Thursday, November 28, 2013

Kawakawa meringues and biscuits

Kawakawa meringues
If you like to forage in the New Zealand bush you may be familiar with kawakawa, and know that it was used in traditional Māori medicine. Also, the leaves make a great tea! But you can also use the leaves instead of vanilla to flavour desserts: they have a distinctive taste which is good for biscuits, meringues and custard puddings (like Crème brûlée). It has a peppery flavour and it works!

For the meringues and biscuits I started with the Italian meringue, which is made by adding hot sugar syrup to the beaten egg white. Actually, the Italian meringue doesn't need to be cooked as the hot sugar syrup already 'cooks' the eggs, and it is often used as the base for many desserts. But yes, it can also be used for making hard meringues. The so called French meringue is mostly used in New Zealand (egg whites and sugar, rather than hot sugar syrup), and it is easier to make, but to get the kawakawa into the meringues you need a hot syrup! Once you master it you can make meringues with all sort of herbs!

Kawakawa meringues

250 g egg white
500 g sugar
about 150 ml water 
a few kawakawa leaves, washed and broken with fingers (discard the stalks)

Beat the egg whites with 100g of sugar. In the meantime melt 400 g of sugar in 150 ml of water over a flame, and the kawakawa leaves and bring it to boil. If you have a sugar thermometer it should reach
121° C, but I don't have one and I just guess when the syrup is ready: it starts to bubble and 'smells' right.
Pour the syrup into the egg whites and keep beating until they are cold again.
Pipe the meringues on a oven try lined with baking paper and bake at 50° C for 4 hours. Leave for another day to dry completely and then enjoy!

For the biscuits:

Same recipe as above, but keep some meringue aside and then fold in a bit of self rising flour, adding a spoon at the time until you have a soft batter that is still full of air and can be piped through a pastry bag.
Pipe out some longish biscuits and then bake at 160° C for about 30 minutes, or until they smell done! Let them dry for another day before storing away. They last for ages! 

Kawakawa biscotti

Kawakawa and rose meringue: I picked some rose petals (below) and sprayed them with grappa, then I placed them in a jar with a little caster sugar for 2-3 days, not to dry them, but just to preserve the smell. Finally I folded the sugary petals into the Italian meringue before piping it on the baking tray. I used roses, but violets, gorse and other flowers would be suitable too.

I made all of these for our Slow Food foraging feast last Sunday, they were a success!

Photos and recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Monday, November 25, 2013

National Honey Week recipe: Parmigiano with Airborne Bush Honey and coffee - Parmigiano con miele e caffè

New Zealand's first National Honey Week ( 25- November - 2 December) starts today, and to celebrate I am proposing something a bit different: Parmigiano con miele e caffè!

I wish this was one of my creations, but I cannot take the credit: it is in fact an appetizer (but also served as a cheese course, or with a good vino da meditazione - meditation wine that I first tried in my village in Italy (Sestola, an excellent Parmigiano producing area) about 20 years ago. It was very fashionable then, and it may be still now for all I know, I am not sure, but it is definitely very original, and too good not to share!

All you need is real Italian Parmigiano Reggiano Stravecchio (over 30 months aging), good quality creamy honey and good ground coffee (espresso quality). If you cannot find 30 month old Parmigiano, look for a 24 month, or you can try with a younger Parmigiano, but really, here you have only three ingredients, and the better they are, the best the end result.

Cut the Parmesan into bite size chunks, spread with honey and sprinkle with ground coffee. The pairing of these three flavours really works. I used Airborne Bush Honey because I like bush honey, but I also had it with other New Zealand honey varieties, and I guess the honey choice goes down to personal taste (and the coffee choice too... but make sure it is finely ground!).

Happy National Honey Week everyone!

If you like to enter a recipe with honey you could win a fantastic bumper pack of New Zealand honey varieties – including Manuka, Rata, Kamahi, Clover, Honeydew, Vipers Bugloss and Tawari. Prizes also include the Jamie Oliver “Cooks Summer” recipe book (to help you kick off the festive/summer season!), a behind the scenes cooking experience with Geoff Scott, at Vinnie’s and a luxurious meal for two. If you aren’t able to get to Auckland, the team at Airborne will happily organise something equivalent in your area. Three runners-up will also receive smaller honey pack prizes. You can email the link for your entry to:

click here for the full details.

