Easter festivities with Annabel (+ recipes)
Flavour comes to the fore at Easter, with harvests aplenty. On the other side of the world it is a celebration of spring, but here in New Zealand it is our very own harvest festival.
If I think about what makes a meal memorable, it's never just the food - usually there's an adventure behind it. Over the years I've had some truly memorable Easter adventures. Thinking about this makes me realise that in my world, memories are made either through fear or through flavour - or a combination of both.
One Easter we went down to Hicks Bay for some fishing just after a cyclone had gone through - my job at the back of the boat was check the terrifying swell of green water didn't swamp us while the skipper navigated close to the rocks, checking his pots. It was touch and go, but as luck would have it we did get a good feed of crays, which were cooked up in a big copper over a fire.
Another Easter, in Gisborne, it was still warm enough to swim and perfectly calm and so we decided to snorkel out to the reef off Wainui beach.
Along the way a pod of orcas came along. What I remember almost as clearly, though, is the barbecued shoulder of lamb we had when we got home.
Another year we kayaked the Raukokore River for Easter with a group of friends. I went down the first three sets of rapids on my helmet and then got so scared I had to portage my kayak through the rest for the entire trip. But for all my terror there I have a potent memory of cooking over a fire by the river - I remember the best hot chocolate on the side of the river, hot milk and melted chocolate, the milky way a bright trail in the the sky and the gentle murmur of the river low still in late autumn, wood smoke wisping in the moonlight.
Easter Sunday is like a mini version of Christmas in our household. We start with a special Easter bread - usually my Festive Gubana - or hot cross buns. Then there's the Easter egg hunt or a foraging adventure to whet the appetite - for wild walnuts, watercress, apples, pears or mushrooms, Easter is a great time to forage. Outdoor activities completed, it's then time to settle in for the grand Easter feast - the longest of leisurely late lunches. Neighbours, friends, relations, everyone is welcome. Here's a toast to autumn and the bounty of nature.
Lamb may be traditional to the Easters of spring in the Northern Hemisphere but it's also a favourite choice for our autumn Easters, as its sweetness partners so well with all the season's harvests. Don't be put off trying it if you don't like anchovies - they melt away to nothing, adding richness and depth of flavour without a hint of fishiness. Get the recipe
This is a spectacular vegetable side dish, which can also stand in as a vegetarian main course. It's so pretty with its layers of vegetables and worth the little extra bit of effort that goes into its construction - layers of zucchini, tomatoes and eggplant atop a rich, fragrant onion base. Get the recipe
Every Easter I make this festive loaf, which has its origins in Friuli, to the east of Venice. Traditionally, a brioche dough is prepared with a complex filling of nuts, fruits, liqueurs, spices, jam and cocoa.
My version takes a few shortcuts and uses an abbreviated filling, based around fruit mince, chocolate and nuts. It tastes great. Get the recipe
From Essential Annabel Langbein (Annabel Langbein Media, $65), a compendium of Annabel’s best-ever savoury recipes and cooking tips. For more, visit annabel-langbein.com