Last weekend I enjoyed a relaxed lunch on a friend’s patio. The sun gods were obliging, the slight breeze was balmy and I realised that summer was just around the corner. Hurray!

Laid back lunches are great for catching up with friends and family. They don’t need to be exotic — just good food served simply. My friend dished up a crisp and colourful salad topped with an award-winning, Kiwi-produced burrata — mozzarella-like on the outside but gloriously gooey on the inside. The round ball of cheese — about the size of a small apple — opened up like a soft boiled egg. A splash of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar and sprinkles of freshly ground black pepper and flaky salt were the only accompaniments. Yum!

Another Kiwi cheese winner is the new spreadable Stracchino, an Italian-style cheese made in Nelson. Its creamy texture has a slightly sour flavour that makes it less rich than many soft cheeses. I love it grilled on toasted French bread served with cherry tomatoes and blanched asparagus.

Waikato-made paneer — a vegetarian Indian-style cheese – is also relatively new. Its texture is similar to that of feta cheese but it’s less salty. Cubes of paneer can replace meat in curries. Or brush it with tandoori paste and yoghurt and grill on skewers. 


Serve with hot crusty bread as is or with a selection of cold meats.

Yoghurt & Honey Dressing: 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons each: lemon juice, honey, plain yoghurt 
1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
3 tablespoons chopped chives
salt and pepper to taste
Salad: 1 medium (250g) eggplant
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
3 seedless mini cucumbers
1/4 cup small parsley sprigs
1 avocado, halved, stoned, peeled and sliced
1 lemon  

To prepare the dressing, whisk all the ingredients together in a bowl. Place aside.

To prepare the salad, trim the eggplant then halve lengthwise. Slice into 5mm thick pieces.

Heat half the oil in a non-stick pan. Pan-fry the eggplant in batches ensuring the slices are in a single layer. Cook until browned on both sides. Place in a bowl.

Halve the cucumbers lengthwise then thinly slice. Add to the bowl together with the parsley and avocado. Finely grate the lemon rind and add together with 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. 

Serve with the dressing on the side. Serves 4.


I used an oblong flan to cook the tart but a round one could be used.

350-400g prepared short pastry
Filling: 1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, sliced
200g washed and trimmed spinach 
1 green chilli, sliced
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
3 eggs
1/2 cup milk
150g paneer, crumbled
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 190°C. 

Roll out the pastry to fit a 30cm x 18cm oblong flan dish. Trim off any excess pastry. Prick the base. Line with foil and blind bake for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking for 5 minutes, until golden.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large frying pan. Sauté the onion until softened. Chop the spinach and add to the onion together with the chilli. Cover and steam until the spinach has wilted. Remove the lid and cook until dry. Stir in the cumin seeds. 

Beat the eggs and milk until combined. Place the spinach mixture in the cooked flan. Top with the paneer and carefully drizzle the egg mixture evenly over the top.

Bake for 20 minutes until the egg is just set. The top can be garnished with sliced red capsicum or tomato and fresh herbs. 

Serve warm or at room temperature. Great with a tomato chutney. Serves 4.


Yummy stracchino is also great on pizzas.

2 x 12cm lengths French bread
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic crushed
100g stracchino cheese
12 basil leaves 
8-10 cherry tomatoes of varying colours, halved
6 asparagus spears, blanched
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
extra olive oil, optional

Halve the French bread lengthwise. Combine the olive oil and garlic. Brush over the cut sides of the bread. Place on a baking tray.

Preheat the oven to 190°C. Bake the bread for about 5 minutes. Spread with the stracchino and continue baking until the cheese starts to melts.

Slice half the basil leaves and sprinkle over the warm cheese.

Arrange the bread on a platter with the tomatoes, asparagus and remaining basil. Season. 

The vegetables can be drizzled with a little olive oil. Serves 2.


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