It's hard to believe the world could change so fast. In times of uncertainty like this, I find the kitchen provides a sturdy anchor. One of the brilliant things about cooking is that it forces you to be present and to engage your senses. If you're in panic mode you can't focus and it's easy to cut your finger or burn yourself, miss a step in the recipe or overcook or burn it.
Turn off the news and all your social media threads, put on some cruisy music and get yourself into the kitchen. Cooking is such a soothing and therapeutic activity. Just the smell of something yummy cooking makes people feel nourished and safe. And if you've got the time and resources to cook a bit extra to leave on the doorstep of someone living alone or feeling a bit vulnerable, it's sure to be welcome.
When I started cooking, I was always a total slave to the recipe, thinking that if I didn't have the stalk of celery or teaspoon of fennel seed that the recipe called for, it would fail. I now understand that unless I'm baking, there's so much room for flexibility in any given recipe. Once you understand the principle or roadmap behind a recipe, you can alter "notes" that give a dish its particular flavour profile and texture.
I have chosen three useful base recipes today that you can play around with depending on your pantry and fridge supplies. The first is a Turkish flatbread pizza — a simple pizza base dough made with self-raising flour and yoghurt, topped with a spicy beef mince mixture, salad garnishes, hummus and yoghurt. You can easily change out the mince for chickpeas and make a spicy chickpea topping. Vary the salad garnishes depending on what you have to hand — this is just about adding a note of crisp freshness. Alternatively, treat the dough like a regular pizza dough and top with the toppings of your choice.
The second recipe is for a cheesy vegetable gratin made with root vegetables and canned beans, which are simmered with aromatics and kale. You can use any kind of root vegetables or pumpkin, swap the beans for canned chickpeas, and use silverbeet or spinach instead of kale.
My third recipe is for baked kūmara with a storecupboard salsa topping. You could also do this with baked potatoes, or chunks of baked pumpkin. Once you have baked your starch to tenderness (remembering too that vegetables like kūmara , potatoes and pumpkin microwave well if you want to speed up the process) you can fill or top with whatever takes your fancy.
Resourcefulness is the mother of invention, and now is the time to get creative in the kitchen.
Turkish Flatbread Pizza with Spicy Mince
Ready in 30 mins
Serves 6 for lunch or 4 as a main
All the elements of this meal can be prepared in advance ready for easy assembly.
2 cups self-raising flour
1 tsp salt
1 cup natural Greek yoghurt
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
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1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
300 beef or lamb mince
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 onion, finely chopped
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground allspice
A pinch of chilli flakes
1 tsp salt
Ground black pepper, to taste
2 Tbsp pomegranate molasses or balsamic glaze
4 small radishes, very thinly sliced
1 spring onion, green part only, thinly sliced
½ cup coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 cup hummus
¼ cup toasted almond slivers or pine nuts (optional)
½ cup natural Greek yoghurt, thinned with 2 Tbsp lemon juice
To make the pizza base, preheat oven to 200C fanbake. Combine flour and salt in a bowl, then add yoghurt and oil and mix to form a very soft dough. Divide into 4 and use floured hands to press each piece out into an oval, about 23cm x 12cm on baking paper-lined oven trays. Bake pizzas until risen and golden underneath (15 minutes).
While the bases are cooking, make the spicy mince. Heat oil in a heavy-based frying pan. Add beef or lamb, garlic, onion, spices, salt and pepper and cook over a high heat, breaking up meat with the back of a spoon until browned (about 8 minutes). Remove from heat and mix in pomegranate molasses or balsamic glaze.
For the garnish, combine the ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.
Remove bases from oven. Spread ¼ cup hummus over each base, then divide spicy mince between them. Top each with a handful of garnish. Sprinkle with almonds or pine nuts and drizzle yoghurt over the top.
Yvonne's pick: Well, kachango my mango, if the Petane Station Hawke's Bay Merlot Franc 2018 ($30) isn't by far the most saucy, seductively spicy, fruit-soaked thing to sniff and sip, then I'll be a cross-eyed coyote. I also need to stop watching so many spaghetti Westerns on Netflix. Ahem. In all seriousness however, this wine is think-and-pause perfect. Perfumed with berry blossoms, vanilla and chocolate, carrying elegant plum and blackberry notes across the palate and finishes with fine, sandy tannins. I. Am. Obsessed. With. This. Wine. Gold medal. 5 stars.