This recipe was one of the finalists!

Photos and recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Elderberry Flowers Syrup and Elder flower Tea

Yesterday I posted these Elderberry Flower Fritters, and today I have another recipe (and a half) that you can make with elderberry flowers:

Elderberry Flowers Syrup

For this you will need 1 l of water, 1 kg of sugar, about a dozen elderberry flower heads, 30 g of citric acid and 3 organic lemons (I picked some juicy organic lemons from Regina's garden). 

Wash and cut the lemons and put them in a pot with all the other ingredients (or in a large jar, if you have it). Let this mixture stand for three days, stirring from time to time. Don't go over three days or it may ferment. After this time filter the syrup through a muslin cloth, squeezing the lemons and flowers well. Boil the filtered syrup for 5 minutes, removing any possible scam forming at the top. Cool down and filter again, through a finer cotton cloth this time. 

Bottle and use as a cordial (it is very thirst-quenching), or to flavour desserts (like panna cottaor blamanche), ice cream, fruit salads and berries.

Elder flower Tea

I am drying the remaining flowers for tea. Dry them in the shade and keep them for winter: the tea is traditionally used to relieve cold and flu, cough and sore tummy.

To learn more about foraging and eating flowers and wild plants in New Zealand come to our Slow Food event on November 24th, click here to find out where and when.
Photos and recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Elderberry Flower Fritters

In this post you can see Regina and Sue collecting some elderberry flowers for our Slow Food Waitakere Pop Dining Lunch this coming Sunday. I used the flowers to make a syrup (recipe coming in the next post, watch this space!), and since I had so many I also made some fritters, and saved the leftover flowers to dry for Elder flower tea.
To learn more about foraging and eating flowers and wild plants in New Zealand come to our Slow Food event on November 24th, click here to find out when and when.

Elderberry Flower Fritters

Shake and clean (no need to wash in water) the elderberry flowers to make sure that there is no dirt (or insects).

Mix 100g of plain flour with a tsp of icing sugar and enough cold water to make a light batter (a bit like tempura). 

Pick the flowers heads by the stalk and drop into the batter, and then into hot oil. Fry, turning once, until the fritters are golden and crispy.

Dust with icing sugar and fresh elderberry flowers, then serve, hot or cold. 

I am entering this recipe for Sweet New Zealand, the monthly blogging event for Kiwi bloggers. Our November 2013 host is Mairi from Toast, click here to enter. 

Photos and recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Best 7 of Taste of Auckland

Burratina (made by Massimiliano) with eggplants, tomatoes and almond pesto from Non Solo Pizza

Whitestone cheese

A macchiato with Massimo at Caffè Italiano
Meeting Collective's Head Chef Michael Meissner

Eating Michael's deconstructed five layer strawberry birthday cake!

Happy to see Andrea and Marzia from Limoncello Sovrano

Great to meet Isabell for a Perrier at the Stuart Alexander's stall
Photos by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Friday, November 15, 2013

Wild strawberry skewers, and the memory of foraging, plus a very special Slow Food event!

Photo by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Did you ever pick wild strawberries as a child? If you did maybe you too made skewers with grass! It was more like a game really, mostly when I went out picking wild strawberries I was 'on a mission', i.e. out with a bag to pick enough to make jam, not just a few to eat on a grass skewer :-)! But here in New Zealand there are not fields and mountains full with wild strawberries (or wild blueberries and raspberries, maybe just a few bramble berries), so the only wild strawberries I have have been planted in pots in the garden, and the harvest is enough for decorations (and grass skewers) rather than for having a full bowl for dessert, let alone making jam!

 I grew up foraging: mushrooms, berries, nuts, greens, wood (not for eating!). A good forager takes only what he/she needs and leaves the environment unchanged. Foraging is healthy, keeps you in touch with nature, and goes hand in hand with good farming and gardening practices. And now it is fashionable too!  

