Feijoa skin syrup (and 9 other ways with feijoas)

I’m just about asleep when I hear it the first time. It’s a dull, definite thud, just outside the back door. There’s no wind and no traffic noise, just the moreporks saying good night to each other. Then it happens again. Thud. Thud. Thud. I freeze in alarm. “Did you hear that?” I hiss. “Mmmm, he says sleepily. “It’ll be a cat or something. Don’t worry about it.” I’m not convinced, but I’m not getting up to look either. I put my head under the duvet and go to sleep.

The next morning I’m standing in the kitchen drinking a cup of tea and it happens again. Thud. Thud. I look out the window. There’s no cat. Then I see them, half a dozen green fruit that have landed heavily on the deck. The feijoas have arrived.

About six years ago we planted five feijoa trees along a north-facing fenceline in our garden. One of them snapped in two during a gale, but the others have soldiered on. In December, they’re covered in beautiful red flowers, like early Christmas decorations. I’ve neglected ours terribly in the last year (it’s hard to care for your garden from the other side of the world) but this autumn we’ve had the biggest crop ever. The first fruits started dropping in at the beginning of April and we’re still collecting dozens every day. A fruit bowl isn’t big enough – we’re currently using a 5kg apple box that never seems to empty, no matter how many I eat. I’ve long since lost the piece of paper on which I wrote down what varieties of trees we planted (possibly a Mammoth, a Eureka, a Bambino and an Apollo?) but some fruit are giant, others are doll-sized.

Since this year’s harvest has coincided with quarantine, I’ve become obsessed with trying to find ways to use them up. Discovering Kristina Jensen’s incredible Chunky Monkey Feijoa Chutney was a revelation. This is an extremely low-stress, low-energy pickle. There’s no peeling, making it a genius way to use up all the little feijoas that are a pain to peel.

This Feijoa, Ginger and Coconut Crumble Shortcake recipe I created for Be Well magazine in the NZ Herald – and ironically had to buy feijoas to make it (when they were $16.99 a kilo back in mid-March!) – has been hugely popular, with lots of people sending me photos of their version.

My latest experiment has been making Feijoa Skin Syrup. Syrups are a big thing in France, with shelves and shelves of all manner of fruity versions in supermarkets. Some are organic, artisanal ones with hand-drawn labels and pretty glass bottles, others come in 2-litre tins and taste suspiciously of factory-generated ‘fruit flavours’. I don’t like fruit juices or fizzy drinks, but last year I became quite partial to a slosh of sirop au citron in a glass of soda water. This one is even better, not least because it’s zero-waste.

Feijoa Skin Syrup

This is as simple as it gets. If you’ve got access to oranges or lemons, add a squeeze of juice and some finely pared rind instead of the lemon verbena. Feijoa skins can be frozen for this recipe. Makes about 500ml.

  • 3 cups feijoa skins
  • 2-3 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • A handful of lemon verbena leaves

Put everything in a small pot set over medium heat. Stir to dissolve the sugar, then leave to simmer very gently for about 25 minutes (or until the whole house is perfumed). Remove from the heat and leave to cool, then pour through a sieve into sterilised glass bottles. To serve, pour a splash of syrup into a glass and top up with ice and soda (or a splash of vodka or gin). Store syrup in the fridge.

Want more ways to use up your feijoas? Try these:

Crunchy cheese, potato and onion bake

When all this is over, I’m going to declare a fatwa on potatoes and cheese. We’re a potato-based household at the best of times, but right now it feels like we’re practically living on them. I’d do anything for a bit of variation on the cheese front, too. Just before lockdown started I had a wedge of my favourite Whitestone Aged Windsor Blue that I ate all too quickly. And oh, to be able to eat any of the cheeses I ate in France last year…

However, in the spirit of being grateful for small mercies, even the most ordinary potatoes and cheese can make life seem a little brighter. This is a riff on my sister-in-law Jenny’s famous cheesy potatoes (I aspire to make them as well as she can). If you squint, it’s sort of a poor man’s tartiflette – I made this Thomasina Miers’ tartiflette many times in France with enormous wheels of reblochon last year. And one day, I will again.

CRUNCHY CHEESE, POTATO AND ONION BAKE

Serves 4

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 45 minutes

If you’ve got cold leftover roast or boiled potatoes, you can use them instead – just blanch the spinach or silverbeet in boiling water, then add it to the potatoes and crush. Also feel free to swap the bacon for ham (or a small amount of anchovies, or olives). Other good additions include cherry tomatoes, little florets of broccoli or cauliflower, chunks of other cheeses – whatever your lockdown cupboards or fridge offers up.

  • 5 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 large onions, peeled and sliced thinly
  • 6-8 large agria potatoes, scrubbed and cut into large chunks
  • 200g spinach or silverbeet, washed and roughly chopped
  • 150g streaky bacon, diced
  • 2 cups grated tasty cheese

Heat the oven to 200C. Put 3 Tablespoons of the olive oil and the sliced onions in a roasting dish and toss well. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes while you’re getting the potatoes ready.

While the onions are cooking, cook the potatoes in boiling salted water for 15 minutes, until just about falling apart when prodded with a fork. Drop the spinach into the pot and cook for two minutes, then tip the whole thing into a colander and leave to drain.

