Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Slow food Slow Marlborough

Slow Food Marlborough was formed 24 months ago in Marlborough.
Since then we have visited food producers all around the region and tasted, learned, shared and enlightened ourselves about what is in our back yard.   
Many of these producers are now good friends, and I know their families, their hardships and their successes. Mother Nature controls all of them like puppets on a string, for she has the ultimate say over the wind, rain, hail and sunshine. Just when you think you have it right in the food production industry, something comes along and you soon realise that there is no easy way, just her way.
What's this got to do with slow food, and why does it matter? Simple – New Zealand imports more food than almost any other OECD country. Up to 40 per cent of what we see on the shelves is imported. We import 16,000 tonnes of pork product, 30,000 tonnes of meat and 18,000 tonnes of Chinese garlic, yet we export the majority of our homegrown crops and bounty from the sea.
We import Australian salmon and sell it cheaper than the equivalent New Zealand-produced product. And why do we send fish caught in our waters to China to be filleted and processed, then delivered back to our supermarkets and fish and chip shops?
Slow Food is not going to be able to digest all of the whats, ifs and hows of food production. That will take a generation of changes in attitude and business models that are driven by exporting for maximum returns, and importing to keep the cost of food as low as possible.
We need to celebrate our growing seasons as much as we celebrate our sporting heroes. We need to say, `I don't need that tomato in the middle of winter – it's round and it's red, but bears no resemblance to what a tomato tastes or should be like".
We have a generation being bought up to believe that tomatoes have no flavour, that apples are crisp but not juicy, and that strawberries are tart but not sun-kissed.
Slow food is not about making short-term changes. It is about understanding what is going on around us in our communities, celebrating our uniqueness and culture, and embracing our aquaculture, pipfruit, viticulture and stonefruit producers and making them the heroes of the dinner table. It is about putting the spotlight on what is good in our region, what is the tastiest, and what is the real backbone of a community. It is the people who live, work and thrive without having to depend on a tart, tangy, hard strawberry fix from some faraway place
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, peeled and chopped
8 cloves of Marlborough garlic, crushed
2 carrots, chopped
2 pumpkins, chopped
2 potatoes, chopped
3 sticks celery, chopped
4 tomatoes, diced
2 leeks, sliced
2 parsnips, peeled and sliced
6 cups vegetable stock, or one packet vegetable soup mix with 6 cups water
Garden herbs for garnish
Heat the oil in a saucepan. Sweat the onion, garlic and carrot for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the remaining vegetables and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, then add the stock and simmer gently for 15 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.
Puree with a stick blender, mash with a potato masher, or blend in a food processor, but make sure you keep some of the texture.
Serve piping hot with crusty bread in deep bowls with lots of freshly cut garden herbs on top.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Taste Marlborough 2010

Once again Marlborough has outdone itself when hosting events and celebrations.
It was my pleasure to be involved with the Havelock Mussel Festival in the cooking demonstration tent.
The festival has proved again what a small town full of passionate people can do when working together – a great festival, a great celebration, and a great effort by all those involved behind the scenes to make it work so well.
The Women of Influence Conference that I attended as a speaker was truly inspiring for all, and well done to the organisers for bringing such a large group of ladies to our region and then showing them what is really great about networking and sharing the same goals and passions.
The Sun Valley Roadsters recently hosted the Street Rod Nationals, and from a small local membership base gathered in more than 400 entrants to show off some great cars. What a superb event. Thanks to my volunteers on stage, who helped by not burning down the Marlborough Club's building.
The Forrest GrapeRide was once again hugely successful, and myself and son were support crew to Mrs Fortune and her relay team. What a fantastic post-race presentation. The skill and determination of not only Marlborough riders but the thousands from all around New Zealand was infectious. Well done to the organisers and participants for another great iconic event.
Destination Marlborough hosted numerous international film crews and media over the past month, and it was a pleasure to be able to promote and highlight what is so special about where we live.
So what has all of this got to do with a cooking column?
To me, it is simple. What we produce in our backyard is world-class in terms of events and celebrations, not just for the locals but for all visitors to the region. The key to cooking is the same – surround yourself with good people and ingredients and you will truly shine, whether it be at the dinner table with the family or at a gathering of thousands. Well done, Marlborough – you really are the star of the celebration.
1 GrapeRide around the Marlborough Sounds
1 hot rod gathering
300 women of influence
Sunshine and a little bit of shade
Tonnes of mussels and a couple of shuckers
Local food producers and consumers
A pinch of Destination Marlborough, who love Marlborough
A dash of good faith and humour
Mix ingredients, add a dash of a proactive Marlborough council, gently fold in sunshine, add a splash of Marlborough Sounds water and a little Lake Grassmere salt. Bake in a large oven for 150 years and serve to as many people as possible. Serve with Forrest wines or any other world-class wines from the region.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Direct from the Garden of Eden

By Chris Fortune - The Marlborough Express       

  Darn those cooler nights and chilly mornings, for they mean that autumn is here and we are soon going to be gripped by winter's icy hand. Not to despair at the dinner table, though, as mother nature provides plenty of new taste sensations. In fact, some of the best products are now available from your local farmers' market: golden queen peaches, quinces and figs are three of my all-time favourite fruits, packed with flavour and juice. We are lucky we can buy them direct from the growers right here in Marlborough every Sunday morning.

Figs hail from the Garden of Eden, the tree of life, and are a symbol of fertility, which may explain why they sold out so quickly last week (even I missed out).
For a fruit that lays claim to being the first domesticated crop in the world, they are certainly worth the long wait.
Fresh figs are best eaten as close to the tree of origin and as ripe as possible, when they are just on the point of bursting. Look for the telltale honey-like drops of moisture on the surface.
They are highly perishable and will not keep for long in the fridge, so are best consumed quickly.
They are thin-skinned and easily bruised, so be careful when handling them and treat them like a Romanov princess.
Figs go well with bacon, cheese, ham, goat's cheese (Sherrington Grange, of course, produced here in Marlborough), rocket leaves, dessert wines, honey, almonds, lemons and walnuts, and can be eaten raw, quickly pan-seared or baked in the oven.
As a child, that we used to have a big fig tree in the backyard, and in this fig tree we built a treehouse.
The fruit was not of interest at the time, except as weapons to hurl at my brothers.
Birds were in abundance, as they love figs, and you have to be quick to beat them. My favourite recipe as a 10-year-old was a dozen figs, a slingshot, a bucket of mud and two brothers as targets. My favourite recipe now, after having eaten as many as possible, is to freeze them so you can make figgy scones throughout the year.
500g strong flour
85g sugar
30g baking powder
85g butter
2 eggs
225ml milk
200g figs (or more)
Preheat the oven to 190 degrees Celsius. Put all the ingredients except the figs in a bowl. Gently bring the mixture together until you have a soft, dough-like texture. Add the figs and roll the dough out to about 4cm. Cut out scone shapes with a round cutter and place them on a baking sheet. Brush with egg wash and bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown and cooked. Serve warm with butter.