One of the things that struck me most whilst making my television show Annabel Langbein The Free Range Cook: Simple Pleasures was the passion and energy of the people we met along the way and the diversity of crops that are being grown and artisan food products that are being made in New Zealand these days.
Who would have thought that we would be producing really high quality saffron, for example, or fabulous olive oils?
One of the wonderful things about being a cook – as opposed to a chef, which is more a title and a profession – is that the landscape you find yourself in creates the palate for your cooking. Whenever I am in France I find my cooking, just by the nature of what I have to work with, ends up tasting French. Ditto Italy and the Pacific.
These are the only three places where I have been lucky enough to live for long enough to actually go to the markets and come home and cook on a daily basis, but I am sure it happens wherever you travel if you are given the opportunity to pick up a knife and a pan.
I think that one of the other brilliant things about being a cook is that it gives you an immediate sense of connection to the people and the culture and the land, and all these things have an influence on your creative energy.
When I'm at home in New Zealand, my cooking is pretty much driven by what’s in my garden or what’s in season at the local farmers’ market.
With these quality ingredients as the starting point of my meals, having a global pantry of flavourings at my fingertips makes it easy to produce simple, everyday homecooked meals that just zing with flavour. I can take the same basics – chicken or rice or potatoes or salad greens – and give them a twist of chilli, lime and ginger for an Asian meal. Or I could head down a Moroccan track with cumin and paprika, chilli, fresh coriander and lemon, or an Italian one with garlic, rosemary and lemon.
To film the fourth episode of my TV series I visited actor Sam Neill’s Two Paddocks Vineyard in Alexandra, Central Otago. Sam’s property was once a crop research station, so it’s planted with all kinds of fascinating species, including Crocus sativus – a beautiful purple flower that’s the source of the highly prized spice saffron. After hours of picking the flowers and pinching the bright orange stigmas out of them, I ended up with a tiny jar of saffron threads. But when I added them to rice to create a classic Italian risotto, it was worth every minute. With a few special ingredients like this in my pantry, the world’s great tastes are but a pinch away!
To see behind-the-scenes photos, recipes, video clips and the menu from this episode see the TV pages of my website.