I wanted to make something with the ubiquitous apples that still dominate every Northern farmers' market. Even in the middle of February we have hopes of spring, so it was not to be a heavy, apple-tarty kind of dessert, but something refreshing and optimistic.
The Sylvaner we drank recently, and the apples, made me think of soup. A memory perhaps from an illustrated Bocuse recipe book.
And then I found an extraordinary vinegar: ice cider vinegar made by Fabrice Lafon [the English version of the website is fairly hysterical - do not be put off] in Quebec from apples that have frozen on the tree. It is expensive and rich and is to be eked out by the teaspoonful. It was a perfect foil for the warmly sweet broth that the apples and wine made...
This headily perfumed vinegar is not widely available so a substitute of cider vinegar should be made, with the addition to each tablespoon of a pinch of brown sugar.
Finally, another layer of flavour - a vanilla bean from a fragrant bunch given to me by Marijke, bought from a back street vanilla trader in Madagascar. If I made this soup in fall I think I would use a stick of cinnamon as the spice, rather than vanilla, for its cold weather connotations, and promise of winter to come.
The result is a cool soup at the end of a winter dinner: surprising, delicate and light, and entirely seasonal.
1 1/2 cups (approx. 400ml) of fruity, dry, unwooded white wine - I used a Sylvaner made by Schloss Mühlenhoff
1 apple, peeled and sliced thinly
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon ice cider vinegar
1 vanilla bean, slit
Warm the wine with the vanilla bean in a nonreactive pan, and add the apples when tiny bubbles start to appear in the liquid. Add the sugar, stir to dissolve. Cook gently at a simmer, for 5 minutes. Add the vinegar. Taste. The result should be lightly sweet and fragrant with tart balance. Do not overdo the sugar. When the apples are barely tender remove from the heat and cool. Chill in the fridge and serve in shallow soup bowls.
Although we loved this as a dessert, I can imagine it as an unorthodox starter, too, like the cold cherry soup of Hungary...