Friends with benefits

Fresh flavour: Steamed fish, sorrel and pea pasta.
Fresh flavour: Steamed fish, sorrel and pea pasta.

As hoped we returned from our Northland adventures to a wild jungle of weeds with a hidden bumper crop. As I fossicked among the weeds it again reminded me that the cook who grows her own ingredients is really the one who wins out.

Only the gardener (and friends of gardeners) get to eat the truly miniature and the truly giant of the vegetable scale. We also get to enjoy herbs and vegetables not deemed popular enough for the mass market, such as summer savoury, sorrel and the small, tart strawberries that beat the pants off the watery flabby things in the shops.

The giant marrow produced by our unpicked courgette is a wonder to behold. The Italians originally grew courgettes large, to be sliced or stuffed for the table, not the little uniform creatures available from the supermarket. These giant courgettes are a summer barbecue highlight for my family. Sliced into strips, nearly a centimetre thick, marinated in oregano, thyme, olive oil, salt and pepper, added to the barbecue to be enjoyed like big fat vege steaks. Shortly I will be cultivating marrows with purpose as the soft pale flesh lightly steamed and pureed will be perfect for our daughter's first meal. I feel proud knowing a plant grown from seed, chemical free, with the rhythm of the seasons will be used to nourish my family and friends.

I often benefit from the kindness of friends when it comes to food. I have been lucky in this way my whole life. The sharing of homegrown produce, home baking, recipes, gathered shellfish, wild pork and freshly caught fish is a delight of New Zealand life I missed when working abroad.

For example, the party I attended last week had a whole pig on the spit from my brother - it was a wild pig chock-full of flavour. The pipis gathered the day before became a perfect post party supper. In today's recipe I used fish caught by friends, and while peas were grown in my garden, the seedlings arrived late winter from my mother's greenhouse. The sorrel was transplanted from an old garden, too special to be left behind.

If you are not growing sorrel, then spinach and lemon zest will do instead. When you get a chance, put sorrel on your planting list as it is easy to grow, abundant all-year round and perfect for adding a sharp lemon flavour to salads or wilted through savoury dishes. Sorrel will go a bit brown when heated, so always fold through hot dishes just before serving. If eaten in excessive quantities it can give you a bit of an itchy mouth, so enjoy it in moderation.

Thanks to an abundance of friends who fish in summer, it is only at this time of year that I am willing to do anything unusual with fish. White fish is fantastic but expensive. When we haven't had it for a while, we only want it lightly floured and then quickly panfried in clarified butter.

By this time of the summer, however, we have caught enough ourselves or been given plenty to warrant a bit of culinary experimentation. This pasta is delicious in its simplicity, the sorrel adds its lemony freshness and the peas a pop of sweetness. In a way it is a fancy version of the British fish and mushy peas, except the chips have been swapped for beautiful pasta and everything else is oh-so-fresh.


Steamed fish, sorrel and pea pasta

200g pappadelle pasta
400g tarakihi fillets, cut into chunks
4 medium leaves of sorrel, chopped
6 pods peas, podded or ¼ cup peas
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp chopped chives
1 chive flower, petals only
Salt, pepper and lemon wedges to serve

1. Bring a pot of salted water to the boil and simmer the pasta as directed on the packet.

2. Place a steamer over a pot of simmering water. Using a heatproof dish that fits (I use a saucer) add the chunks of fish and peas.  Cover and steam for 4-5 minutes until the fish is cooked. 

3. Drain the pasta and toss in the olive oil, chives, chive petals, salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon. 

Transfer dressed pasta to bowls and arrange fish and peas.

Sunday Star Times