Lush, Native and Edible

Chef and restaurateur Sean Connolly is ready for another food and wine-pairing challenge from our winemaker, Jamie Marfell. Once again, Jamie has a wonderful wild-fermented wine for Sean to taste, and sets him the task of finding the perfect wild food pairing to complement the flavourful Wild Valley Pinot Noir. With hints of savoury berry and herbaceous notes still lingering on his palate, Sean sets off on a foodie foray into New Zealand’s wilderness.

Venturing into the lush native bush on the edge of Lake Rotoma in New Zealand’s North Island, Sean meets Charles Royal, an expert in native wild herbs. Charles is an award-winning local chef who creates dishes using ingredients harvested from New Zealand’s indigenous forests. Guiding Sean through the trees, Charles talks about the wonder of nature that occurs in this ancient bush. This area is a microclimate, a small pocket of country where the air is constantly cool and crisp. Even in the summer, when the sun heats up, the canopy of trees keeps the temperature below at around five degrees Celsius. This fertile environment allows an abundance of edible plants to flourish.

Home to one of the highest densities of ferns in the world, New Zealand has around 312 varieties of native fern, of which only seven are edible. Charles spots a supplejack vine, a nutritious plant that is also known for its medicinal properties. Next, Sean and Charles forage for pikopiko – a young, curled fern shoot that symbolises new life and fresh beginnings in Māori culture. Finally, Sean samples some horopito, also known as a pepper tree. This unique plant grows only in higher altitudes and can be identified by the flecks of red on its leaves, reflecting its naturally-occurring heat. Sean and Charles carefully pluck a small selection of the edible plants, which will regenerate in a matter of days.

Piko Piko Saltimbocca with Supplejack Risotto cooked by Chef Sean Connolly
Chef Sean Connolly Discovers Kinaki Wild Herbs
Piko Piko Saltimbocca with Supplejack Risotto cooked by Chef Sean Connolly
Chef Sean Connolly Discovers Kinaki Wild Herbs

Surrounded by the wild bush, Sean sets to work on his pikopiko saltimbocca with supplejack risotto, an Italian twist on native New Zealand produce. He places butter, oil, onions and garlic in a hot pan to form the base of his risotto, adding a handful of supplejack, where asparagus or celery may otherwise be used. Blanching his freshly-harvested pikopiko, Sean creates the saltimbocca by wrapping the edible ferns in prosciutto, before crisping them in a pan. A labour of love, Sean stirs his risotto to perfection, adding a small hint of the spicy horopito before topping with his saltimbocca and a touch of grated parmesan.

Served with a glass of Stoneleigh Wild Valley Pinot Noir, this wild food and wine pairing allows the natural flavours of both elements to really shine. From the native forest to the plate, Sean and Charles enjoy the product of their natural harvest, raising a toast to another challenge successfully completed.