heredia. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Vina Tondonia Reserva from López de Heredia. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

López de Heredia, just across the tracks from Bodegas Bilbainas, is the station’s oldest winery, established 1877. They make classic, traditional-style Rioja presented in bottles clad in the characteristic gold wire netting that was originally designed to prevent tampering and fraud, now purely decorative. Viña Tondonia is its 100-hectare (250-acre) vineyard, planted in 1914 and responsible for impressive, deep golden white wines, significant reds and some rosé. Red Reservas blend Tempranillo with Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuelo and are aged six years in American oak. They are vibrant in color, supple and beautifully textured with good acidity and firm tannins auguring long life.

La Rioja Alta, Gran Reserva 904

Gran Reserva 904 from La Rioja Alta. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Gran Reserva 904 from La Rioja Alta. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

La Rioja Alta, founded at Haro station in 1890 by five families from Rioja and the Basque Country, is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year. Another classic bodega making touchstone Rioja, it is responsible for a range of impressive red wines (no white) destined for long aging. Gran Reserva 904 (Tempranillo and a little Graciano) is fermented in stainless steel and aged four years in small, used barriques, made in-house by the firm’s own cooper from imported, all-American oak staves. With its cherry-red color,  intense bouquet and jammy fruit, it’s smooth and powerful — a wine for fall, perfect with lamb braised in red wine or a rich mushroom risotto liberally seasoned with black pepper.

CVNE, Contino Reserva

Contino Reserva from CVNE. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Contino Reserva from CVNE. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

CVNE, which stands for Compañia Vinícola del Norte de España (usually styled Cune for simplicity), was set up by the Real de Asúa family in 1879. It remains in family ownership, run today by the fifth generation, and is famous for dovetailing the best of ancient and modern Rioja. Contino comes from Tempranillo grapes (plus Garnacha, Mazuelo and Graciano) grown in a single 62-hectare (150-acre) vineyard situated just outside Haro. Fermented in stainless steel, the wine spends two years in used oak barrels (40 percent American, 60 percent French) and at least a year in bottle before release. Rich ruby and silky-smooth, it’s an intense mouthful of long-lasting pleasure.

Roda, Roda I Reserva

Roda I Reserva from Bodegas Roda. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Roda I Reserva from Bodegas Roda. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Roda is the new bodega on the block, arriving at Haro station in only 1987. What the estate lacks in antiquity it amply compensates for in terms of excellence, and it has made an immediate impact with its modern Rioja wines, made exclusively from own-grown, indigenous grapes (Tempranillo, Garnacha and Graciano) and given extensive oak aging in a purpose-built, temperature-controlled barrel room, which is carved straight from the rock face. Roda I, closed with a black capsule, is 100 percent Tempranillo, aged 16 months in French oak barriques and given another 20 months in bottle before release. Bright cherry with a lively fruit nose and rich, plummy depths, it’s a wine to curl up with in front of the fire.

Muga, Prado Enea Gran Reserva

Prado Enea Gran Reserva from Muga. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Prado Enea Gran Reserva from Muga. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Muga joined the other bodegas in the Barrio de la Estación in 1932 and makes super-classic Rioja characterized by long fermentations followed by extensive oak aging and long spells in bottle. Prado Enea, which comes from selected high-altitude plots, is an exemplary Gran Reserva that majors on Tempranillo with 20 percent Garnacha and a smidge of Graciano and Mazuelo and spends three years in oak (French and American) and three more in bottle. Deep ruby in color with a brambly nose (blackberries at end of summer), it has mellow spice flavors and enormous elegance and grace –- a  wine to cellar whatever the vintage (it’s not made every year), and to enjoy with favored, wine-loving friends.