Slow Food Waitakere is organizing a wonderful ethical Feast on 24 November, and much of the food will be foraged. You can find a record of some of the foraging here, more plants, flowers and ideas will be added as we prepare the feast. So join us for this special lunch, and click here for more info. 

These are Wild (or Alpine) strawberries, not the 'Mock' Strawberries typically found in New Zealand and considered a weed (I have many too!). The mock strawberries are rounder and with a yellow flower, they are edible but have no taste. Alpine or wild strawberries have a white flower, smell delicious and are sweet, but they are so small that you need to eat a few at a time to really taste them. Photo by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Photo by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Cavolfiore al forno: do you like cauliflower cheese?

When I was living in London, over 20 years ago now, every eatery I went to (unless it was some sort of hippy/alternative/macrobiotic/ethnic restaurant) would have two hot veggie choices: vegetarian lasagne and cauliflower cheese. I am not joking: that was it! The vegetarian lasagne was usually frozen stuff, and it seems that most pubs and cafes ordered it from the same company (i.e. it always tasted the same!). The cauliflower cheese was either boiled cauliflower with cheddar melted on top, or baked cauliflower with a white sauce... and the consistency of porridge. Meat eaters pitied me and wondered why on earth I would choose to be a vegetarian. Things are different now, and there is more choice, but I am sure that lots of vegetarians still have nightmares about that bland 'cauliflower porridge'.

Anyway, here is a version that is not too cheesy (but you can add more cheese on top if you like), and tastes good. 

Cavolfiore al forno

1 large cauliflower, plus plenty of water and a pinch of salt
100 g salted butter
100 g plain flour
1 l milk
white pepper
salt to taste
100 g freshly grated parmesan cheese (or the cheese you like)

I usually remove the leaves form the cauliflower, then I wash it and boil it whole in a large pot with plenty of water and a pinch of salt. This way I make sure that it is not overcooked and mushy. Then I divide it into florets. 

For the sauce (Besciamella) melt 100 g of salted butter in a saucepan, then add 100 g of plain flour and stir. Add 1 l of milk slowly, stirring constantly without making lumps, then simmer until the sauce thickens. At the end add freshly grated nutmeg, white pepper, and salt to taste. Spread a little sauce in the bottom of a oven dish, then arrange the cauliflower florets on top. Cover with the rest of the sauce, banging the dish so that there are no air bubbles. Sprinkle with 100 g of freshly grated parmesan cheese and place in the hot oven for about 40 minutes, or until the top is golden. Serve hot. Easy!

Photos and recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Pasta e fagioli soup with Cavolo nero and a ... purple carrot!

I love pasta e fagioli (pasta and beans) soup, especially when there is cavolo nero too, this Italian kale is my favourite brassica and makes any soup taste amazing! But the surprise here was a purple carrot. Carolyn brought me one, thinking that with me being a foodie I would appreciate the novelty. I told her that I grew purple carrots but that only the outers skin was purple, and inside they were orange. She was a bit disappointed, but hey Caroly look here: I peeled the carrot and, surprise surprise, it was purple all the way through! I never seen anything like it! It almost bleed like a red beetroot (and had a light beetroot taste too, but maybe that was just my imagination, it mostly tasted like... carrot)! And it coloured the soup too, it looked like a borsch!

For the soup use one large (purple) carrot, peeled and cubed, a bunch of cavolo nero, washed, white vein removed and chopped, and one onion, chopped. Sauté everything with one tbsp of extra virgin olive oil  then add one litre of vegetable stock and simmer for about 30 minutes. Add one can of cannellini beans and simmer for 10 more minutes. Remove some of the beans, add one cup of cold water and blend the soup. Bring back to the simmer, then add a handful of risoni pasta. Simmer, stirring often, until the pasta is cooked. Add back the whole beans and cook for one more minute. Serve hot or at room temperature, with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. The best soup I made in a long time, thank you for the carrot Carolyn, and for the cavolo nero Sue!

