11. Navel Gazing

We look at some wonderful non-edible iterations of delicious food, share our experiences at delightful cook school and have five good things for your Friday afternoon...

11. Navel Gazing

We humans have a collective penchant for non-edible homages to delicious things. Like the unbelievably cute cooking scenes created by fibre animation artists Andrea Love, and (on display August 2-8 at Te Auaha in the capital as part of Visa Wellington on a Plate) Aussie artist Chloe Smith’s fabulously life-like felted foods. We covet soaps crafted to look like the plump marizan fruit that grace produce markets in the south of Italy (whoa, layers of allegory!) and marvel at Japan’s famously life-like shokuhin sampuru – replica foods made from plastic, wax, or resin. And here at Freedom Farms, we have a particularly soft spot for Taiwan’s beloved ‘meat-shaped stone’ – a treasure housed in Taipei’s National Palace Museum.

The work is a chunk of banded jasper, carved and stained by a 19th-century craftsman to resemble dong bo rou (braised pork belly) The skin is complete with minute dimples where the hair follicles are, the flesh layered with muscle and fat, and the entire thing glistens with succulence. A carved jadeite cabbage is also on display in the same room of the museum, equally revered and realistic, complete with two teensy insects crawling on it… beautiful, yes, but it’s that pork takes the mouthwatering prize from us.

If you’re not familiar with Freedom Farms… we’re a 100% NZ-owned company that set out over a decade ago to bring you bacon farmed the Freedom way… from NZ farmers who care about the same things we do. Simply put, that is farming that is kinder for farm animals, and takes it easy on the environment. When you buy our bacon, eggs, pork, sausages and ham you are supporting a wonderful little group of NZ farmers… and for that we’re really really grateful!

Pig. Smoke. Fire

Michael and Belinda van de Elzen run Good From Scratch Cookery School from a brilliant purpose-built space on their little farm in Muriwai, on Auckland’s west coast. We recently headed along for their ‘Pig. Smoke. Fire’ class, jointly led by Michael and Francesco Visco of Alpha Butchery just down the road in Huapai. The class well and truly lived up to the school’s moniker, starting with Francesco demonstrating the breaking down of a whole pig, with us class participants joining yielding knives to fashion the cuts we’d go on to prep and cook during the course of the day: belly, shoulder, escalopes cut from the leg, T-bone steaks, bacon, and chunks of leg to go into sausages (which we also made). The pork cuts and smallgoods this pig provided underwent marinades, rubs, cold smoking, offset hot smoking, roasting, and sauteing under the tutelage of Michael. All this meaty goodness was joined by vegetables from the van de Elzens’ impressive collection of raised garden beds, which Belina toured us around as we collected ingredients for our late lunch.

Lunch was enjoyed by the fire that cooked it – an impressive Engle Fires outdoor oven – or should we say outdoor oven/fire/grill/smoker/pizza oven/rotisserie. These multi-functional wonders are built in Whakatane, from where owner and precision engineer Carl Engel happened to be visiting to join the class that day.

Modena, Italy-born Francesco trained and worked as a chef prior to taking up the art of butchery. In his view there is no part of a pig that is not able to be used, which reflects his overall approach to raising and butchering meat – he believes if an animal is to be killed, it should have as good a life as possible up until that moment, and afterwards, we should make the very most of it.

Recipe: Creamy Bacon & Spinach Pasta from Miss Polly’s Kitchen

The final in a series of three recipes created for our friends The Spinoff by Polly Markus of @misspollyskitchen Instagram fame, this pasta dish hits a whole lot of classic notes, and is a delicious way to make a pack of bacon go a long way.  Making the most of our great-value Freedom Farms Shoulder Bacon, this dish might just become one of your go-tos for feeding whānau or friends.

Low on effort and big on satisfaction, this quick pasta dish is just the ticket for a wintry weeknight meal – Polly Markus.


Serves 3-4

300g dried rigatoni pasta
1 x 300g packet Freedom Farms shoulder bacon
1 medium shallot, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, chopped
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 red chilli, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 teaspoons dried oregano
250g spinach leaves
1 cup ricotta
¾ cup - 1 cup pasta water
chopped flat-leaf parsley and grated parmesan to serve

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil, add the pasta and cook as per the packet instructions or until al dente.

Meanwhile, chop the bacon into small pieces and fry in a pan until nearly crispy. Add the shallot, garlic, lemon zest, chilli, paprika and oregano. Stir around until the shallot starts to soften, then add the spinach and lemon juice and cook until the spinach wilts. Gently fold through the ricotta, and season well with salt and pepper.

Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water, add the pasta to the sauce and pour in enough pasta water to loosen.

Mix it all together well, then sprinkle some chopped parsley and parmesan on top and enjoy.

Five good things

1/ A recent trip through Wairarapa unearthed a host of producer gems. We especially enjoyed discovering cheeses made by Featherton’s Remutaka Pass Creamery – cheesemaker Paul Broughton makes his own range of cheeses using organic milk from nearby Te Pare farm. Find them at Broughton’s mainstreet deli, C’est Cheese.

2/ Manawa Honey’s Rewarewa honey has been awarded the grand prize at the Black Jar competition in the US – blind-tasted against honeys from all over the world. The honey is produced by chief beekeeper Hekenoa (Taawi) Te Kurapa. Manawa, a Tūhoe Tuawhenua Trust-owned enterprise, is nestled in the 200,000 hectare Te Urewera forest, and as well as turning out the tastiest honey in the world, it teaches apprentices, local tamariki and youth.

Did you know…. Rewarewa is a honeysuckle tree, a member of the Protea family. Its eye-catching flower attracts bees with a bounty of nectar. As well as tasting amazing, rewarewa honey is looking mighty promising to scientists researching its antibiotic and antioxidant properties.

3/ Auckland Restaurant Month is underway and we’re making a beeline for the set menu offering at Ghost Street, Comensa Group’s subterranean hideout in Britomart, home to punchy flavours inspired by travels through Chengdu and Xi’an. The $55 menu kicks off with Chinese pickles with fried wonton skins and chilli salt, shiitake, spinach, and water chestnut dumplings, and steamed wong bok rolls. Mains arrive: red braised brisket with yellow noodles, and Dong po pork belly with steamed Shanghai Greens. And baked coconut buns draw a delicious line under the evening, for dessert. Carve Meat Co. supplies Ghost Street with Freedom Farms pork belly – so you know that Dong po pork belly dish is going to taste insanely good.

4/ Once upon a time, milk came from the family goat – not a typical institution these days, but there’s great news for anyone wanting to make fresh goat’s milk a fridge staple. Before Cow Goat’s Milk sources from Oete and Oakdale goat farms in Patumahoe. It tastes remarkably like cow’s milk and as well as being a good source of protein, calcium, and Vitamin A, it boasts loads of oligosaccharides which benefit the good bacteria in your gut. Check their site for list of stockists.

5/ Butter: the cornerstone of classic French cooking, and very much back on the plate after a few decades of being shunned as unhealthy. The Guardian’s Clare Finneyrounds up some of the most wonderful artisan butters from chef menus and shop shelves… now if only we could get a version of The Estate Dairy’s medjool date butter here downunder… it sounds particularly divine.

That’s all for this month! Feel free to hit reply to get in touch… and don’t forget to share with any other food lovers who might like to subscribe too. See you 👋