“Once upon a time, you learned from watching your mother and you cooked because you had to. But children aren’t doing that anymore. It’s common now to hear of people who can’t cook at all.” – Tui Flower, 2010

Tui Flower, one of the most influential figures in New Zealand food, died last week aged 92. Tui never ran a restaurant and never shouted at anyone on a TV food show, but she determined what was served up for dinner in many households for several decades. As food editor of the New Zealand Woman’s Weekly from 1965 to 1984, Tui introduced ‘exotic’ ingredients to families who previously existed on a dull diet of meat and three veg.

Her magnum opus, The New Zealand Woman’s Weekly Cookbook, contains a buffet of recipes that range from the classic to the (now) unpalatable – ham-wrapped bananas in cheese sauce, or swan casserole, anyone? – but every single one is meticulously written with a clear understanding of its audience. If you can find one in an op shop, snap it up at once.

My own copy gets dragged out at least once a week, usually for a Saturday morning pikelet session. I never met Tui but in a phone conversation we once had – I now can’t remember why, I must have been interviewing her about something with no small amount of trepidation – I thanked her for teaching my husband how to make pikelets. She was tickled pink (though probably shocked that he didn’t know already). Thank you, Tui, for passing on your wisdom. You will be missed.

Pikelets a la Tui Flower

I’ve written about pikelets before, in homage to my great-aunt Makiri, who would make cat pikelets (and choux pastry swans, though not at the same time). Tui’s recipe, from the aforementioned New Zealand Woman’s Weekly Cookbook, is a never-fail classic. Extensive testing in our household has proven that you need to use ordinary cow’s milk (most emphatically NOT almond) and plain white flour for best results. This is not the time to go all alt-ingredient-y, ok? I’ve doubled the quantities specified by Tui, because one batch is not quite enough for our small but greedy family. Leftovers can be frozen and reheated in the toaster, but there are very seldom any left hanging around.

 

2 eggs

4 Tbsp caster sugar

1 cup milk

1 1/2 cups plain flour

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp baking soda

2 tsp cream of tartar

butter

Whisk the eggs and sugar together, then add the milk. Sift over the dry ingredients and whisk together until smooth. The batter should slide off the spoon with ease, but not be too runny.

Grease a large, heavy pan with butter and set over medium heat. Cook spoonfuls of the batter until bubbles form and pop on top, then flip over carefully and cook for another minute or two (they will puff up as they cook). Transfer to a rack or a plate covered with a folded teatowel and keep warm until the rest are done (warning: you will need to fend off all-comers). Regrease the pan as necessary, but don’t overdo it.

Serve the pikelets with lashings of whatever you fancy. Tui suggested “grilled bacon or sausage or marmalade”, I favour cream and jam. This makes about 20.

They say it’s not what you know, it’s who you know that counts. I’ve never really believed that until recently when I acquired three new colleagues at my day job. They’re all clever and interesting people, but one in particular has some very enviable connections and she knows how to work them. She sidled up to me on her first day and said, ‘so, I hear you know about food. Want some smoked fish?’

It turns out that she has a keen angler father who keeps her in ample stocks of beautifully smoked and meticulously boned Taupo trout. Even better for me is that she doesn’t like to eat it. The rest of us keep telling her she’s missing out, but she won’t be swayed. I think this is what’s known in the trade as a win-win. In the meantime, I’m making the most of the catch while I can.

Smoked Trout Pasta

Tagliatelle with smoked trout and mascarpone

This is one of those dishes you can put together while the water boils for the pasta. The hardest bit is not eating all the trout while you wait.

Serves two.

½ cup mascarpone

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

Finely grated zest and juice of a lemon

2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

4 handfuls rocket

150g smoked trout

150g tagliatelle

Put a large pot of water on to boil for the tagliatelle. While you’re waiting, put the mascarpone, mustard, lemon zest and juice and olive oil in a small bowl. Season well with salt and pepper, then whisk to combine and set aside. Flake the trout and stir half of it into the mascarpone mix.

When the water is boiling, add a large spoonful of salt, followed by the pasta. Cook for five minutes (or according to packet directions), then drain, reserving a tablespoon or so of the water. Return to the pot, then toss through most of the rocket and all of the mascarpone. Divide the pasta between two plates and scatter the rest of the rocket and the trout on top. Serve – and eat – immediately.

Got an angler in the family? Here are three more ways with smoked fish to help use up the catch. Failing that, I’m sure I can hook you up with some willing takers!

T.S Eliot may have claimed that April was the cruelest month, but he hadn’t experienced Wellington in early August. By now, the gloss of wearing one’s winter coat and boots has well worn off (especially if you’ve been wearing them since March) and the grimness of rain, wind and more rain is starting to eat away at any joie de vivre you have left. Or maybe that’s just me. I can cope with June (a long weekend, a half-marathon) and July (my birthday, school holidays), but August is rough. Thank goodness for books, binge-watching and bowls of soup accompanied by lavishly buttered baguettes.

Sweetcorn And Kumara Soup

Sweetcorn and kumara soup

After a recent Three Ways With column extolling the virtues of frozen vegetables I had a large bag of frozen sweetcorn taking up valuable room in our tiny freezer. I am emotionally scarred by the frozen vegetables we had to eat at boarding school and the other members of my household are fervently anti-corn campaigners, but I was determined to use it up. This sunshine-y soup is the result.

