Creamy Chestnut Soup with Mushroom Croutons & Fried Sage Leaves
Although I’ve been living here in Hamburg for a couple of years now, I find that I rarely cook German recipes.
German cuisine, much like British, gets a pretty bad rap. And that’s a real shame, because there is a tantalising selection of traditional German dishes just itching to be discovered: Labskaus, Spätzle, Veal Schnitzel, and, of course, Sauerkraut, whose health benefits are equal to that of the popular Kimchi, are better known German foods, and are as tasty as any of the more popular cuisines.
Chestnuts are also included in traditional German cooking. Often foraged during the cooler months, these versatile brown gems – which were introduced into Germany by the Romans along with grapes and asparagus – are an integral part of traditional German home cooking, Hausmanskost. Roasted as a snack in winter, served with Brussels sprouts or braised red cabbage, made into jams, ground into flour for baking (try my Chestnut flour Walnut bread) and, added to stews and soups.
This is my interpretation of the traditional German chestnut soup. It’s comforting and incredibly simple to make. Use vegetable broth instead of chicken, and you will create an equally delicious vegetarian version. Guten Appetit!
You Will Need
1 Can Chestnuts Drained – 280g or there about
1 Celery Stick – Chopped
1 Shallot – Chopped
2 Portobello Mushrooms – Chopped, half for the soup, half for croutons
2 Cloves Garlic Crushed – 1 for soup, 1 for croutons
12 Sage Leaves – 4 Chopped for the Soup, the remainder left whole for frying
300ml Chicken or Vegetable Broth
1 tsp – Celery Salt
1/2 tsp – Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1 tsp – Ground Nutmeg, plus extra for garnish
100ml Cooking Cream
Heat a large heavy based pan over a med-high heat, then add a generous glug of olive oil. Add the chopped shallot, celery and 1 crushed clove of garlic to the pan, cook until softened but not browned. Add half of the chopped mushrooms and cook for a few minutes more before adding the chopped sage leaves, nutmeg, celery salt and pepper. Add the chestnuts and combine them with the other ingredients and cook for a few minutes more. Next add the broth, bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 15-20 minutes to allow all of the flavours to infuse. Remove from the heat, stir in the cream and set aside to cool for a minute or two, before blending thoroughly with a stick blender.
Put 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil into a heated frying pan, add the remainder of the garlic and mushrooms, and fry over a highish heat until the mushrooms are dark golden brown and slightly crispy. Set aside.
Pop a clean pan over a high heat, add a generous amount of olive oil, when the oil is hot fry the sage leaves. This will only take a minute or two.
Ladle the soup into four individual bowls, and carefully spoon on the mushroom croutons. Serve with the fried sage leaves and a generous sprinkling of nutmeg.
This past summer has been long, hot and extremely humid here in Hamburg. So much so, that I have found myself brooding for cooler evenings and the chorus of rich autumn colours that beckon cosy and comforting food. Which brings me to this recipe.
Whilst browsing the food stalls of Budapest‘s great market hall – Nagyvásárcsarnok – the oldest and largest market in the city, I came across this savoury strudel nestled among the more well known sweet strudel flavours of apple and sour cherry. I know a savoury cabbage strudel doesn’t immediately look or sound as appealing as the sweet varieties, but surprisingly it tastes really good.
Strudel has a long history in Hungary dating back, it is believed, to the Habsburg empire. The traditional filo-like dough used for strudel has a high gluten content which gives it enough stretch to allow it to be rolled out super thin, a technique borrowed by the Turks.
There are numerous filling options for strudel; from meat to plum to Quark (German for cream) to hazelnuts and poppy seeds. And here is my interpretation of one of Hungary’s best-known foods. Instead of filo pastry, I’m using shortcrust pastry ready bought for ease. And, although it’s not necessarily associated with one season or another, as far as I’m aware, it seems to fit the autumn menu quite nicely. Jó étvágyat!
You Will Need
Savoy Cabbage Finely Shredded 400g
Medium Onion finely chopped
1 Sheet Shortcrust or Puff Pastry
Caraway Seeds 1tsp
White Pepper 1-2 pinch
Hungarian Sweet Paprika 1 pinch
Salt for season
Butter 50g approx.
