Wine & Food Killers: Feta and Herb Borek with Fennel Salad and Matthias Warnung Basis Nobody Rosé

Seasonal transitions are my favourite time of year, and I love it as spring slowly and inexorably flows like warm syrup into the humid and fecund days of June.

The still-cool nights are punctuated by washes of sun, and everywhere I go I’m overwhelmed by musky elderflowers and the pollen that collects in the back of my throat. All I want to eat is dribbling peaches over the sink and buy punnets of cherries to pick at, but seasonally I’m getting ahead of myself. It’s just that when summer arrives, I just want to unhinge my jaw and take it all in in one great gulp.

I was intrigued, then, when I read reviews and tasting notes of Matthias Warnung’s Basis Nobody Rosé – a field blend of high-acid Grüner Veltliner and red-fruit-forward Zweigelt – and saw the same summery descriptors popping up: Strawberry. Nectarine. Watermelon. Juicy, fruity, bright, electric. Watermelon, in particular, stuck with me and made me think of all those watermelon, feta and mint salads I’ve enjoyed during summers past.

That’s how I arrived at these borek, stuffed with a mix of spiced feta and chopped fresh herbs, rolled up and quickly shallow-fried until shatteringly crisp. They make a great snack, a party starter, even a picnic sharer, as long as you don’t let them get too soggy in transit. And don’t be shy about working with pre-made filo, which isn’t nearly as finicky as it might seem.

Alongside, I made a fennel salad that’s since earned a permanent slot in my summer rotation. Fennel can be polarising, but this dish shows it at its most coolly refreshing, shredded into long strips and dressed simply with lemon juice and olive oil, mixed with fresh mint and toasted pine nuts, and dolloped with big blobs of burrata. It’s simple, elegant and feels exactly right for the season. And it’s exactly right with those hot, salty borek as a counterpoint, and a glass of this rosé – so vivid and pink and clear that it looks like hibiscus tea.

Feta and Herb Borek with Fennel Salad
Makes approximately 22-24 borek and 2-4 servings of salad

For the borek:
400g feta
2 eggs, lightly scrambled
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon nigella seeds
1 teaspoon aleppo chilli (or crushed chillis)
100g spring onions, finely chopped (green parts only)
50g parsley, finely chopped
30g dill, finely chopped
15g mint, finely chopped
Approx. 6 sheets filo pastry
150g vegetable oil (or other frying oil)

For the fennel salad:
3 medium fennel bulbs
100g pine nuts
2-3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 lemon
Flaky sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
15g fresh mint, roughly chopped
150g burrata

1. First, prepare the borek. In a large bowl, finely crumble the feta and add the eggs, spices, spring onions and herbs. Mix until well combined.

2. Next, remove the filo sheets from their packaging and unroll them so they are stacked neatly on top of each other, with the longest side facing you. Using kitchen shears, cut them in half lengthwise, then those halves in half again; you will get four strips of pastry approximately 10 inches long from each sheet. (When not actively working with the pastry, cover with a damp tea towel or clingfilm so it doesn’t dry out.)

3. To make the borek, place one strip of pastry with the short side facing you. Add several tablespoons of filling in an even strip at the bottom, leaving a small margin around the edges. Gently fold up the sides of the pastry so the filling doesn’t burst out as you roll it, then roll up tightly from the bottom. Before the borek is completely rolled up, wet your finger or a pastry brush and dab the top of the pastry strip with water. Roll it up and press gently to seal.

4. Repeat with the remaining filling and pastry strips, storing the prepared borek on a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet covered in clingfilm.

5. Meanwhile, just before frying the borek, prepare your salad. Slice off the stems and base of the fennel bulbs, and remove the outer layer if browned or discoloured. Using a mandoline or a Y-shaped vegetable peeler, shred the fennel into long strips. Transfer to a large bowl.

6. Next, toast the pine nuts. Add to a small frying pan placed over medium-low heat and toast, tossing frequently, for approximately 5 minutes, or until golden-brown and nutty smelling. Transfer to a bowl and leave to cool.

7. Prepare the salad shortly before frying the borek; it benefits from marinating for a few minutes. Add the olive oil, as well as the zest and juice of one lemon, and toss to combine. Season to taste with flaky sea salt and black pepper. Add the mint leaves and mix through, then top with dollops of burrata and season those with more salt and pepper. Set aside.

8. To cook the borek, place a large frying pan over medium-high heat and add the vegetable oil. Once hot but not smoking, add a batch of six or so borek (make sure they’re not overly crowded). Cook for roughly 5 minutes total, using tongs to flip the borek regularly, until evenly golden brown on all sides. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate and leave to cool. Repeat with the remaining batches. Once done, serve the borek warm alongside the fennel salad.

Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer, a beer and wine hound and an all-around lover of tasty things. Our first book with Claire, The Beer Lover’s Table: Seasonal Recipes and Modern Beer Pairings, is available in all good book stores (and at HB&B). Follow her on Twitter at @clairembullen. Don’t miss out on Claire’s wine and food pairings, which go out every month in our Natural Wine Killers subscription box.