Waitangi Weekend is the perfect time to explore the New Zealand bush fuelled by Annabel Langbein's recipes with drinks matches from Yvonne Lorkin
Back in the late 1970s, I lived in the bush for the best part of two years, making a living catching possums and jumping out of helicopters for the live deer recovery business. A small, rough hut in the middle of Te Urewera was my makeshift home, with a red setter to keep me company (the dodgy boyfriend who had wheedled me into this off-the-beaten-track life liked to work solo).
I loved the bush, in all its infinite greens, browns and greys, and the way the landscape was ever-changing. Scrambling through supplejack and bog, fern and cutty grass, I might chance on a glorious ridge of tawa forest. The ground here was free of undergrowth, the brownish-black tawa trunks rising up in majestic lines from a carpet of golden leaf fall, and walking between them felt like being in a cathedral. In early summer the kererū
would arrive in droves to gorge on the berries.
I kept a keen botanical eye on the bush but it never occurred to me at that time that there was a lot here that I could be eating. Robert Vennell's book, The Meaning of Trees — The History and Use of New Zealand's Native Plants, has opened my eyes to the place of plants in early New Zealand culture, medicine and diet.
Heart-shaped kawakawa leaves (Piper excelsum) have long found their way into pots of tea, pūhā (Sonchus kirkii) often gets boiled in a soup in the late winter and spring when other greens are scarce, and I like to use horopito (Pseudowintera colorata) to prepare a peppery marinade or rub for meats.
But what of the tips of supplejack (Ripogonum scandens), which apparently taste like raw asparagus, as do the tips of the pikopiko (Asplenium bulbiferum), aka fiddlehead fern (don't go eating bracken fronds though, they are known to be carcinogenic).
The cluster of undeveloped leaves that forms a fleshy artichoke-like heart in cabbage trees (Cordyline australis) is known as koata and can be served cooked or raw. Cabbage tree roots are sweet and can be chewed like sugar cane. The white, fleshy flower bracts and the pineapple-shaped fruit of kiekie (Freycinetia banksii), a type of pandanus, were once prized food sources, while New Zealand celery (Apium prostratum) helped early explorers evade scurvy. The kernels of tawa (Beilschmiedia tawa) can be boiled, roasted or steamed and the pollen of raupo (Typha muelleri) is usefully baked into a cake.
A wander in the bush is so much more interesting with the knowledge of some of the ways our native plants were once used. This Waitangi Weekend, pack yourself a picnic using my recipes below and go bush — it's a great chance to rediscover the magic that surrounds us.
Ready in 30 mins
Makes about 30 pieces
Our supermarkets have been invaded by commercial muesli bars but these are expensive and often have an inordinate amount of sugar in them. This bar is an easy, inexpensive and delicious alternative — and you know exactly what's in it. You can use any mixture of seeds and grains to a total of five cups and other dried fruit instead of raisins. If you don't like nut butter, use sweetened condensed milk to hold the mixture together.
All plant, no choice - is this the future of Auckland dining?
2 cups rolled oats
3/4 cup sesame seeds
¼ cup whole flax seeds
1 cup pumpkin seeds
1 cup sunflower seeds
1 cup raisins or other dried fruit
½ cup raw sugar
1/3 cup golden syrup
1/3 cup peanut butter or hazelnut butter
Preheat oven to 180C and grease a 30cm x 24cm slice tin.
Combine the rolled oats and sesame, flax, pumpkin and sunflower seeds in a roasting dish, spread out evenly and roast until lightly golden (about 15 minutes). Tip into a large mixing bowl, allow to cool and then add the raisins or other dried fruit.
Combine butter, sugar, golden syrup and nut butter in a pot and stir constantly over a medium heat until butter has melted and sugar has dissolved. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to lowest simmer and cook uncovered for 5 minutes, stirring to prevent catching.
Add to dry ingredients and stir to combine evenly. Press into prepared tin and refrigerate 2-3 hours until set before cutting into bars or squares. Stored in an airtight container, it will keep for several weeks.
I felt bad about recommending a wine to pair with this ultra-healthy snack. For about 5 seconds. While the Windrush Organic Empire Marlborough Chardonnay 2019 ($26) is more of a late afternoon, early-evening treat, it's the perfect thing to be sipping while you whip up these seedy sensations and channel your inner domestic goddess. I mean, why shouldn't one enjoy a glass of nutty, nectarine-y, spice-induced nervosity while creating in the kitchen right? It's an organically crafted, medium-bodied, creamy and slippery-slick style that'll take the trial and tribulation out of any situation.
