Annabel Langbein's Winter Garden

Today a blast from the Antarctic delivered a big dump of snow, coating everything in a thick white icing and dropping us to sub-zero temperatures. For all the cold, there is something magical about fresh snowfall – everything looks so beautiful and clean and new.

Annabel's Silverbeet, Feta & Pinenut Roll

Silverbeet is the easiest thing to grow and superbly nutritious. I love it combined with pinenuts and cheeses in this delicious pie. Don’t freak out when you see how much silverbeet you need to start with – it will cook down to much less. I like to use a combination of cheeses to give a nice balance of tastes – bite from the parmesan, bulk from the ricotta and creaminess from the feta.

  • Prep time: 15 mins
  • Cook time: 40 mins
  • Serves: 6

Ingredients

  • 250g silverbeet or spinach
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 cup ricotta
  • 3/4 cup feta, crumbled
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan
  • 1/4 cup chopped coriander
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • finely grated zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/3 cup pinenuts, toasted
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • ground black pepper
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 8 sheets filo pastry
  • melted butter or oil spray

Method

  • Preheat oven to 180°C.
  • Trim half of the white stalks from the silverbeet and discard them. Wash, dry and chop the leaves and the rest of the stalks.
  • Heat the butter in a medium pot and cook the onion over a low heat until it is soft but not browned – about 5 minutes.
  • Add the silverbeet and cook until the water from the leaves evaporates, leaving the pan dry. Removing the moisture from the silverbeet in this way helps to stop the pie going soggy.
  • Remove the pot from the heat and mix in the ricotta, feta, parmesan, coriander, nutmeg, lemon zest and pinenuts.
  • Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • Stir in the egg.
  • Place a sheet of filo pastry on the bench. Brush it with melted butter or spray it liberally with oil.
  • Place a second sheet on top and brush it with butter or spray it with oil.
  • Repeat to form a stack of 8 pastry sheets. The filo dries out quickly so you will need to work fast.
  • Cover the unused filo with a damp teatowel while you work.
  • Form the silverbeet mixture into a sausage shape along the longest edge of the pastry, leaving a 3cm border at the sides.
  • Turn in the sides of the pastry like an envelope and roll it up gently and loosely to fully enclose the filling, forming a log shape. If you roll it too tight it will split.
  • Transfer the log to a baking tray, brush the top with butter and bake until it is golden and crisp – about 40 minutes.

But I knew my garden wouldn’t be quite so happy. To some extent it’s a family thing – the plants of frost-tender families, such as cucurbits and solanaceae, which originate in semi-tropical climes, will turn up their heels and collapse at the first hint of a frost.

On the other hand the crucifer family, which provides us with so many different vegetables, is made of hardier stuff, and many brassicas not only tolerate cold and frost but need a good cold snap to bring out their sweetness.

Artichokes, beets, carrots, cauliflower, celery, Chinese cabbage, endive, lettuce, parsnips, peas, silverbeet, rocket, bok choy, mache and radicchio can all cope with light frosts. And when it gets really cold broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, kohlrabi, mustard, onions, parsley, peas, radishes, spinach, turnips, leeks and sorrel are in their element.

It does seem amazing that some plants that have been frozen solid during a big frost don’t collapse as they start to thaw, especially soft leaves like spinach and rocket. You would imagine they would be kaput but no, they thaw out and bounce back quite happily.

I like living somewhere with a real winter and proper cold. It’s the best way of cleaning out the garden and getting rid of diseases and pests – after a big frost there sure aren’t too many slugs hanging about!

It might seem odd to be planting anything in the middle of winter (apart from garlic, which is best planted before the shortest day), but now is the time to be planting strawberries, especially if you want a prolific crop through the spring and summer.

Strawberries don’t like wet feet, so use a light, free-draining mix that contains extra potassium to promote fruit and flower growth. I always soak the plants in a seaweed-based plant tonic, such as Seasol, before I plant them – it gives the roots a good start and helps protect them from frost. Once they’re planted I mulch them heavily with strawberry straw to shield the roots from the cooler temperatures.

A strawberry plant will give you two or three years of harvests, so I put in some new plants each season to ensure a steady supply. It’s amazing how long the season runs for – you’ll get the first flush in spring through to Christmas, and then another flush in the autumn, extending the season out to about five months. In the south, strawberry farmers often mow their strawberry plants down on Boxing Day to promote fresh growth for an autumn harvest. Make sure you trim back any runners that appear, as this will help focus the plant’s energy into its roots and fruiting systems.

This is a great time of year to enjoy winter greens in tasty pies. While my silver beet is going strong I have been using it to make the most delicious Greek-style filo pie with feta, onions and garlic. It makes a great weekend lunch.

Although best known as a cookbook author and publisher, Annabel Langbein is also a highly experienced and knowledgeable gardener. She studied horticulture at Lincoln University and for many years has grown her family’s fresh produce in her gardens and orchards in Wanaka and Auckland. Her seasonal harvests are the inspiration for many of the inventive but easy recipes in her books and TV series.

Read more of Annabel's guest blogs here

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Annabel Langbein's Winter Garden Comments

  • How delicious that sounds.Will have to make it

    Linda Dunsmore

  • Great information, thanks. I planted my onions and garlic days before theshortest day. Benched up the ststrawberries, planted some broad beans and harvested some carrots, parsley, sprouts and beetroot. This was done in my "retirement" home in Ohakune. My garden in Ngongotaha isn't so good as I am selling, but still have garlic, mint, silver beet, parsley, lettuce and boc choy. Love being in the garden. ,

    Elizabeth Pakai

  • This looks so tasty. And there is a heap of silverbeet and spinach in the garden. Always good to find a different way to use them.

    Judi McLachlan

  • Thankyou I'm going to try this it sounds really nice. I use left over silverbeet stalks in white cheese sauce, soups and stews

    Christine

  • I have difficulty eating silver beet as growing up it always seemed to be on my dinner plate but your way of doing sounds yum so will try it hopefully encourage me to eat it more

    maureen

  • I have made this recipe a number of times, it is absolutely delicious & everyone always loves it !

    Cindy