Pre heat oven to 160 Degrees Celsius.
Finely shred the cabbage removing any firmer pieces and place in a pan of salted water. Par boil until just tender, but don’t over cook. Drain in a colander removing as much water as possible and set aside. Place most of the butter in a large non stick frying pan (put a little aside to glaze the pastry), add the onion, paprika, caraway seeds and a pinch or 2 of white pepper according to your taste. Saute over a low-medium heat for a minute or 2 before adding the shredded cabbage. Thoroughly combine the ingredients, cook until the cabbage is tender then set aside to cool a little.
Gentling melt the remainder of the butter, lay the pastry out on baking paper and brush around the edges with melted butter. Put the cabbage mix on the first 1/3 of the pastry, and using the baking paper to assist, roll away from you ensuring the strudel is evenly rolled. Cut away any excess pastry. Place the baking paper and strudel on a baking tray, brush all over with melted butter. Place in the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes. After baking allow the strudel to cool little. Cut in to thickish slices and serve with sour cream.
We drive through the boulevards of Budapest, tree-lined and grandiose arriving at our destination, the Buddha-Bar Hotel. It had to be the Buddha-Bar. I’ve been listening to the eclectic sounds which originated in the lounges of this hotel group for years and promised myself that if I were to visit this city I would stay here.
The hotel is housed in one of two Klotild Palaces, built for the Duchess Klotild Habsburg in 1902. The buildings are a stunning example of neo-baroque architecture, the style of which is abundant throughout the city. We are shown to our room, a two storey suite with a bath-tub big enough for four. We are just two, so we bathe star-fish like, before setting out on some serious sight-seeing.
Budapest’s history reads like a fated storybook: repressed/thwarted, rising from the ashes/optimism, ill-fated choices/crushed by oppressors.
The Romans gravitated towards the abundant thermal springs of Óbuda, renaming it Aquincum. The Huns all but annihilated the population. The Turks brought with them paprika and coffee, igniting the coffee culture Budapest is so renowned for. The Habsburg empire and the Austro-Hungarian empire was the golden era for Budapest. And then came communism.
Present day Budapest is 3 cities in 1 – Óbuda, Pest and Buda – inextricably woven together by the Danube river. Streets are flanked by opulent, elegant and graceful architecture which alone will make you want to visit. On the Buda side of the Danube, a funicular ride will take you up to the hilly heights of Buda Castle and Fisherman’s Bastion, where stunning views up and down the winding river, and across to Pest and the impressive Parliament building await you. Budapest has the largest number of thermal springs in the world, and so was officially named City of Spas in 1936. And if this weren’t enough, there is the food, the exquisitely gilded opera houses and coffee houses, a fashion avenue-Andrássy Út-elegant enough to match the Champs Elysées, Paris. And, most surprising of all, is Hungary’s best-kept secret, its wines.
Hungary was once one of the most prestigious winemaking countries in old Europe. But an outbreak of Phylloxera, war, and communist rule saw the demise of Hungary’s viticulture. Thankfully though Hungarian wine is on the up and up, and turning out some intriguingly beautiful wines. A mix of limestone and volcanic soil, hilly topography and sweet-spot latitude make for exceptional wine growing terrain in the regions of Tokaj, Pannon, Eger and Észak-Dunántúl to name just four.
So unleash your adventurous side and head to this lesser known wine country via a fabulous stay in Budapest. You’ll be pleasantly, very pleasantly, surprised.
Where to Eat
Borkonyha Wine kitchen
This superb Michelin starred wine restaurant offers up the most amazing food with up-to-date versions of some of Hungary’s classic favourites. They have a tasting menu where each course is matched with a Hungarian wine. This menu can take over 2 hours, so book well in advance. We arrived a little late for this menu, however, we enjoyed 3 superb courses and our sommelier matched each dish for us with a selection of equally amazing local wines. You might like to try the flat-iron veal steak with sage and apricot, followed by a delicious raspberry dessert with liquorice French Macaron.
