Sometimes, dear reader, I astonish myself with my own ignorance. When it was proposed that we visit our daughter in New Zealand a few years ago, I said, “Why spend all the money to go there? They speak English and there is no food culture.” (For me, the only reason to travel is to hear another language and see how well I can bumble along—and to eat something wonderful).
After visiting the South Island, I still contend that you don’t visit New Zealand for the food, but oh-my-goodness, the beauty of that land! During our three week stay, we circled nearly the entire island by car then traversed it and in that time saw beautiful coastland, a glacier, a rainforest, a vast, dry expanse of land, and green, lush gardens and vineyards. I had never seen The Lord of the Rings movie, so I just didn’t realize.
We stayed in Airbnb homes and met the most charming, friendly people. Like my cousins in Houston, who get few visitors because the rest of us live so far away, the Kiwis seemed just delighted to have someone visit from out of town. Most evenings when we arrived, the host would say, “The barbie (that would be the barbeque) is on, bring your food and join us!”
Since we were where we were, I insisted that I would dine on lamb every evening—and so we did. We’d buy some lamb, vegetables and an always-excellent bottle of New Zealand wine and cook outdoors. I regret to say that the lamb was about the same price there as it is here, but no matter; it was vacation (or as they say “holiday”) and I loved every meal.
Occasionally we did visit a restaurant and had to learn that the server will never bring you the bill—you just go to the cash register and pay there. And no tipping! The service fee is always included in the bill and the wait staff earns a living wage. These people are so civilized.
The spring peas arrive here in May and so I bring you the one New Zealand lunch that was truly outstanding, with the recipe recreated here for your enjoyment.
And I’ll suggest that if you’re given the opportunity to visit New Zealand—go!
Pea Risotto with Kale Chips
- 2 T olive oil
- 1 small onion, diced
- 4 cloves minced garlic
- 1 cup Arborio rice
- ½ cup white wine
- 2 ½ cup chicken stock, vegetable stock, or water
- 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 ½ cup fresh peas (or, if you must, use frozen peas)
- Juice of half a fresh lemon
- 4 large kale leaves
- Another tablespoon of olive oil
- Salt and pepper
If using fresh peas, boil a large pot of salted water and cook the peas for 3 minutes, then drain and reserve. If using frozen, they will cook quickly when added to the rice.
Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Wash the kale and dry it well. Tear into pieces about 2 inches square. Toss with a tablespoon of olive oil. Salt generously. Place on a baking sheet, spreading the kale pieces so that they are one layer thick.
Bake the chips for ten minutes and then check every few minutes until they are crispy. Remove from oven and reserve.
Warm the broth or water.
Heat 2 T of olive oil in a heavy saucepan. Sauté the onion over medium heat, till it is translucent, then add the garlic and cook briefly. Add the rice and stir till the grains are coated with oil and allow the rice to toast in the pan for about a minute. Continue stirring.
Add the wine and stir till all wine is absorbed, then add the broth or water, about a half cup at a time and stir continuously until it is absorbed by the rice. Continue adding small amounts of broth or water and stir while it absorbs. Do this until all liquid has been added and absorbed and the rice is now cooked and tender. This step takes 10-15 minutes of stirring.
Now add the cheese, salt and pepper to taste. Then stir in the peas. Next, stir in the lemon juice.
Pour into a shallow, heated serving bowl and top with the crispy kale.
Serves 3 as a main dish or 4 to 5 as a side dish.