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 large onion, finely diced

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 stalks celery, finely diced

1 tsp ground turmeric

1 tsp ground coriander

600g (1 large) golden or orange kumara, peeled and cut into 2cm chunks

3 cups good chicken (or vegetable) stock

3 cups frozen corn kernels

Finely grated zest and freshly squeezed juice of 1 large lemon

A splash of cream

A handful finely chopped fresh parsley

Heat the oil in a large, heavy pot. Add the onion, garlic and celery, plus a large pinch of sea salt. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, until the vegetables are soft and beginning to colour.

Raise the heat slightly, then add the spices and kumara. Cook for a couple of minutes, stirring to coat the kumara in the onion and spice mixture, then pour in the stock. Bring to a gentle boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes or until the kumara is nearly tender. Add the corn and cook for three minutes.

Remove from the heat and puree (with a stick blender, ordinary blender, or food processor. Don’t try pushing this one through a sieve, you’ll hate yourself – and me.) Return to the pot and add the lemon juice and zest, then taste and season appropriately. Reheat gently until piping hot, then serve in warmed bowls topped with a swirl of cream and a scattering of parsley. Makes about 1.5 litres, freezes well.

What are your tactics for surviving the bleakest month of winter?

If I was the sort of person who did things by the book, I’d be planting my garlic today. But after the failure of last year’s crop – I’ll never know if it was too much rain at the wrong time, the wrong sort of compost, or just bad luck – I’m a bit reluctant. Serves me right for being so smug and getting it in on time last year, I suppose. Traditional garden lore says it should be planted on the Shortest Day, but apparently it can be planted any time from May until the end of July. That’s especially useful information for people like me, who don’t fancy going out in the dark tonight to get the job done.

In the meantime, I’m indulging in some extremely moreish black garlic grown and cured in Marlborough. Black garlic, or ‘garlic noir’ as it’s sometimes called, is fermented for a month to create a kind of super garlic that has double the antioxidants of the ordinary stuff. The fermentation process also changes the texture and flavour profile – black garlic is soft and almost chewy, with a sweet and smoky flavour that reminds me of molasses or fresh dates. It’s extremely moreish and I often find I have eaten a couple of cloves while slicing it up for something else.

 

The clever people who make it at Marlborough Garlic suggest using it as part of an antipasto platter, but I’ve also been adding it to vinaigrettes, or as a last-minute flavour boost to risotto, as it doesn’t need to be cooked. They also suggest dipping it in dark chocolate, which I was unsure about until a recent lunch at the sublime Wharekauhau Lodge where pastry chef Yannick Beaurienne devised a gorgeous black garlic chocolate mousse with kumara and pear brunoise, kumara ice cream and garlic caramel, as seen below.

Yannick’s version was beautiful, elegant (and extremely labour-intensive). Here’s my much-simplified version for the home cook.

Black garlic chocolate mousse with black garlic toffee
Don’t be afraid – the black garlic just deepens and enriches the chocolate flavours. This was a huge hit in my household, to the point that there was barely any left to photograph.

For the mousse:
200g dark chocolate
2 cloves black garlic (about 8g)
400ml cream
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

For the black garlic toffee:
3-4 cloves black garlic, finely sliced
4 Tbsp caster sugar
20ml (4 tsp) water

A little extra cream, for drizzling

Break the chocolate into pieces and put into a heatproof bowl. Put half the cream into a small pot and heat to nearly boiling point. Pour over the chocolate and set aside for five minutes.
Mash the garlic to a paste and stir through the chocolate and cream until the mixture is smooth.
Whip the cream and vanilla to soft peaks. Fold through the cooled chocolate mixture,  then pour into a large bowl or divide between six small serving dishes (I use Great Aunt Shirley’s whisky glasses). Cover and put in the fridge to set for at least two hours.

For the toffee, spread the sliced garlic on a piece of non-stick foil or baking paper. Put the sugar and water in a small pot and set over medium heat. Stir to dissolve the sugar, then let it bubble away for five to 10 minutes, until it turns a dark golden colour (don’t wander off, this will happen sooner than you think!) Pour the toffee over the garlic and leave to set.

To serve, remove the mousses from the fridge at least 20 minutes before serving. Break the toffee into pieces and use to decorate each one. Drizzle a little cream over the top and serve.

Are you planting garlic this winter? Do you have any top tips for failed growers?

Have you been struck by the dreaded winter lurgy yet? It has cut a swathe through our small household in the last week and I don’t think it’s done with us yet. I lost my voice over the weekend, then lost my hearing as soon as it came back. Worst of all, I’ve lost my sense of taste – unless it’s chocolate or chilli, I’ve been reduced to eating for texture only. This is profoundly depressing.

I’m hoping that my current high levels of persimmon consumption will speed my recovery. Persimmons are high in vitamin C and look extremely cheerful in the kitchen. Oranges are not the only fruit at this time of year, after all.

This week’s Three Ways With… column is devoted to the not-so-humble persimmon, which I have been consuming in huge quantities lately (so imagine how much sicker I could have been!) The following recipe for frozen persimmon sorbet will be extremely soothing if you’re unwell, but you don’t have to be poorly to enjoy it. 

Frozen persimmon sorbet

I was extremely sceptical when I read about this recipe – and I did have to experiment with it a bit to make it work – but it’s a nice bit of fun to try (with minimal effort required). All you need to do is freeze as many persimmons as you have diners for a minimum of three hours. At least 45 minutes before serving, remove the persimmons from the freezer. Slice off the tops and let the fruit sit at room temperature. After 45 minutes they will be icy cold, but soft enough to spoon out the frosty flesh. For an extra treat, pass around a bowl of whipped cream.

If this sounds like too much hassle, be reliably informed that you can freeze peeled, sliced persimmons and whiz them up in smoothies. And if you have a dehydrator, dried persimmon slices are absolute heaven (thanks Ann for the lovely specimens below).