In trying to figure out how we feel leading up to Christmas, and having spoken with the children, we realise that as a family we need a complete break from thinking too much. So we are looking forward to a quiet Christmas en famille sans étrangers.
But food still needs to be prepared and cooked and served. Even as I write I am having a mild feeling of anxiousness as Junior 3 has offered to cook the main meals for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Questions such as should I dry the bread in the oven before making crumbs for the bread sauce send my blood pressure racing. I bite my tongue and reply please just use Delia Smith’s recipe.
Then I am asked to look at how the turkey has been jointed. It turns out that some experimental kitchen website suggests it is better to not roast a turkey whole. I firmly close the studyroom door and return to my carefully-controlled world of words. We all have to start somewhere: it is good for the children to take over the festive meals and for me to start letting go of such responsibilities…to the best of my ability, you understand.
The meat dishes being taken care of, I thought it would be nice to have a festive vegetarian main course for variety.
One of the more challenging dishes I make is a Moroccan bastilla which is traditionally filled with pigeon. I have previously given the recipe and step-by-step instructions for a chicken and almond bastilla and here is a vegetarian version to complement the ham we have planned for Christmas Eve.
The ingredients are simple to source, easy to prepare and the result more than rewards the effort put into assembling the pie. The pie can be assembled the night before and baked the next day. Once baked, it will also stand up to being reheated the day after in the oven. It doesn’t need any spicing as the vegetables and cheese all have distinct flavours which merge into one harmonious whole when served. This is why I have no hesitation in sharing this recipe.
For the Bastilla:
1 butternut squash, to yield around 800 g without peel and seeds
450 g mixed mushrooms (I used shiitake, enoki, king oyster, grey oyster and shimeji)
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons madeira wine
500 g spinach
180 g cooked and peeled chestnuts
120 g feta cheese
100 g Boursin herb and garlic cheese
50 g pecan nuts, toasted
250 g filo pastry sheets (around 12 rectangular sheets)
100 g melted butter, to brush the pastry
You will also need a large baking tray which can fit into your oven.
Preparing the Vegetables:
Peel the squash, remove the seeds and cut into 2 cm cubes. Place in a baking tray along with the 2 tablespoons olive oil and roast for around 30 minutes at 200 C or until the squash is cooked through
Remove the ends of the shimeji and enoki mushrooms, and the stalks from the shiitake mushrooms. Slice the shiitake and oyster mushrooms into even-sized pieces. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a pan and add in the garlic then the mushrooms. When the mushrooms have warmed through, add the madeira and cook for a few minutes until the mushrooms have dried off a little and taken in the flavours of the garlic and wine
Wash the spinach leaves and place in a pot to wilt down, then squeeze the water out
Place the chestnuts in a bowl and break them into smaller pieces with your fingers
Place the cheeses on a plate in preparation for the final stage of assembling the pie
Assembling the Pie:
Preheat the oven to 220°C/ 425°F/ Gas 7. Melt the butter and get ready a pastry brush. What you now need to imagine is the finished product, which is a pie that is 30 cm round and which contains distinct layers of vegetables and cheese i.e. squash, chestnut, spinach, mushroom and cheese.
Unroll the filo pastry sheets and keep them under a damp tea towel to prevent from drying out. Brush some butter all over a large baking tray. Cover the bottom of the tray with four pastry sheets which each overlap in the centre on one of its short sides. Butter the sheets.
Continue with four more sheets, this time at a 45° angle to the first four sheets. You will end up with a sort on Union Jack flag of pastry sheets. Butter the sheets. Finally place one whole pastry sheet in the centre of the tray and butter before placing the filling on.
Place the squash in the centre of the pastry in an even layer and in a circular shape
Place in the subsequent layers of chestnut, spinach, mushroom and cheese
Fold the overlapping pastry sheets back towards the centre, in order to cover the pie. Start with the sheet you placed last on the tray, and finish with the first sheet you placed on the tray. Butter the top of the pastry sheets as you fold them inwards. You should end up with a round pie
Place the remaining pastry sheets one at a time over this parcel, tucking in the ends under the pie and brushing each layer with more butter. The aim is to end up with a neat round parcel
Bake the pie for 25 – 30 minutes. Remove from the oven when it looks golden brown. Serve the pie on a large dish and sprinkle with the chopped pecan nuts
I am now going to have a look at the kitchen and to do some cleaning, something I have resigned myself to do over the next 10 days. I can hear Junior 1’s cat tumbling over something that has fallen onto the living room floor. Welcome to our not so quiet Christmas…