Monday, April 10, 2006

Focus on the positive (and the cactus pears)


















This is my darling better half standing in front of a cactus pear (Indian fig or "figadindi" to the Calabrese) plant in Hawkes Bay.

Fichi d'india are glorious fruit. Hiding inside a rough, very uninviting prickly exterior is a juicy and (usually) deep magenta coloured flesh. The flesh can vary from pale to golden yellow.

In Mexican cuisine, the paddles are also eaten. Marinated in salads, in soups and fried, the paddles (or nopalitos) are almost similar to tinned green beans if you are looking for a substitute. They can also be purchased tinned in Mexican markets. But the Italians celebrate the fruit. They are the jewel of the cactus plant.

He was surprised that no one was eating the fruit. And even more surprised was the woman (whose front section he is nearly in) when we asked if we could have a few. Explaining that these spiny cactus buds are cherished at Southern Italian tables over the holidays was a hard sell. Maybe in another year the imported ones will arrive, cost $5 each in a trendy grocery shop and people will look at the rotting fruit in the front section differently.

The list. Figs grow well here. Another sight that brought cries of protest were figs falling from a tree near a winery in Hawkes Bay. We talked to the proprietor who, having never picked the fruit since obtaining the property, has been entertaining the idea of chopping the tree down *gasp*. After tasting the wines we strolled back to the car where several figs had met their final moments with a swift slice of a woodhandled Opinel pocket knife. They were succulent and sweet.

And all the while complaining about the price of prosciutto.. (And justifiably, even locally produced specialities sell for about $95/kilo) we were also cooking up a storm with local ingredients and savouring it all. Pasta and mussels, seafood risotto, grilled salmon, lamb chops, and we even had the traditional salsa di capretto (kid) for Easter dinner. We enjoyed feijoas for the very first time, by the spoon and in a beautiful apple and feijoa crumble. I also managed to surpass my cheese quota with record breaking swiftness.

All without mentioning the scenery! Every night was a dining room with a view. We ate spectacular food in spectacular places.

And we drank well. Wine aside (never thought I'd ever say that!) for a moment there are some other gems in the spirit world lurking around New Zealand. Feijoa vodka is making quite a splash in the cocktail circuits in the big cities. The addition of passionfruit vodka to some classic Italian style cocktails (Passionate Negroni anyone?) lends a very NZ feel to the drink. And tasty too.

The wines we managed to drink in a mere 16 days is enough for another post.

But sadly, my newly converted NZ wine aficionado, is back in Canada. I am writing this on the one year anniversary of his inaugural NZ trip.

2 comments:

Kristina said...

The cactus pears remind me of my inlaws farm, where they have so many, Antonio always jokes, "that Nonno runs them over with the truck!"
I never fully appreciate them until I'm back in Canada and they are sold for $6 a pint... They are so sweet, I feel sometimes that they would be best enjoyed as part of a dessert--any suggestions?
PS: I didn't know you were writing a thesis, your absence is much more than understandable. Good luck with everything...

Mary said...

Hi Kristina,
I should clarify, at the tables of Southern Italians in Canada.. in Calabria, it is as you say, there are heaps! The cactus plants grow so large, they essentially double as fencing for areas of property.
At the price, I generally enjoy them au natural but have seen a recipe for Cactus pear "ice cream". Not sure how such a delicate flavour would transfer into a cold creamy treat. Maybe more of a granita without the seeds. Or as a reduced syrup to drizzle over another dessert, meringues or angelfood cake.. something not overly flavoured that would serve as a canvas for the cactus pear. Or diced atop Pavlova perhaps?
Thanks for the wish of luck.. back at it :)