The New Zealand 'identity' has many characteristics to capitalise upon for advertising campaigns - how minimalistic we are as a people, how we generally don't go into excessive details or facial expressions or go in for fancy things. I found myself thinking about this when I was given the opportunity to submit this blog post as part of a promotion for mega-cook and food hero Rick Stein's impending visit to Aotearoa. The "ultimate New Zealand dish" was my brief, which is not something I feel authoritative enough to pinpoint down. But a pavlova immediately leapt to mind, and infuriatingly, so did all those ads.
On the one hand, it's kind of amusing that we have this famous pudding which has appeared in recipe books and graced tables for years and years, but which is seriously a bit of a mission to make. Oh, us kiwis, being all casual about this complicated dessert! On the other hand I was annoyed with myself for buying into it all by having an advertising-fuelled self-deprecating chuckle. On the other hand, it made me wonder whether we are even all that relaxed and simple or whether it's something advertising has constructed. On the other hand, marketing is hard, trying to get information to people in the spaces between the information they're actually trying to absorb is a mission and a half, and I can't help but salute any that winkle their way into everyday vernacular.
On the other hand, pavlova. Let's not overthink it, eh?
Pavlova - made from egg whites, sugar, and a lot of air - isn't overly straightforward, but if you're careful and patient, it's really no big deal. But importantly, it always looks like a big deal. Pavlova is one of those dishes over which arguments are dribbled back and forth between New Zealand and Australia about who thought it up originally. Fortunately the pavlova is unlikely to engage in the kind of reputation-smearing scandalous activity that prompts a flurry of "Australia can have him" responses from the public. While I'd like to think it's ours, because I love ballet so much and it was named after the great ballerina Anna Pavlova, whose ethereal white tutu it supposedly represented, I'm not overly fussed. If Australia really does have claim to the first pav, so be it - I'm more charmed with the idea of dishes being created in honour of people at all. Maybe one day there will be a "Heavily Buttered Toast with Marmite and Melted Cheese, Microwaved a la Laura" in the same way that you get Peach Melba and stuff like that.
With all this in mind, I've adapted a Nigella Lawson recipe for my take on pavlova. Yes, Nigella Lawson the British non-New Zealander. If you want a plain pavlova recipe I'm sure you couldn't do better than anything in the Edmonds cookbook or any other reliable local cookbook. My take on Nigella's version of our usual, marshmallow-white creation is a darker, and (dare I say it in the same breath as the wholesome Edmonds cookbook) altogether sexier pavlova. Aren't we always asking people, wide-eyed and hopeful, about what they think about New Zealand? Isn't it a compliment to us that the mighty Nigella has so many pavlova recipes? Yes, our usual pavlova is covered in a thick layer of whipped cream and maybe a few slices of kiwifruit or spoonfuls of passionfruit seeds. These are both incredibly good options and my version - Chocolate, Tamarillo, and Pistachio Pavlova with Coconut Cream - is just another option, rather than any kind of attempt to kick the original white pav.
Chocolate, Tamarillo and Pistachio Pavlova with Coconut Cream
Based on the Chocolate Raspberry Pavlova (also excellent!) from Nigella Lawson's Forever Summer.
6 egg whites
300g caster sugar
50g good cocoa (I use Fair Trade or Equagold)
1 tsp balsamic or red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
150g dark chocolate (I used Whittakers - made in Wellington!)
100g shelled pistachios
1 can coconut cream
Set oven to 180 C. Whip up the egg whites till satiny peaks form, then continue to beat them while adding the sugar a tiny bit at a time. Maybe get a buddy to help with this bit. Once the sugar is all added the mixture should be thick, shiny and stiff. Sift in the cocoa and sprinkle over the vinegar, folding in carefully. Spread mixture into a 23cm circle on a baking paper lined tray. Immediately turn down oven to 150 C and leave for about an hour. Once done, turn oven off and leave pav to cool completely.
While the pav is baking, scoop out the seeds and flesh of the tamarillo, tip into a small bowl and sprinkle over the brown sugar, allowing it to dissolve. Swipe a sharp knife through the flesh if the seeds aren't loose enough - you want a loose, chunky mixture as opposed to large, separate pieces. I hope that makes sense. Melt the dark chocolate and drizzle spoonfuls generously, Jackson Pollock-styles across the pav. You don't have to use the whole lot, but don't let me hold you back. Spoon the tamarillo seeds, flesh and juice evenly over the top and finally sprinkle thickly with pistachios. Serve in wedges with a spoonful of coconut cream on the side.
Serves 6 or so.
Something I should probably point out is that I completely forgot to turn on the oven before making this, so the beaten egg whites sat around for a considerable amount of time before getting any kind of blast of heat. This, plus the fact that I made this using a whisk instead of any kind of electric equipment, may explain the overwhelming flatness of the finished product. Still, 6 egg whites were not going to be used in vain, and with a certain pioneering spirit (and very sore upper arms from whisking the egg whites) I carried on. I'd sent a txt to our good friend and ex-flatmate Ange, saying that for reasons too complex to explain in 160 characters I had to make a pav and would she like to help us eat it? Luckily she did, or I might have eaten the whole enormous flat mess while curled up on the floor - what pavlova? I never made a pavlova!