Photos and recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Thursday, November 7, 2013


The other week I mentioned this competition, so if you are interested please read on and start to think about honey!
How to enter:
All you have to do is concoct a recipe that showcases New Zealand honey. It couldn’t be easier. Manuka honey is our hero honey this year so do consider using it in your competition recipe. However, any honey recipe will be eligible. Geoff Scott, and the Airborne Honey team will be judging the recipes.
Entries will open at 3.59pm on Friday 22 November 2013 and close at 11.59pm on Monday 2 December 2013. Email the link to Jen Boyes at
The winner will receive a bumper pack of New Zealand honey varieties, the Jamie Cooks Summer recipe book (to help you kick off the festive/summer season!), a behind the scenes experience with Geoff Scott, at Vinnie’s and a luxurious meal for two. If you aren’t able to get to Auckland, we will happily organise something equivalent in your area. Three runners-up will also receive smaller honey pack prizes.

Competition Terms and Conditions
  1. Entry is only open to New Zealand residents. Employees and the immediate families of Airborne Honey, Vinnie’s and its agencies associated with this promotion are ineligible.
  2. Airborne Honey reserves the right to verify the validity of entries and to disqualify any entrant who tampers with the entry process or who submits an entry that is not in accordance with these Conditions of Entry.
  3. The Cook Something Yummy With Honey competition commences at 3.59pm New Zealand time on Friday 22 November 2013. Entries close 11.59pm on Tuesday 2 December 2013. 
5. The judges' decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.
  1. In the event that a prize, or an element of a prize, is/are not available, Airborne Honey reserves the right to substitute prize(s) in its discretion to the same and equal recommended retail value and/or specification.
  2. Airborne Honey shall not be liable for any loss or damage whatsoever which is suffered (including but not limited to indirect or consequential loss) or for personal injury which is suffered or sustained, as a result of participating in this promotion or accepting any of the prizes, except for any liability which cannot be excluded by law.
  3. Airborne Honey shall not be liable for any prizes/merchandise that has been lost, stolen, forged, damaged or tampered with in any way.
  4. Entrants consent to Airborne Honey using the entrant's name, likeness, image and/or voice in the event they are a winner (incl. photograph, film and/or recording of the same) in any media for an unlimited period of time without remuneration for the purpose of promoting this competition (including any outcome), and promoting any products manufactured, distributed and/or supplied by Airborne Honey.

Photos by Alessandra Zecchini©

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Crêpe cake with Cointreau butter and flowers

Our friend David came to stay, it was his birthday a few days ago, but I didn't have time to bake a cake.  So I just used some ready made sweet Crêpes (pack of 9) and whipped about 100 g of unsalted butter with one heap tbsp of icing sugar and a good dose of Cointreau (to taste!). I spread the butter cream on the Crêpes and topped it with edible flowers from the garden (you can do this if the flowers in your garden have not been sprayed). I added a few Alpine strawberries (also from the garden) and voilà! An instant cake that looked great, and tasted good and took no time! Sometime we need to 'cheat' a little!

I am entering this recipe for Sweet New Zealand, the monthly blogging event for Kiwi bloggers. Our November 2013 host is Mairi from Toast, click here to enter. 

Photos and recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Northland, Woolley's Bay and around

Woolley's Bay

I just had a fab girls' weekend here, what a beautiful place is Northland! Here are some photos.
Bonnie the dog

A walk on the beach

Paua shells
Riding in the bays

What a wonderful weekend, thank you Annette!

Photos by Alessandra Zecchini (except the one were we are all on horses!) ©

Friday, November 1, 2013

Culinary Quill Awards

Party Food for Girls is one of the finalists in the NZ Guild of Food Writers Culinary Quill Awards, winners will be nominated tomorrow night, so wish me (and Arantxa, my daughter and co-author) luck! This is the only children's book in the awards (there isn't a separate category - I guess that there aren't enough kids' cookbooks to have one) so it great to be a finalist among all the grown-up books!

Anyway, here are some images from the book, I guess that grown-ups could eat these too!
If you pin any of these remember to credit as such: Images from the book Party Food For Girls by Alessandra Zecchini and Arantxa Zecchini Dowling, photos by Shaun Cato-Symonds, New Holland Publishers NZ © (I know that it is long, but you wouldn't break copyrights law, would you?)

Images from the book Party Food For Girls by Alessandra Zecchini and Arantxa Zecchini Dowling, photos by Shaun Cato-Symonds, New Holland Publishers NZ ©


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