Doblo Wine Bar
Any serious wine fanatic will not want to miss this gem of a wine bar. Doblo has a list of no less than 13 tasting menus offering Hungarian regional wines and Pálinka (Hungarian brandy). We chose the Tourist menu, naturally, which focuses on wines mainly from the Tokaj wine region, a region which was awarded UNESCO world heritage status in 2002, and home of the worlds oldest Botryized wine (noble rot grapes). The knowledgable sommeliers will give a thorough history of each wine, plus, you get a selection of tapas-style Hungarian hams and cheeses to accompany your beverages. Entertainment is provided by local Jazz musicians which make for a thoroughly enjoyable evening.
Where to Stay
Even if you don’t stay at this hotel, you can enjoy a cocktail in Buddha-Bar’s totally gorgeous lounge-bar. They have a guest DJ most Saturday evenings but check their website for detail.
If the Provençal cuisine alone weren’t enough to entice you to this region of France, then perhaps the soft, buttery light, the scent of jasmine carried through towns on delicate breezes, the glistening blue sea, and fairy dust pinks of the local Rosé wines, might just tempt you.
Provence is a place to relax, surround yourself with serene, timeless beauty and experience clear, clean light unencumbered. The light that has inspired and captivated artists past and present.
Food as art plays no small part in Provence. Thick bundles of pungent herbs; rosemary, basil, marjoram and thyme all synonymous with the voluptuous Provençal plate, grow wildly all over the region, releasing their aromatic perfume which only this kind of climate can allow. Dishes such as Daube – a beef stew slowly cooked with oranges, herbs and juniper berries; Bouillabaisse – a famed seafood stew from Marseille made with fish from the Mediterranean sea, simmered in a broth of onions, tomatoes, garlic, saffron and herbs. Even the most simple dishes taste more sumptuous here. An omelette with chèvre or black truffles dance on your palate sending your taste buds on an exotic odyssey of their own, washed down, of course, with a refreshing glass of Absinthe-like Provençal Pastis.
Sunkissed, salty sea breezes, and aromatic fragrances from herbs and flowers wafting through the air, the local terroir seems almost too spoilt for inspiration. Lesser known than other wine producing regions of France, Provence produces some very respectable wines. Rosé, of course, is more widely associated with this region. A glass or two of peaches and cream Rosé is a must for sipping on balmy afternoons whilst partaking in some serious scenery gazing.
Because of its close proximity to the Mediterranean sea, the crisp white wines of the Cassis area contain a smooth, subtle saltiness making it a beautiful pairing with local seafood. The reds too. Try a glass of Provence Rouge from one of the dozens of producers in the small wine region of Bandol. Bold, fruity and intense and definitely worth exploring.
Our five-day driving tour takes us from our starting point Aix to the Alps through the countryside and along coasts soaking in the sun-drenched scenery seemingly unchanged by time.
Aix – Grand and gracious tree-lined boulevards and plazas are dotted with multiple fountains and home to many elegant cafés for a spot of sophisticated people watching. One of the finest Provençal markets is held in Aix on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. And among Aix’s many attractions is the Atelier de Cézanne, the last studio of the great artist.
Cassis – The quaint little fishing port of Cassis was once a hidden gem; but no longer. Tourists now flock here to escape the larger cities looking for unspoilt charm and a bit nostalgia. Take a boat cruise through the blue waters of the Mediterranean and absorb the stunning scenery, pausing to view the creeks and hidden bays along the jagged white coastline. Once ashore, the pastel coloured buildings surrounding the port will give you ample photo opportunities. And when you are ready for a little replenishment head to Le Patio bistro a few steps away from the busy port area for fine local cuisine.
Gorde – Ambling through the hillside town of Gorde is like stepping back in time. Sandstone buildings flank the small but elegant town square (remember the movie A Good Year with Russel Crow, some scenes were filmed here) and narrow streets casting warm, luminous light. Head to the edge of town to where the tiered buildings give way to the most amazing vistas of the surrounding countryside.
