I’m a Pakeha but I’m proud that the historic Pakeha-Maori relationship that gives New Zealand a unique difference from other former British colonial possessions. This extends to food in a limited way. Kumara seem to be the only traditional Maori ingredient that Pakeha adopted. While seafood, the other common food, was abundant the British settlers didn’t share the Maori enthusiasm for it.
To the British, seafood was the food of the poor, not a diet to aspire to, so no tradition of Pakeha seafood cookery was developed. What the British brought, apart from a liking for meat, were their own festive traditions, including Christmas, although now at the wrong time of the year and with the wrong weather for the hearty traditional British winter Christmas food. Some people have taken to having a midwinter Christmas meal (any excuse for a party, I guess) as the best way to enjoy that traditionally heavy meal.
More relevant to 21st century New Zealanders is the Maori celebration of Matariki, the Maori word for the Pleiades star cluster, which signalled the new year. According to the government website, depending on the tribe, Matariki was celebrated either at the arrival of the Pleiades, or on the first new moon after that, this year on June 6. What a perfect time for a modern celebration meal.
A national festival in most cultures calls for a special meal with food from the national cuisine, that set of dishes that signifies the culture. What signifies New Zealand food isn’t a set of national dishes but more a list of national ingredients.
For me this is a list of those foods I can remember the longest — kumara, my link with Maori food even though I cook it differently; silverbeet because it was easy to grow or cheap and always around; lamb because we do it so well; pork and watercress, foods common to Pakeha and Maori; seafood like mussels and clams because Pakeha got the hang of seafood eventually; steak because our insistence on grass feeding has paid off flavourwise and nutritionally; pumpkin, sweet, cheap and with a wide appeal; our cheeses, although we need to give them more Kiwi names; New Zealand oranges because other varieties never seem to reach the same intensity of flavour; boysenberries because no one outside New Zealand seems to have heard of them and boysenberry ripple was always a favourite flavour; and hokey pokey icecream, which is sacred!
So when I have my Matariki dinner I might do some of the following:
Roast a slab of belly pork with fennel seeds, lots of garlic, a sprig of rosemary and a drizzle of New Zealand extra virgin olive oil until tender and with crisp crackling. Make a white wine gravy made with the pan juices, and serve it with apples rubbed with extra virgin olive oil and roasted until soft in a separate pan, boiled silverbeet, squeezed dry, sliced and fried with garlic and the finely diced peel of a preserved lemon, and dry roasted purple-skinned kumara split in half lengthways.
Boil silverbeet leaves (not the white stalks) until well wilted, cool under cold water and squeeze dry then slice. Put live clams into a saucepan with a glug of New Zealand extra virgin olive oil, a splash of white wine, the zest of a lemon, a squashed garlic clove and a bay leaf and bring to the boil to steam open the clams. Once open, add the silverbeet and a big handful of watercress leaves and toss until hot, then serve tossed through al dente spaghetti. It doesn't need cheese. (A bit like an Italian boil-up.)
Steam plenty of peeled, cubed purple-skinned kumara and boil a cup of pearl barley until tender. Drain well and place in an ovenproof dish with a little beef stock, some sliced semi-dried tomatoes, lots of chopped parsley, a finely chopped clove of garlic and an onion slow-fried in extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle the top with a layer of crumbled feta (the new Chesdale). Mix well and place in a 200C oven for 20 minutes until hot and browned. Serve with barbecued lamb loin chops sprinkled with olive oil, dried oregano and freshly ground black pepper, a dollop of plain, naturally thickened yoghurt and a handful of rocket leaves.
Pan-fry or barbecue steak the way you like it and serve with a sauce of a little cream brought to the boil with a big lump of New Zealand blue cheese melted in it, a handful of watercress and lots of parsnips, split into quarters lengthways, tossed in olive oil, salt and pepper and roasted on a baking paper-lined tray until crisp in a 200C oven.
Make a macaroni cheese using New Zealand cumin gouda and tasty cheeses but add boiled, sliced silverbeet to the sauce and serve with lots of crisp bacon on top.
Make hamburger patties from minced lamb, a chopped red onion, a little ground cinnamon and salt and pepper. Pan-fry or barbecue the patties and serve in toasted buns with tamarillo chutney, thin-sliced barbecued kumara and pumpkin, watercress and mayo.
Peel kumara and pumpkin and cut into 3cm chunks. Toss in olive oil and roast in a hot oven until tender and browned. Served tossed with short pasta, fresh sage leaves fried in plenty of New Zealand butter which is allowed to brown, and sprinkled with lots of Italian parmesan.
Peel some New Zealand oranges with a sharp knife and slice. Place in a bowl with orange zest, drizzle with golden syrup and allow the syrup to dissolve in the juice of the oranges. Serve with coconut icecream and coconut cream.
Make a chocolate ganache by bringing cream to the boil, removing from the heat, stirring in an equal amount of chopped Whittakers Dark Ghana chocolate, letting it cool until thick and pouring it all over a bought pavlova. Bring some frozen boysenberries and sugar to the boil. Push through a sieve to remove the pips and make a sauce. Chill. Pile whipped cream over the chocolate ganache and pavlova and pour the boysenberry sauce over the top. Serve!
An oldie but a goodie. Cored apples stuffed with sliced fresh dates, a slug of whisky, a sprinkle of sugar and baked at 175C until the apples are roasted and soft. Serve with hokey pokey ice cream and whipped cream.