Last week, when I made this pasta, I had just returned from a busy weekend in Auckland: time spent with new friends, a full-on and utterly fantastic Saturday at the (first ever!) New Zealand Food Bloggers’ Conference, a prolonged boozy Sunday brunch (complete with bubbles and strawberries and peonies and asparagus!) in the big, rambling Ponsonby villa of one dear friend, a catch-up with another over some quick oysters at Depot, subsequently nearly missing my flight and then actually nearly missing my flight after I bumped into another friend outside the airport terminal.
It was a whirlwind weekend, one that reminded me that people* (both new to me and old) are generally wonderful. That there’s nothing that unites us quite like sharing good food. That I love Auckland.
There. I said it. Near-blasphemy coming from someone as stubbornly in love with Wellington as I am, I know. Words I never thought I’d utter but that I’ve slowly been warming to over the last year or so, forming the words silently with my mouth while no one is looking: I actually really love Auckland.
I don’t really know quite how this came about. I mean, I never really was into that whole Auckland-hating business but I did have the occasional sneer: at the traffic jams, at how self-absorbed all those Aucklanders are (well, all the stereotypical ones I’ve never met), at the soulless city centre (it’s getting better). But you know what? It’s actually tiring hating on Auckland when you don’t really hate it, when every time you’re there you can’t wipe that stupid grin off your face, despite the congested roads and the North Shore.**
Because for me, having grown up in a city where bumper-to-bumper traffic is a fact of daily life, where getting across town to meet up with friends is more than a 10-minute walk, where you plan nights out around taxi rides or sober drivers, the suburban sprawl of Auckland feels perversely comfortable. Maybe even relaxing, in a strange way.
When I’m in Auckland I almost think I could live there. I’ll walk through Mt Eden or Ponsonby or Grey Lynn in a little fantasy world – if I lived here, that’d be my favourite cafe, this would be the little shop I’d always pop my nose into on the way home, I’d get all my cookbooks from Cook the Books (if you were at the post-conference dinner last weekend you would too), I’d be friends with this greengrocer and I’d live in this house or that one or one just like it, and it’d be nice, and I’d be happy.
I feel a bit unfaithful to Wellington when I’m thinking these thoughts. But deep down I know if I ever leave Wellington it won’t be for Auckland but for somewhere a little less familiar, something that’s as yet unknown. And so I come home.
The downside of a weekend fling with Auckland is the exhaustion that follows. Wellington’s so familiar and comfortable; it’s a place I love dearly, but sometimes it feels like I know it just a bit too well. And so coming home feels a bit like waking up from a really good dream, the kind where you want to shut your eyes as hard as possible and will yourself to fall back asleep in the hopes that maybe you’ll fall back into it again. The kind where your head’s in the clouds for a good couple hours in the morning, maybe even until lunchtime, and you need something good to ease yourself out of it.
So that’s how I came to make this pasta last week. I was on my way down from that familiar old Auckland high, filled with a vague sense of longing for sunshine and Queenie’s and Ponsonby Road and friends and that amazing braised and rolled pig’s head at the Tasting Shed. So instead of the salads that have filled my life in recent days*** I was craving something a bit more substantial, something to get me settled back into my normal routine.****
I was also craving something really specific: the karengo hot smoked salmon from Plentifull Deli on Majoribanks St. So on the Monday after Auckland I popped into Plentifull – no salmon. I made do with buying myself some other little treat, and on Tuesday afternoon, I phoned ahead: “hey, do you have any hot smoked salmon today?” “let me check… oh, we’re just smoking some now; it’ll be ready in a couple hours”.
And if there’s anything that can pull you out of a dream-like post-holiday daze, it’s the satisfaction of getting exactly what you want. So I practically skipped home after work, a little parcel of fragrant, smoky fish in my handbag (yes, my bag smelled great – albeit fishy – for the next day or so), cooked up a big batch of noodles, and this dish was born.
*including, but not limited to, all the wonderful people I met for the first/second/third time at the conference:
Alessandra – Alli – Andrea – Bron – Carmella – Christina – Christy – Emma – Jaco – Jemma – Julie – Kristina – Ingrid & Vanessa – Lesley – Louise – Mairi – Moira – Rosa – Rowan – Sasa – Shirleen – Sue – Vivian
(Special thanks, of course, goes to Alli for organising the conference, Sasa for being such a lovely lovely host, Andrea, Jaco, Alessandra, Emma, Louise and Bron for the fantastic presentations and all of the conference sponsors:
Annies – Bell Tea – Cook the Books – Coopers Creek – Cuisine – Gravity Coffee – Gu Puds – Hubbards – I Love Pies – Kohu Road – Kokako – Loaf – Mad Millie – New Holland Publishers – Pacific Harvest – Photo & Video International – Teza – The Tasting Shed – Whittaker’s)
**not really picking on the North Shore here particularly. It was just the first thing I could think of that I had some form of perceived contempt for. I don’t, actually… also, I really think my opinion of Auckland has improved a lot now that there are people there who are lovely to me and drive me places. And thus talk to me during traffic jams in a much better way than, say, a taxi driver/fellow bus passengers could. Thanks, friends!
***from the simplest of leaves dressed only with sea salt and olive oil to more complex combinations of grain and legume and all sorts of good stuff!
****not for long, though – I’m off to Melbourne tomorrow!
PAPPARDELLE WITH HOT SMOKED SALMON & CHIVES
(serves approximately two – quantities are rough so adjust as you see fit!)
Cook some pappardelle (I used about 100g of this stuff) in well-salted boiling water. Drain, reserving a bit of the pasta water.
Once the pasta is almost ready, heat up about 1/3 cup creme fraiche and 1/3 cup cream in a wide, shallow pan. Add about a tablespoon each of grainy mustard and lemon zest and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper if needed.
To the sauce, add some flaked hot smoked salmon (I used about 100g, which was perfect) and a tablespoonful of chopped chives. Add the cooked pasta and toss gently until all the noodles are coated in the creamy sauce (use some of the pasta water to thin the sauce if the it’s too thick).
Serve, topped with a little extra salmon and chives to garnish (if you care about things like that).