Gómez Cruzado, Honorable

Honorable from Gómez Cruzado. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Honorable from Gómez Cruzado. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Gómez Cruzado was founded by exiled, Mexican-born aristocrat Don Angel Gómez de Arteche, who began making and bottling his own wines here in 1886 (a rarity at the time — most wines were sold in bulk). In 1916 the estate was acquired by a local nobleman, Don Jesús Gómez Cruzado, who gave it its present name. The smallest bodega in the Barrio, it has made giant strides in recent years under the supervision of consultant winemakers David González and Juan Antonio Leza. Honorable comes from one of the estate’s prime parcels of vines, many of them aged more than 50 years, mainly Tempranillo with the other three varieties present in small quantities. Black cherry jam hues with loads of ripe red fruit and good acidity to give it backbone, this is truly an honorable wine from an estate that’s moving up.

Main image: The López de Heredia winery in Rioja, Spain. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

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Santa Maria di Leuca at Puglia’s southernmost point, where the Adriatic and Ionian seas meet. The lighthouse stands atop the Japigo promontory, described by Virgil in The Aeneid. Credit: Copyright 2015 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

If the heel of the Boot, Apulia — Puglia in Italian — has long lagged behind other Italian regions in terms of modernization, parts of it have nonetheless become havens for the likes of royals, film stars and cognoscenti. How could it be otherwise for a peninsula surrounded by 500 miles of coastline and lapped by the pristine waters of two seas? Still, its heart beats to an ancient tempo, heedless of the increasing tourist invasions. This is Greek Italy, and it is steeped in its past. Nowhere is that more striking than at the Pugliese table.

Once upon a wine

The historic casks in the monumental cellar at Torre Quattro date from the era when Puglia's wines were exported in bulk. The casks are about 10 feet in diameter. Credit: Copyright 2015 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

The historic casks in the monumental cellar at Torre Quattro date from the era when Puglia’s wines were exported in bulk. The casks are about 10 feet in diameter. Credit: Copyright 2015 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

On a recent tour of the region’s wineries with an American delegation of importers eager to learn about the ambitious undertakings of a new breed of producers, I found vintners at once devoted to the preservation of their traditions and determined to make unique world-class wines. Whereas previous generations geared their production toward volume of output for foreign markets (mainly France as well as northern Italy) at the expense of quality — a practice that goes back to the Phoenicians — today’s winemakers tend relatively small vineyards and grow native grape varietals barely known outside the immediate area. The consensus among the dozen buyers in our midst was that the wines were good — some very, very good — while selling for less than other wines in their class.

Terroir, terroir, terroir

The organic vineyards and 800-year-old olive trees at Vigneto Amastuolo have been the focus of an ambitious restoration of Martina Franca, Taranto, an important 15th-century agricultural center on the Ionic side of the peninsula. Credit: Copyright 2015 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

The organic vineyards and 800-year-old olive trees at Vigneto Amastuolo have been the focus of an ambitious restoration of Martina Franca, Taranto, an important 15th-century agricultural center on the Ionic side of the peninsula. Credit: Copyright 2015 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

Climatic conditions vary throughout Puglia. On the northern plateaus, known collectively as the Murge, the winters are temperate and the temperatures cooler than they are in the Salento, the bottom of the heel, which can be convection-hot in summer, though cooled somewhat by the play of sea currents and breezes blowing across the Adriatic from the Balkans. But overall the region is perhaps the hottest in Italy, baked by the favugno, as the dry wind that blows in from Africa is called here.

If the soil is productive, it’s due less to topography than to the stewardship of the terrain over centuries. For millennia, the Pugliese have supplied the lion’s share of Italy’s three principal staples: wine, wheat and olive oil. They still do, and grow enough table grapes, olives, almonds, cereals and vegetables to feed the rest of Italy and export abroad.

In step with their forebears, many of the vintners I met said that, by working with the natural conditions and the native grapes that thrive there — such as Primitivo, Negroamaro and Nero di Troia — they avoid the soil-punishing practices of modern growing techniques. “We are linked to the traditions of our area,” said Dr. Marina Saponari, sommelier at Valle dell’Asso in Santeramo in Colle, Bari, a limestone plateau in the Murge. “We don’t irrigate or add water at all, because too much humidity causes fungus; we work with the soil, not against it, (plowing) in a horizontal direction to retain the moisture naturally.” “Besides,” said Giuseppe Bino, an oenologist at Vigneto Amastuola in Martina Franca, “organic methods are so much better for your health. And when the wines are aged naturally, you taste real grapes.”

