Last summer I was faced with the challenge of wrangling chefs and spreadsheets to put together the NZ Restaurant Cookbook, out today. It was a privilege to be asked to manage such a project, and a thrill to contact chefs I admire, and ask them to contribute to the book.
What has eventuated is a snapshot of what dining in New Zealand is like today.
Regional spread was the main driver in picking who to include - it was an almost impossible task to choose just 50.
There's an enormous amount of talent and passion in the kitchens across the country, with many of the chefs I spoke to having done stints overseas before returning home.
We have is some of the best produce in the world, and restaurateurs are increasingly growing kitchen gardens, foraging, and forging relationships with farmers. People want to know where their food is coming from, and chefs want to tell them.
Many chefs also wanted to showcase their sense of place with recipes using our seafood.
There are also influences evident from around the world, a nod to our multicultural country, and the book is richer for it.
These are two of my favourites for spring, chosen for their bright colours and fresh flavours.
This is also my last column for the Herald on Sunday - it's been an enjoyable three-and-a-half years.
You can keep up with my recipes and ramblings on my website delaneymes.com and my Instagram page @delaneymes.
Thanks for reading.
Halloumi, radicchio, watermelon, blackberry, poppy-seed and basil salad
Serves 4 as entree or side; or 2 as a salad
10g poppy seeds
2 round slices watermelon 2cm thick, cut from the centre
1 large head of radicchio "Palla Rossa"
250g good-quality halloumi
50g picked basil leaves
Zest of 1 lemon
Maldon sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil, for cooking and dressing
Toast the poppy seeds in a small, dry frying pan set over a medium-high heat for 4-5 minutes; this will really bring out their flavour. Set aside to cool.
Remove any pips from the watermelon slices without ruining the flesh.
Cut each watermelon round evenly into eighths, then cut off the white flesh and green skin.
You will end up with 16 triangular pieces of pink watermelon. Place in the refrigerator to chill.
Prepare radicchio by tearing off the outer leaves then using a small paring knife to take out the centre core at the bottom.
Separate the leaves, wash and dry.
Slice halloumi into 1-1.5cm slices.
Place radicchio, watermelon, blackberries, basil, lemon zest, salt and pepper in a large bowl.
Heat a heavy-based frying pan to medium-hot with enough olive oil to fry the halloumi. Once hot, start cooking the slices of halloumi until soft in the centre and golden on both sides.
This should take 2-4 minutes.
Once halloumi is cooked, dress the ingredients in the bowl with olive oil and start assembling the platter by layering everything randomly and sprinkling over the poppy seeds as you go.
Chef's note: Radicchio "Palla Rossa" grows in tight round heads, "palla" meaning ball and "rossa" meaning red in Italian. This is the most commonly available radicchio in New Zealand.
Blueberry chia jam and labneh tart
Serves 4 -6
1 dessertspoon liquid honey, or to taste (optional)
1 litre natural, unsweetened yoghurt
BLUEBERRY CHIA JAM
2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
1 Tbsp liquid honey, or more, to taste
1 Tbsp chia seeds
200g dried pears
¾ cup walnuts
¾ cup pecans
½ cup sunflower seeds
3 Tbsp coconut oil
1 cup fresh blueberries
50g very dark chocolate (optional)
Make the labneh a day in advance. Line a sieve with muslin cloth and set it over a deep pot. Mix honey (if using) through yoghurt then pour into the muslin-lined sieve. Cover, then place sieve and pot in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning you will have a thick, creamy labneh.
Discard the liquid in the pot.
To make the jam, put blueberries in a heavy-based saucepan over a low heat and let them release their juice; pressing with a fork will help this happen. Stir blueberries to start with.
Once the juice is released, let them simmer away for about 10 minutes or until the liquid has reduced and become syrupy. Add honey and simmer for another few minutes, then remove from heat and mix in chia seeds.
Leave to cool down for 2 hours; the jam will get thicker.
To make the base, place all ingredients in a food processor and blend until they form a fine crumb.
Line a 23cm × 50cm loose-bottom tart tin with baking paper and press in base mixture.
Spread mixture evenly over the bottom and up the sides. Place in the refrigerator to set for two hours.
Once jam has cooled and base has set, spread jam evenly over the base then spoon labneh over the top to fill the tart. Finish with a sprinkling of fresh blueberries and refrigerate until ready to serve.
If you happen to be feeling wild, you could grate dark chocolate over the top.
Recipe © Pipi Cafe. Extract reproduced with permission from New Zealand Restaurant Cookbook by Delaney Mes; RRP $50. Published by Penguin NZ. Photography © Liz Clarkson, 2017.