Abbaye de Sénanque – A short drive from Gorde is the instantly recognisable Abbaye de Sénanque. Monks are said to still produce local liqueurs here, and, of course, it is home to some of the best lavender fields and products in the region. After touring the beautiful grounds, enter the large shop where you can buy every Provençal lavender product you’ve ever dreamed of.
Roussillon – The town of Roussillon, unlike most others in Provence, has its own unique colour palette. The beautiful warm orange town glows vibrantly during sunset, alongside the Ocres canyon from which the clay for the buildings comes from. The quarrying of the clay in the Sentier des Ocres took place for two centuries. Walk through the stunning canyon and you’ll see how the vibrant clay changes from shades of yellow and orange into red. The greens of the trees also seem to take on more dazzling shades.
Gorge du Verdon–Lac de Sainte-Croix is more stunning than you could ever imagine. The water of the lake changes from fresh aqua to deep turquoise blue depending on the time of day. Surrounding the shoreline is a cluster of the quaintest little sandstone towns. Les Salles sur Verdon is where we stayed, a small town with an abundance of small hotels and top-notch restaurants. Activities on and around the lake are abundant too; paddle up the lake, hike the gorge, swim, fish or take a siesta on the lake-side beaches and bask in the glorious sunshine.
Puinoisson – This is where you will find miles of the most famous and painterly lavender, sunflower, poppy and clary sage fields immortalised in the works of the worlds most esteemed artists. There is nothing more to say. Just gaze and take it all in.
And all of this is only the beginning of Provence’s gentle intoxication. There is so much more to see, experience, taste and smell in this ancient, dreamingly beautiful region of France. Provence is chic, serene, relaxed and timeless. Our drive from Aix to the Alps through countryside dotted with pastel coloured farmhouses with shuttered windows the colour of the surrounding flora and fauna; olive green, poppy red and lavender. Whether you go for an extended weekend, a week or a month Provence leaves you yearning for more.
Where to Eat
Cassis – Le Patio
Marseille – Bistrot L’Horloge
Mezel – Le Pressoir Gourmand
What to See
Café culture has a long and prestigious history in Hungary’s capital, Budapest. Cafés and coffee houses have been an intrinsic part of the city’s social and cultural scene since as far back as the Turkish occupation of the 1600s. But it was during the Austro-Hungarian Empire that Budapest saw vigorous growth in its café culture, with almost 500 in the capital alone. It was at this time that the ‘Grand Cafés’ of Budapest became prominent cultural hubs. Notable poets, politicians, artists and writers of the day gathered in the exquisitely decorated Grand cafés not only for the sophisticated menus but also for vibrant intellectual and creative exchange, with some cafés bearing witness to Hungry’s many artistic and literary gems as well as eminent political ideas.
Centrál Café, one of Budapest’s oldest, is one such place. Situated close to Elizabeth bridge, the café was established in the 1800s. Centrál was a meeting point for writers, journalists and poets at this time. Unfortunately though, as with many cafés in Budapest, Centrál was closed during the communist regime for fear of free-thinking individuals. Reopened and renovated back to its former glory in the late 1900s, Centrál’s mission is to reestablish its illustrious tradition as a place for studious contemplation and provocative conversation, along with some very tasty food.
Sit in Centrál’s elegant surroundings and, whilst perusing the menu, if the urge should take you, follow in the footsteps of the poetic ghosts of the past. Write a poem, or perhaps two, on a sheet at your table containing a poem of the day, a pencil and a prompt to scribe something magical to a loved one or a gracious friend.
The unusually hot weather has brought with it an abundance of flowers and foliage already this year, so a bit of foraging seemed like a very pleasurable thing to do to make use of this bounty. Elderflowers are one of my favourite foods for ‘wild’ cooking, and as the season seems to be drawing to an end, this week may be the last chance to make use of the delicious blooms. This is another simple and tasting recipe that is quick to prepare and makes a lovely snack or dessert.
You will need
20 Elderflower Blossoms
1 Cup Rice Flour plus extra
2 Cup Sunflower Oil
1 Cup Ice water
1 tsp Baking Powder
Pinch of Salt
Icing/Confectioner’s Sugar for dusting (Optional)
Trim away the leaves, leaving a short stem on each flower head, then bathe the flowers in cold water to remove any bugs. Make sure to dry them thoroughly before frying.