Remove the onions from the onion and take most of them out of the dish. Layer some potatoes and spinach on top, crushing the potatoes with a fork, followed by some grated cheese and bacon. Repeat these layers, ending with cheese and bacon. Season well with lots of black pepper, drizzle over the remaining olive oil and bake in the oven for 40 minutes, until everything is crunchy. Eat with lots of hot mustard and something green.

Nectarine tartines with chilli and mint

What’s that saying about necessity being the mother of invention? I apply it to what we eat on a daily basis – I am the self-appointed queen of resourceful cooking. I think I learnt this from my mother, growing up on a farm where you didn’t nip to the shops if you ran out of something, but didn’t get good at it until I was a student with a Mother Hubbard-style pantry. Now it’s such a habit I do it without even thinking, like weaving between two languages without having to translate them in my head.

Sometimes though, the cupboards are full enough that this ‘invention’ is easy. The day after making and photographing the recipes for this week’s Eat Well spread on stonefruit, I opened the fridge to discover lots of good things to make breakfast from (being home alone also helps in these situations – good things vanish less quickly and you can eat whatever you like). This simple tartine (an open sandwich – tartiner means ‘to spread’ in French) was the result.

Nectarine tartines with chilli and mint

I’m not sure this is a recipe, exactly, but a set of loose instructions. You could vegan-ise it by using cashew cream cheese, or use peaches and basil instead of nectarines and mint. Or you could go down a completely different route and use plums and dark chocolate, as in this Black Forest sandwich. The options are limited only by your fridge…

  • 2 slices sourdough or other good bread
  • 3-4 Tbsp cream cheese
  • 1 ripe nectarine, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 fresh red chilli, thinly sliced
  • A small handful of mint leaves, roughly torn
  • Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling

Toast the bread, then spread generously with cream cheese. Top with nectarine slices, then scatter over the chilli and mint leaves. Drizzle over a little olive oil. Eat immediately. Serves 1-2.

ROASTED GNOCCHI WITH SAUSAGE, TOMATOES AND CHEESE

In recent weeks I’ve developed a somewhat shameful addiction to vacuum-packed gnocchi. You know the stuff I mean – little huhu grubs of potato and god-only-knows-what-else stuffed into flat packets that stack so easily in the cupboard. This gnocchi, which bares only a passing resemblance to the real deal, is the Italian cousin to the mighty two-minute noodle. It’s fast, convenient and – despite negligible nutritional value – can be just what you need in times of trouble.

The trick, of course, is knowing how to pimp them up. Here’s what I did the other night, cleverly combining the contents of the fridge with a packet of gnocchi for a dinner that practically cooked itself and cheered us all up.

Roasted Gnocchi With Sausage And Cherry Tomatoes

Roasted gnocchi with sausage, cherry tomatoes and cheese

Feel free to add any suitable vegetables here – eggplant or zucchini would be excellent when they’re in season. Tucking extra cheese in (feta or halloumi, perhaps?) is a good idea if you’re not fond of sausage.

Extra virgin olive oil

2 red onions, peeled and roughly chopped

1 bulb fennel, trimmed and sliced

1-2 red peppers, cut into chunks

6-8 good quality pork sausages, cut into small pieces (use scissors)

2 cups cherry tomatoes, washed

500g vacuum-packed potato gnocchi

2-3 handfuls finely grated Parmesan cheese

A handful of finely chopped parsley

Heat the oven to 200C. Set a large pot of water to boil over high heat.

Pour a splash (about 1 1/2 Tablespoons) of olive oil in a heavy roasting dish. Add the onions, fennel, peppers and sausage chunks. Toss together, season well with salt and pepper and bake in the oven for 10 minutes.

When the water is boiling, add a handful of salt and the gnocchi. Cook for two minutes (the gnocchi should float to the top), then drain immediately. Tip the gnocchi into the roasting dish of vegetables and sausage. Add the cherry tomatoes and stir together. Drizzle with more olive oil and scatter over the grated cheese. Return the dish to the oven and bake for a further 10-15 minutes, until the sausages are cooked, the cheese is crispy and everything smells delicious. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley and serve immediately with a green salad on the side. Serves 3-4.

sweet cheeses

Since October is National Cheese Month in New Zealand, today’s Three Ways With… column is dedicated to blue cheese. Well, I had to choose one, and if you can’t choose your favourite in these circumstances, when can you? Here’s my Kikorangi pannacotta in all its lovely wobbly glory.

If the thought of a blue cheese pudding freaks you out, here’s the equally lovely (but much less wobbly) cauliflower and blue cheese soup that features in the same column…

If you like blue cheeses but lack the time or will to do anything with them beyond sticking slices on a cracker, try this handy tip I picked up from a maple syrup seller at the Food Show. Simply cut a generous wedge of blue cheese (my all-time favourite, after discovering it at the Outstanding Food Producer Awards earlier this year, is Whitestone’s Aged Windsor Blue) and balance it on an oatcake or very gritty-textured cracker before drizzling it with the best maple syrup you can find (don’t try this with anything that pretends to be maple-flavoured). Repeat as necessary.

Lastly, if your cheese tastes tend to the plain and simple (or you are unexpectedly required to come up with some snacks for small children), here’s a handy cheese hack. Spread a sheet of shortcrust pastry with Marmite and top with grated cheddar before baking in a very hot oven for 10 minutes. The kids will love it, but they’ll have to be quick because any nearby adults will hoover it up as soon as it hits the table.

Made any excellent cheese discoveries lately? Let me know…