Sausage, Tomato and Olive Picnic Pie
Ready in 1 hour
This tart is a bit like a French pizza – the crispy yet durable pastry is a great canvas for whatever toppings you have in the fridge or the garden.
¼ cup olive oil
4 large red onions, very thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tsp thyme leaves, plus a few sprigs for garnish
½-1 tsp finely chopped red chilli, to taste
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
3 pork and fennel sausages
12-14 cherry tomatoes
12-16 black olives, pitted and halved
Olive Oil Pastry
2 cups flour
(optional add 1 Tbsp dried karengo to flour)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/3 cup olive oil or 2 Tbsp olive oil and 2 Tbsp flaxseed oil
2/3 cup lukewarm water
To make pastry, combine flour, karengo (if using), baking powder and salt in a bowl. Mix oil and water together and tip into flour. Mix with a knife until dough comes together; it should be soft and supple. Cover and rest for at least 30 minutes or overnight in the fridge.
Heat oil in a frying pan and add onions, garlic, thyme and chilli. Season with salt and pepper and cook over a low heat until all liquid has evaporated (about 20 minutes). Remove from heat and set aside to cool (it will keep in the fridge for at least a week).
Preheat oven to 220C fanbake. Cut baking paper to the same size as a baking tray measuring about 33cm x 38cm. Place tray in the oven to preheat (this will ensure a crisp base). Place baking paper on a clean bench and roll out pastry on top until it is the same size as the baking paper. Fold in edges of dough by 1cm to form a raised border.
Spread cooled onion mixture over pastry. Remove skins from raw sausages and discard. Tear sausages into small nuggets and arrange over tart. Halve cherry tomatoes then squeeze out and discard most of the pips and juice (this stops the pastry going soggy). Arrange over tart along with olives. Slip baking paper and pie on to the preheated baking tray and bake until crisp and golden (about 30 minutes). Serve warm or cold, garnished with sprigs of thyme.
The pepper, thyme and olives (not to mention those fabulously fatty, pork and fennel sausages in Annabel's picnic pie) just sing out for a hefty glass of Loveblock Central Otago Pinot Noir 2018 ($35). And it's hardly surprising. Placing 46th out of 15,000 wines at the 2019 Wine Spectator Top 100, it has wild cherry, dried herb and X-factor for Africa according to the judges. Perfumed and perky, yet packed with dried herbs, truffle and tobacco top notes and fleshy flavours, this vegan-friendly, southern star will wow the crowds.
Zucchini, Feta and Tomato Picnic Pie
Ready in 45 mins
This is a great vegetarian tart to make the most of the deluge of summer zucchini and tomatoes.
2 spring onions, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped finely
1-1½ tsp finely chopped red chilli
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp finely chopped rosemary
2 Tbsp chopped thyme leaves
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp salt
Ground black pepper, to taste
12-14 cherry tomatoes
100g goat's feta
2 Tbsp pine nuts, coarsely chopped
Torn basil and mint leaves, to garnish
Olive oil pastry (as above)
See sausage, tomato and olive picnic pie for preparation of pastry.
To prepare the topping, pan-fry spring onions, garlic and chilli in olive oil for a few minutes. Grate zucchini into a clean tea towel (you should have about 3 cups) then squeeze over a sink to remove excess liquid.
Add zucchini to frying pan along with rosemary, thyme leaves, lemon juice and salt and pepper, and fry for a few more minutes until zucchini is just softened. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
Preheat oven to 220C fanbake. Cut baking paper to the same size as a 33cm x 38cm baking tray.
Place tray in the oven to preheat (this will ensure a crisp base when you bake the pie). Place the baking paper on a clean bench and roll out pastry on baking paper until it is the same size as the baking paper (about 33cm x 38cm). Fold in edges of dough by 1cm to form a raised border.
Spread cooled zucchini mixture over pastry base. Halve cherry tomatoes then squeeze out and discard most of the pips and juice (this stops the pastry going soggy). Arrange over zucchini mixture along with the crumbled feta and pine nuts.
Slip baking paper and pie on to the preheated baking tray and bake until crisp and golden (about 30 minutes). Serve warm or cold, garnished with torn basil and mint leaves.
Normally the words "zucchini, feta and tomato" have me hooning toward the sauvignon blanc shelf. However, the second I sipped the Pask Instinct Berry Blush Hawke's Bay Rosé 2019 ($16.95) it was rosé err day (please don't tell my teenagers I said "err day"). The saltiness of the feta, the herbaceousness of the tomato and the zook of the zucchini (sorry, just had to round out that sentence somehow) work tastily indeed with the raspberry, white pepper and watermelon in this wine. Enjoy! pask.co.nz
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.