Baked Kūmara with Storecupboard Salsa
Ready in 1 hour
The kūmara can be cooked in advance, chilled for 4 or 5 days until needed and reheated before use.
4 medium-large kūmara
2 Tbsp flat-leaf parsley, to garnish
150g feta, crumbled
3 spring onions, very thinly sliced
Zest of 1 large lemon, finely grated
½ cup pitted kalamata olives, finely chopped
¼ cup capers
2 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp boutique extra virgin olive oil
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 200C fanbake and line an oven tray with baking paper for easy clean-up. Scrub kūmara and prick skin in a few places so they don't explode. Place on prepared tray and bake until tender (45-60 minutes). They are ready when they are easily pierced with a sharp knife and tender in the centre.
While the kūmara are baking, make salsa by combining all ingredients in a small bowl.
Slice baked kūmara in half lengthways, almost through to the bottom, fill with salsa and garnish with parsley.
I've been waiting for a local winemaker to really pump up the jam when it comes to creating great gris. And I mean great gris. Like those from the ancient vineyards of Alsace that taste like you're drinking quince and apple-laced angels' tears. Finally we have one. The Thomas Legacy Waiheke Island Pinot Gris 2018 ($75) is delicately scented with spiced apple brioche, pear tarte tartin and blessed with perfect palate balance, nashi-infused niceness. Make no mistake, the Thomas will become a modern classic. Savour every sip with shards of the best, nutty, buttery Manchego cheese you can find.
Cheesy Vegetable Gratin
Ready in 1 hour 10 mins
Serves 2-3 as a main or 4 as a side
This recipe is easy to double to feed a crowd. Cook in two dishes and freeze one or give it to someone who might enjoy a nice home-cooked meal. It's good with a crisp green salad, such as wedges of iceberg lettuce with a tangy Dijon vinaigrette.
2 onions, halved and thinly sliced
1 large or 2 medium kūmara or a 450g wedge pumpkin, peeled and cut into 2cm chunks (or a mix of both)
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
400g can cannellini or butter beans, drained and rinsed
2 fat cloves garlic, crushed
Zest of 1 lemon, finely grated
2 cups finely shredded kale
1 cup cream or sour cream
¼ cup lemon juice
2 Tbsp finely chopped thyme leaves or 2 tsp dried thyme
½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup grated tasty, cheddar or gruyere cheese
1 cup panko crumbs or breadcrumbs
Preheat oven to 200C fanbake. Place onions and kumara or pumpkin in a 2-litre-capacity oven dish, drizzle with oil, spread out in a single layer and season. Roast until just tender and starting to brown (30 minutes).
While the veges are cooking, place beans in a pot with garlic, lemon zest, kale, cream, lemon juice, thyme, nutmeg, 1 tsp salt and pepper to taste, and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat.
Remove veges from the oven and top with the bean mixture. Mix cheese with panko or breadcrumbs and sprinkle over the top. Return to oven and bake until golden (30-35 minutes). Serve hot.
Yvonne's pick: Comfort food like this deserves comfort wine, right? Well there's no reason why that comfortable, cuddly wine can't also be whipcrack sexy at the same time. That's all a-happening with the Zephyr Marlborough Chardonnay 2017 ($28) Crafted by the scarily talented winemaker-slash-hunter-gatherer, Ben Glover, this is the kind of glossy, white-gold chardonnay that can conquer kingdoms in a single sniff. Heaving with grilled grapefruit, roast peach, smoked almonds and showing incredibly zesty acidity, it's so tropical, it could be the Carmen Miranda of chardonnays. Buttered, cinnamon toast on the finish gives it extra vavoom with Annabel's vege gratin.
Annabel's duo of Essential savoury and sweet books (Annabel Langbein Media, $65 each) create a beautiful compendium of her best-ever recipes and cooking tips. Alone or together, they make a wonderful gift or treat for yourself, and are on sale now at all good bookstores or online at annabel-langbein.com. Follow Annabel Langbein on Facebook or Instagram to find out more.