Filippo Montanaro of Vigneto Amastuola, on the Ionian side of the peninsula, described his family’s dedication to organic practices as a way to at once revitalize abandoned agricultural lands and recover an indigenous archeological site that dates to the Bronze Age. Subsequent civilizations inhabited the same high plateau, a strategic point overlooking the Gulf of Taranto from which, on a clear day, you can see all the way to Greece and Calabria. Amastuola’s vines and fruit orchards today carpet the soil in which the Greeks planted grapes and olive trees 2,000 years ago. On the estate, a 15th-century masseria — an ancient Apulian farmhouse where raw ingredients were processed into everything from wine and oil to dairy products, salumi, bread and preserves — is being restored to function as it once did, said Montanaro, whose father, Giuseppe, acquired the 100-hectare estate (almost 250 acres) in 2003. The family has launched an ambitious restoration, including the revitalization of long-neglected 800-year-old olive trees. “Family tradition is very important,” said Giuseppe Sportelli, commercial director and husband of Ilaria (one of three Montanaro siblings that help manage the property), explaining that the monumental project was not just work but a “passione.” Giuseppe Montanaro himself finds that explanation inadequate. “It goes beyond enthusiasm,” he explained, “It is the desperation that the man of the south feels that makes miracles like this happen.”

Food of the ancients

Making the traditional pasta of Puglia, orecchiette, on the street in Barivecchia. Pensioners like this woman sell their pasta from home to supplement their incomes. Credit: Copyright 2015 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

Making the traditional pasta of Puglia, orecchiette, on the street in Barivecchia. Pensioners like this woman sell their pasta from home to supplement their incomes. Credit: Copyright 2015 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

Like these winemakers, local chefs also honor the past, looking to the ancestral cooking of their grandmothers for inspiration. I learned the Pugliese mantra of “homegrown and homemade” early, from my paternal grandparents — poor emigrants to America from the very landscape I have described. Some things have changed since they abandoned the fields of Toritto, in which they had toiled as sharecroppers, for lack of enough food for themselves. And some things have not. “Our cooking is based on a paisana (peasant) tradition,” said Anna Gennari of Conzorzio Produttori Vini Manduria, a 400-partner cooperative of Primitivo grape growers in Manduria. “The cooking was simple and not much different throughout the provinces because Puglia was poor,” said Saponari, who is not only a sommelier but also a well-known cooking teacher in Bari.

Cutting-edge Michelin-starred restaurants have been making headlines in recent years for pioneering menus sourced from their local terroir, but Pugliese chefs have always done so. They are weaned on the ancestral flavors and seductive bitterness of wild dandelion greens, mustards, hyacinth bulbs (Muscari racemosum or lampascioni) and other native plants. Unlike in other regions where the tourist routes are more deeply worn, the heritage foods of Puglia — what the Italians call piatti tipici — persist, whether in hotels, simple trattorie or private homes. These include durum-wheat pasta, either fresh or dried, characteristically flavored with cime di rapa (“turnip tops”), simple tomato sauce, or chickpeas; fava-bean purée eaten alongside cooked bitter greens; the ring-shaped breadsticks called taralli, sweet or savory; calzone-like panzerotti and a panoply of other breads and pastries, baked or fried; vegetables, vegetables, vegetables (but little meat); milky fresh cheeses; and fiery peppers — all dressed, naturally, with the numinous olive oil.

Chefs riding the trend for recycling “trash” food could learn something from these old ways: take the traditional pane arso of the cucina povera (“the poor kitchen”), a dark bread made by blending the flour of charred hard wheat with semolina. The custom of incorporating the two harks back to the feudal-estate system, when peasants collected the scorched grains that remained after the post-harvest burning of the fields. Rich-tasting, with a seductively bitter edge, the bread packs 4,000 years of the people’s history into one bite.