I really did this whole thing on the fly - running round Moore Wilson's and looking at what was in season without a clear picture of what I wanted the end result to be apart from "damn amazing". For a few dire moments it looked like the pavlova would have to be topped with mashed swede or something until Tim pointed out the tamarillos, dark red and rounded fruit encasing sharp, juicy flesh and seeds. My mind began to move remarkably fast, and I mentally paired the fruit with dark Whittakers chocolate and maybe some kind of nut for interest's sake. Pistachios, green and gorgeous, presented themselves once I got to the baking goods shelf and all of a sudden it started to make sense.
This pavlova replaces the dairy of our robust industry for a large spoonful of coconut cream. It's a nod to our place in the Pacific and also makes it accessible to those who can't actually eat dairy. Between the hastily assembled concept, forgetting to turn the oven on, the fact that the kitchen and myself were starting to be covered in chocolate, and the visitors turning up to eat it, I was starting to get a bit nervous about how it would actually taste after all that.
Friends - fellow New Zealanders - it was flipping excellent. What the pavlova lacked in, shall we say, body, it made up for in fudgy cocoa-y depth, with that familiarly crisp surface which dissolved alluringly on the tongue. The tamarillos were juicily sharp and fragrant, contrasting with the dark, rich cocoa taste of the melted Whittakers chocolate, the soft, buttery pistachios, and the mellow coconut cream seeping into each slice. We ate slice after slice (once I'd taken an excessively long time photographing it, of course) and then my flatmate and his friends came home and they had some too. Then Ange's boyfriend came over and ate some. It was a big pavlova but its lifespan was barely hours.
Is this New Zealand's ultimate dish? Oh, who could say. Put it next to a roast lamb or a fresh crayfish and it might seem far too fussy and "not us" and downright excessive. It is, however, an example of what you can do with one of our best dishes. It's a new take on a gorgeous original. Yes, we may be told repeatedly that we are short on emotion and expression but don't let this hold you back from enjoying something magically delicious, Aotearoa.
For more info on Rick Stein's New Zealand tour, give this site a look.
Two very cool things happened this week. One: I met Ray McVinnie. RAY MCVINNIE! Some know him as a judge on NZ Masterchef but I've been reading his Quick Smart column in Cuisine magazine hard for years and years now. Yes, he's more of a niche celebrity than a complete household name but he's easily my favourite NZ foodwriter and every single one of his columns is a diamond. If you don't know who he is, try to think of your favourite local celebrity who seems accessible enough in status but also roughly the awesomest in their chosen field, and imagine you got to meet them. McVinnie was at the recent Visa Wellington on a Plate launch that I was lucky enough to attend and along with two other Wellington food bloggers at the event, I just kind of prodded him on the shoulder, and said "hello, I'm Laura, I'm a food blogger, I'm a really big fan of your writing." We all introduced ourselves and even got a brief conversation out of him - "Keep writing about food," he said (oh how I will!) and also he said something about food being the glue that holds society together, I can't remember specifically what it was but I remember agreeing with it. No lie, I grinned all the way home (sorry to any passers-by), got in the door and did a high-kick of happiness. By the way, the Visa Wellington on a Plate sounds well exciting, all those set lunch menus at all the fancy restaurants is making me happy just thinking about it. For more info check out their website!
Then on Saturday, I had a seriously cool lunch at Duke Carvell's with a whole bunch of Wellington-based food bloggers, including the aforementioned ladies of Gusty Gourmet who I met Ray McVinnie with. (Ray McVinnie! Okay I'll stop talking about it now.) Everyone was super lovely, and just plain super, really, and it was fun learning about peoples' stories and what made them start writing, and who the person is behind the blog name. It was a good feeling, being amongst other people who love food and love writing about it, and who all live in Wellington. Blogger solidarity!
Title via: Crowded House...maybe I should feel slightly apologetic about this one, oh sure it's a sharp-inward-drawing-of-breath-through-clenched-teeth-edly bad pun, but the way those opening chords teeter as if being plucked on the strings of a fully functioning heart instead of a guitar...I'm really not sorry at all.
New Edition's Something About You, from their 1996 reunion album Home Again. Those moves! It has been years and years since I've heard this song but I saw a tweet on Twitter mentioning 90s music and instantly thought of this. I used to love it and I don't know if it's just because I'm not really keeping an ear to the R'n'B ground these days but it feels like they don't make 'em like this anymore. (Poetically, fishpond.co.nz offers this album on cassette, before informing you that it's "currently unavailable"...no kidding.)
Meadowlark, a song from the musical The Baker's Wife, sung by Liz Callaway. I'm a bit obsessed with Liz Callaway at the moment, I've enjoyed her singing for a while but recently it's hit me just how intensely amazing she is. In a joyful coincidence, one of the songs she's most famous for is something I'm also obsessed with right now. I'll be trying to articulate this better on 100s and 1000s soon...
Next time: It has been real pie-making weather out there lately...I have pie on the brain. When it's this cold all I really want to do is read Nigella's How To Be A Domestic Goddess, and then cook everything from it.