Pop the extra flour into a bowl, you will need this to coat the flowers before dipping them into the batter. In a large bowl add the cup of flour, egg, baking powder, salt and combine with a balloon whisk. Then slowly add the ice water making sure the batter has no lumps.
Heat the oil until it is nice and hot (about 190 degrees). Take a flower head, coat in flour and then dip into the batter gently shaking off the excess. Drop into the hot oil and fry for a minute or two until lightly golden. Place on kitchen paper to absorb any excess oil and repeat with the rest of the flowers.
Serve with a light dusting of icing sugar and cream.
I still remember the feeling of absolute awe when I first arrived in Morocco. And in spite of its flourishing tourist trade, Morocco still holds a sense of mystic and seductive allure. Hearing the early morning call to prayer, watching the celebrations as pilgrims return from Mecca. The fields of mint and coriander, emerald coloured oases and stunning casbahs conjure images of old Arabian tales and epic movies.
We stayed at a nomadic camp in the Sahara. Our host an older gentleman, who wore his life on his weathered yet pleasant face, his voice deep brown and gravely, welcomed us like old friends. At dinner, we were served the most delicious tagines and salads, all vibrantly coloured like platefuls of jewels.
The colourful food of the Arabian lands is among my favourite world cuisines. This Moroccan inspired recipe is fresh and light and so simple to make. It’s equally delicious as a sweet dessert or as a side to savoury dishes – a slow cooked lamb tagine perhaps!
Serve with the syrup for a dessert or a dusting of ground cinnamon as a side dish.
You will need
For the salad
3 Medium Size Oranges
3 Medium Size Blood Oranges
1 Extra Orange for the Juice
Seeds from 1/2 Pomegranate
6 Fresh Mint Leaves
Ground Cinnamon (Optional)
For the Syrup
2 Tbsp of Orange Blossom Water
200g Light Cane Sugar
3 Tbsp Freshly squeezed Orange Juice
250 ml Water
To make the syrup, pop the water and sugar into a medium pan. Simmer over med-high heat, continually stirring with a wooden spoon until the sugar has dissolved and it begins to thicken. This will take about 5 minutes or so. Stir in the orange blossom water and orange juice, continue to simmer until you get a thick, viscose syrup. Remove from the heat, place a lid on the pan and set aside to allow it to cool and the flavours to infuse.
Peel the 3 oranges and 3 blood oranges for the salad, removing the white pith. With a sharp knife cut the oranges into thin slices, but not too thin. Arrange slices on a serving plate alternating orange and red. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and mint leaves and spoon over the syrup. Alternatively, put about a 1/4 teaspoon of ground cinnamon in a fine mesh sieve, and lightly dust over the fruit.
Serve with cream or natural greek-style yoghurt.
Treat yourself well also when you are in distress.
When you are dead there is nothing left of life.
Just do what you want, the people are talking nevertheless.
A little luck and a little wine with a little maiden.
O Lord, the life is fine!
Much of what is interesting about Hamburg seems to lay indoors rather than out, largely due to the weather perhaps. There are palatable selections of cafes, bars and restaurants in various styles and themes, but every now and then you happen upon somewhere that’s totally alluring.
The charming inscription above is carved into the ceiling beams of the Zur Traube Weinstube und Restaurant, located here in Hamburg and translated for me by their ever-lovely sommelier, Sandra.
From the very first moment I entered this wine bar, I was captivated and knew I would be visiting often. Stepping into Zur Traube you are hit with a potent dose of Germanesque nostalgia and uncommon old world charm. Established in the late 1800s as a wine room, the intriguing interior is a little nook of curiosities. As you sit in the cosy, creaky seating booths, your eyes are drawn along dark panelled walls to the carved figures depicting labourers in various occupations, from coopers to blacksmiths. The central ceiling light has carvings of various figures one of which is Bacchus the God of wine. Characterful and candlelit, the snug, otherworldly ambience and endless supply of wines help stave off Hamburg’s cold winter evenings.