Pranzo della domenica: Sunday supper

At a welcome dinner for American wine buyers, we cleaned our plates of traditional local fare. TerrAnima proprietor Piero Conte is standing in the back. Credit: Copyright 2015 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

At a welcome dinner for American wine buyers, we cleaned our plates of traditional local fare. TerrAnima proprietor Piero Conte is standing in the back. Credit: Copyright 2015 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

It’s on Sunday — a customary day of feasting — when Puglia’s cooks pull out all the stops. This is when the meat dishes come out, and the pasta is sauced with ragù, meatballs and braciole.

Gathering together in Bari with the wine buyers, I ate just these braciole — which the locals call bombette (“little bombs”) in the delightful TerrAnima, a Slow Food-endorsed restaurant dedicated to the dishes of the region (its name translates as “Earth and Soul”). If they sound heavy, perish the thought! They are delicate little rolls of meat, lined with pancetta inside and out and stuffed with cheese, garlic and parsley before they are bundled, tied and roasted.

Here’s to the spirit of the pranzo della domenica. Bring on the bombette and by all means, pour the Primitivo!

Bombette (Little Bombs): Stuffed Meat Rolls

Bombette, a Pugliese obsession: strips of meat rolled with pancetta, parsley and caciocavallo cheese. Traditionally made with horsemeat, my version substitutes veal. Credit: Copyright 2015 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

Bombette, a Pugliese obsession: strips of meat rolled with pancetta, parsley and caciocavallo cheese. Traditionally made with horsemeat, my version substitutes veal. Credit: Copyright 2015 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: About 20 minutes

Total time: About 45 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Note: These appetizers are traditionally made with horsemeat (not for the likes of former equestrians such as myself), but veal or beef are also used. Whichever you choose, ask the butcher to flatten the meat as thin as possible (1/8 inch is ideal) without tearing it — or pound it yourself if you know how.

Ingredients

1 pound cutlets (scaloppine) from top round of veal, cut into 4 thin slices about 4 inches by 8 inches and pounded to no more than 1/8-inch thick, or 2 half-pound pieces boneless beef top round, pounded to 1/8-inch from 1/4-inch thickness

Extra virgin olive oil

1 small garlic clove, peeled and bruised slightly

Fine sea salt

Freshly milled black pepper

16 thin slices of pancetta

2 tablespoons  fresh minced parsley leaves

3 ounces fresh, semi-soft caciocavallo cheese, cut into 8 matchsticks

Toothpicks for serving

Directions

1. Preheat an oven to 400 F. Select a broiler-proof baking pan large enough to accommodate 8 meat rolls without crowding and grease it lightly with olive oil.

2. Use paper towels to blot the meat dry. Cut each piece horizontally into smaller pieces to yield 8 pieces of meat that are about the same shape and size (about 4 by 4 inches). Rub both sides with the garlic clove (which you can then discard) and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.

3. Sandwich 1 piece of meat between two slices of pancetta. Sprinkle one side with some of the parsley and arrange a matchstick of cheese crosswise on the center. Beginning at one end, roll it up, gathering the pancetta along with it as you make the roll and tucking in any meat edges that stick out. Secure the bundle with a toothpick and transfer it to the oiled baking pan. Repeat the procedure with the remaining 7 pieces of meat and place in the pan.

4. Slide the pan onto the middle rack of the oven. Roast for 15 minutes, then remove the pan from the oven and change the setting to broil. Turn the rolls over and place the pan under the broiler to color them lightly, about 2 minutes. Take care to keep the pan juices from flaming. Remove at once, pour any remaining pan juices over the rolls and serve immediately.

Main photo: Santa Maria di Leuca at Puglia’s southernmost point, where the Adriatic and Ionian seas meet. The lighthouse stands atop the Japigo promontory, described by Virgil in “The Aeneid.” Credit: Copyright 2015 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

 

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