If you aren’t vegetarian yourself, and I confess that I am not, these days it is almost certain that you have someone in your close family or group of friends who is. I know I have, several times over. To be fair, the missus and I are eating a lot more vegetarian meals throughout the year anyway. Finding new recipes and coming up with ways of using whatever veg we find in our fridge or larder has become a fun challenge for me, a long-time carnivore. At Christmas, when we often cater for a crowd on at least one day over the season, this challenge is accepted with a little more trepidation but no less gusto.
The recipe I profer to you today employs several things that are regulars on our table, whether the dish is vegetarian or not. Butternut squash is a firm favourite for its sweet tender and vividly orange flesh, wholesome and delicious. We cook it in all sorts of ways. Spinach is a particular love of the duchess indoors, and I cook it for her very regularly with everything from fine fish to fiery curry. I adore pies and pine nuts, anything with a little hit of orange, and cranberries are, of course, a new Christmas tradition for many of us in the SD era (i.e. ‘since Delia’). I mean to say, cranberries and oranges? How much more Christmassy can you get? Add a bit of coal and you’ve got a Christmas stocking right there! Cheese is, for both of us, such a staple that we subscribe greedily to a well-known cheese company’s monthly selection in much the same way that many savvy members enjoy our own Wine Without Fuss plans. Here you can use the cheese of your choice really, though Feta and any creamy blue are our preferred options (just make sure your choice uses vegetarian rennet in the making to keep it on the veggie level). And who doesn’t love a pie in all it’s possible, and glorious, permutations?
This recipe combines them all, so I was in heaven when we tried it on a cold, wet evening recently. Hearty, packed with flavour, and perfect for the festive feasting whatever day of the 12 you serve it on, though it will provide a tasty alternative to the turkey on Christmas Day itself. The sweetness of the squash and cranberries provides a nice counterpoint to the slightly ferrous character of the spinach and the salt and tang of the cheese, while the sage offers aromatics and depth alongside a little garlic if you use it. To top everything off, literally, there are folds and flounces of crunchy filo pastry making golden shards to add another tempting texture to the whole package.
I commend it to you and just add my wife’s comment on tasting it: ‘’Mmmmshververgoodmmmm’. I couldn’t have put it better myself. Have a very merry Christmas and a peaceful and prosperous New Year!
Ingredients (serves 4)
- ½ Butternut squash, peeled cut into cubes of roughly 1cm (use pumpkins or other firm fleshed squash if liked)
- 2 red onions, chunkily chopped
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 260g spinach, washed (or use kale, Savoy cabbage, shredded Brussels sprouts etc.)
- 200g of Feta or blue cheese (vegetarian versions), crumbled or cubed*
- 30g pine nuts, toasted (you can use toasted flaked almonds or other nuts if you prefer)
- Zest of half an orange
- 270g pack filo pastry
- 10 fresh sage leaves, finely chopped (use 2 tsp of dried sage if you haven’t got fresh.) Use more or less to suit your own taste
- Thyme, oregano or rosemary all work as an alternative, but sage and squash are lovely together.
- 30g butter, melted (or 2 tbs olive oil)
- 2 cloves garlic, finely sliced (optional)
- 30g dried cranberries or sour cherries
- Salt and pepper
- Preheat your oven to 180°C/160°C fan/350 gas.
- Toss the cubes of butternut squash in one tablespoon of the olive oil, put on a roasting tray and put into the oven. Roast for 15 minutes until just beginning to colour and they are fairly tender. Remove from the oven and leave to cool down.
- In a frying pan, using another tablespoon of olive oil, sauté the red onion chunks until they are just softened (about 10 minutes over a low heat). Add the garlic and cook for a couple more minutes, then tip the mixture into a bowl. Return the pan to the heat.
- Add the spinach to the pan and stir or toss until it wilts. If you have a lidded pan, putting the lid on will speed the process. Once the spinach is wilted tip it into a colander to drain off the liquid that inevitably exudes from the spinach, and gently squeeze to remove the excess liquid without crushing it to a mulch.
- Once the squash, onions, garlic and spinach have cooled a little mix them together in a bowl.
- Add your chosen cheese to the vegetable mixture, then add half the pine nuts, the sage, garlic, grated orange zest and dried fruit of choice. Mix well, season with some pepper, and set aside.
- Liberally brush the base of a 22cm or so square ovenproof dish (though circular or oblong works if you prefer, it just means the filo will fold over differently) with melted butter or some olive oil. This helps the pastry not to stick to the dish.
- Take the sheets of filo pastry and lay the first across the dish so that it overlaps equally at both ends. Brush with some of the butter or oil and scatter with half the remaining toasted pine nuts. In the opposite direction, lay the next sheet of filo and brush again. Repeat the process with two more sheets of the pastry, scattering the last of the pine nuts between the last two sheets. You should have several sheets left over.
- Add some salt to the filling mixture, remembering that Feta or blue cheese are reasonably salty anyway, and spoon it onto the filo in the dish before folding over the flaps of filo on each side of the dish. Brush the top with more melted butter/oil.
- With the remaining sheets of filo scrunch them or form them into rosettes and lay them onto the buttered surface of the folded filo, pressing down gently. Brush gently but thoroughly with the last of the butter/oil.
- Place on a baking sheet and bake in the centre of the oven for 30-35 minutes.
- By now the scrunched filo on top of the pie should be a deeply inviting golden and the filling hot. Serve.
*There are quite a number of blue cheeses that employ vegetarian rennet in the making, including lots of well-known Stiltons and goat’s cheeses. Feta varies, some are many aren’t. Check the label or have a word with your cheesemonger.
There is sweetness from the squash and cranberries, and suggestion of it from the little bit of zest, underpinned by the deeply savoury cheese and hint of sage, so I would recommend something with plenty of fruit and roundness, and perhaps a little spice. A zinfandel from California would oblige beautifully with its plush fruit and hint of spice, while a southern Rhône red or fruity Aussie shiraz will both form a similar bond. If your Christmas bottle is a claret go for a plump merlot-based example or something from a generous vintage, happy to accommodate a touch of sweetness but not overpowered by, say, the blue cheese if used. Grenache from France, Spain or further afield, with its plump berry fruit, will be lovely to drink with it. If white is the one for you, a viognier with apricot and peach fruit or pinot gris with honeyed spice and orchard fruit notes, will both have the weight and flavour to stand up to the pie. A Rhône white blend will be similarly happy, as will a generous chardonnay. And anything off-dry like a vouvray demi-sec or ‘tendre’, or a richer German riesling with a hint of sweetness will be refreshingly delicious. Finally, a spice-laden, floral gewurztraminer from Alsace will be a flavoursome choice.