My husband, Ted, grew up on a remote farm on the east coast, inland from Gisborne, where he used to ride a horse bareback to school.

Ted's grandmother Mabel, one of New Zealand's first registered women pharmacists, arrived on the farm as a newlywed. Her journey to her new home involved a long drive in a car from town up into the hills. At the end of the road she had to jump on a horse to first cross the river, and then make the 40-minute ride up through rough hill country to the homestead. It was so remote.

Just 10 months after her first child was born, Mabel had triplets. She had four children under one, and no home help. She went on to produce seven more healthy children. There were no losses, a remarkable feat at that time, and the triplets, now in their 90s, hold the Guinness World Record for being the oldest living triplets in the world.

Mabel baked bread every day and made her own soap. The family milked a house cow and ran a small dairy, grew their own vegetables and ate meat from the farm. Fat drippings from the roast were used as the starting point for any frying and as a spread for bread. (When I met Ted, his mother still kept a big enamel cup of dripping in the fridge, with which she used to cook.)

Advertisement

A car would deliver groceries every few months, dropping them at the end of the road by the river. Someone from the farm would ride over, pack the groceries into pikau bags on the side of the horses and then head back over the slippery riverbed to home.

Mabel's grocery list consisted solely of flour, tea, dried fruit, rolled oats, salt, pepper, baking powder, baking soda, yeast, cayenne pepper and rice for rice pudding. That was it — healthy but basic. They were Irish-born Presbyterians, these grandparents, practical and incredibly hard-working.

It's astonishing how far we have come from those grass roots of basic farm fare and the hangi cooking of early Maori. Olives, cherries, saffron, artichokes, lavender, blueberries and nuts are a few of the new crops that make up the fabric of our farmlands today. As we come together to celebrate our very own Matariki harvest feasts this winter, we can feel proud of the beautiful food basket and unique food culture we are building here in the South Pacific. This week's recipes celebrate the best of Aotearoa's produce and are perfect for a special midwinter meal.

Lamb Loin with Almond and Mint Stuffing

Ready in 30 mins
Serves 8

4 lamb back straps
A little olive oil, to rub
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
Almond and mint stuffing
3 cloves garlic, crushed to a paste with ½ tsp salt
1 cup ground almonds
½ cup mint leaves, tightly packed
½ cup watercress or rocket leaves, tightly packed
2 Tbsp preserved lemon, finely chopped
Ground black pepper, to taste

Cut each lamb back strap in half crosswise and then use a sharp, long, narrow knife to cut a pocket through the length of each piece, taking care not to cut through the sides. Place all stuffing ingredients in a food processor and whizz to a fine paste (the texture should be paste-like but firm enough to push into the pocket — if too wet, add more ground almonds). Divide the mixture between the lamb pockets, pressing in from both ends and pushing evenly through. Rub a little olive oil over the lamb and season with salt and pepper. Heat a heavy frying pan and brown lamb well all over. If not finishing cooking at this point, cover and leave on the bench for up to 1 hour, or chill and bring back to room temperature before finishing cooking. When ready to finish cooking, preheat oven to 220C fanbake. Roast lamb for 5 minutes. Remove from oven, cover and rest before slicing and serving.

Annabel says: I love this combination of tender New Zealand lamb with nuts, herbs and vegetables from my garden and preserved lemons from the pantry. Serve sliced on top of bowls of spinach and bean broth.

Spinach and Bean Broth

Ready in 30 mins
Serves 8

1 Tbsp butter
2 medium shallots, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 tsp rosemary, very finely chopped
2 bay leaves
Zest of 1 lemon, finely grated
6 cups good quality chicken stock
2 Tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp sherry vinegar
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
3 cups peas, thawed
2 cans butter beans, drained
150g baby spinach leaves

In a large pot, heat butter and sizzle shallots gently until tender but not browned (about 5 minutes). Add garlic, rosemary, bay leaves, lemon zest and stock.

Simmer until reduced by one third (about 15 minutes). Remove and discard bay leaves, add lemon juice and vinegar and season to taste. To serve, place peas and drained butter beans in a bowl, cover with boiling water, allow to stand for 1 minute then drain. Divide spinach between 8 heated serving bowls, then top with beans and peas and the boiling hot broth.

Annabel says: This gentle broth infused with lemon and herbs makes a lovely light base for the lamb. To serve with the lamb, arrange sliced lamb on top of the peas and beans before adding the boiling-hot broth.

Clams with Saffron and Vermouth Cream Sauce

Ready in 30 mins
Serves 8 as a starter

Clams with saffron and vemouth cream sauce. Photo / Annabel Langbein Media
Clams with saffron and vemouth cream sauce. Photo / Annabel Langbein Media

.5kg fresh clams
2 Tbsp butter
2 large shallots, finely diced
A generous of pinch saffron threads
¾ cup vermouth (or white wine)
300ml cream
A pinch of chilli flakes
¼ cup chives, finely chopped
Ground black pepper, to taste
A pinch of salt, if needed

Wash clams, discarding any that are broken or open. Heat butter in a large, deep pot, add shallots and sizzle until softened without browning (about 5 minutes). Mix saffron into vermouth, and add to the pot with cream and chilli. Simmer gently for 10 minutes. Increase heat to high, add clams, cover and cook until clams fully open (about 3-4 minutes). Divide cooked clams between 8 shallow serving bowls. Mix chives into sauce and season with pepper and salt if needed. Pour sauce over clams and serve.

Annabel says: This fragrant combination makes a light, delicate, starter course. I make it with vermouth from Mt Edward, Bannockburn saffron and sweet, fresh, Cloudy Bay clams.