When you eventually shift your gaze from the decor to the wine list, Zur Traube offers over 250 carefully curated German and global wines, and with around 50 bottles opened at any one time for tasting by the glass, every visit is a new tasting adventure.
Humorous scenes of drunken iniquity are intricately carved into the stairwell panels, which leads up to the restaurant. Added in the early 1900s, it has a more modern feel to its decor and offers a sumptuous, seasonal, bistro-style menu to tantalize your tastebuds further.
Gōnn dir was auch wenn du in Not bist
Was hast du vom Leben wenn du tot bist
Do wat du willt, de Lud snadit doch.
Ein bissen Schwein und ein bissen Wein, dazu ein kleines Māgdelein.
Herrgott, wie ist das Leben fein!
Open Mon-Sat from 19:00 – Sundays from 18:00
One of the many pleasures of travelling to a country or city is experiencing new flavours and new aromas, and every place seems to have something that’s uniquely theirs. Although I often buy souvenirs when visiting somewhere for the first time, nothing reminds me of a favourite destination more than the taste of a dish I first tried there. So, when I recreate those favourite dishes at home, I’m immediately transported back to those places, those tastes and those memories.
During my recent visit to Porto, I come across this very simple but very delicious sweet squash dessert, Doce de Abobora, a compote-like dessert native to Portugal. The original recipe is quite sweet and jammy, consisting of pumpkin and sugar, with the occasional addition of spices and coconut. My version of this recipe uses less sugar, but more of the flavours that remind me of this beautiful city and country.
Porto was built on Port wine, not literally of course, but the city did thrive because of the success of the industry. So I think it would be criminal not to add a splash of Port to this dessert. I’ve also added toasted almonds for crunch and texture, and the hint of orange zest which gives each mouthful little bursts of sunshine. Served with a dollop of mascarpone cheese, the sweet and slightly savoury flavours create a magical combination. Although the deep orange, sweet squash compote feels a little autumny, it is just as enjoyable during the spring.
You will need
1 small pumpkin or squash – about 800g or so
light brown cane sugar 1 cup – 200g
1/2 cinnamon stick or cassia bark
finely grated zest 1/2 small orange
50ml white port wine
flaked almonds about 40g
Remove the skin and seeds from the squash, and cut into pieces about 2 cm in size but no smaller. Add the squash to a heavy-based pan along with the port and sugar and stir to coat the squash pieces thoroughly. Add the cinnamon stick or cassia bark and orange zest, and bring to a simmer without a lid over med-high heat for about 2-3 mins. Next, turn down the heat to med-low and simmer for about 50-60 mins, stirring every so often with a wooden spoon. It’s cooked when the compote is slightly jammy looking and all of the moisture has evaporated.
Set aside to cool slightly while you toast the almonds. Place the flaked almonds in a large heavy-based frying pan or shallow pan in a single layer and, over a medium heat toast until they are lightly browned.
Serve the compote with a sprinkling of toasted almonds, a generous helping of mascarpone cream and a dusting of ground cinnamon.
On a dried bed of the once Turia river, stands the Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències, a spectacular example of futuristic architecture in the heart of Valencia, Spain.
Designed by esteemed Valencia architect, sculptor and painter Santiago Calatrava Valls–whose award-winning work can be found from Dallas to Dubai–the impressive city comprises of six uniquely styled buildings designed to educate and entertain: L’Hemisfèric, contains the IMAX cinema and planetarium complex; El Museu de les Ciències Principe Felipe, is a skeletal structured, interactive science museum; L’Umbracle, an open structured landscape containing indigenous plants native to Valencia; L’Oceanogràfic, the largest aquarium in Europe and home to over 500 different species of marine life; El Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia, opera house and performing arts centre, and L’Àgora, which houses the sports and events centres.
The city is simultaneously simple and complex with smooth lines, cone-shaped stairwells and suspended structures flowing seamlessly in a blend of water, glass, concrete and steel. Much like the designs of Barcelona’s Gaudi, Calatrava’s work is said to be reminiscent of living organisms with an emphasis on visual intrigue, balance and symmetry.