I love preparing for the holidays. From early December I shamelessly indulge in Christmas songs, pondering on what to get the people I love and particularly what to feed them on the big day. This doesn’t change the fact that mysteriously every year Christmas seems to arrive a week earlier than I expect it to, leaving me in a last-minute frenzy, determined to be better organised next year. It being the week before, you can imagine the state our house is currently in. But as for Christmas dinner, I’m all set. This festive Christmas wreath will take centre stage at our table. As it’s filled to the brim with full-flavoured veggies, chestnuts, pine nuts, cranberries and fresh herbs, I know it’s going to be a crowd pleaser. On top of that, it’s completely prepare-ahead and the actual preparation is quite straightforward. A win on all counts, I’d say.
In my experience, if you fill pastry with something, happy faces are bound to ensue. This particular piece of pastry is filled with a selection of my favourite veggies, combined to provide a variety of textures and delicious flavour. Sweet sage-roasted butternut squash, savoury pan-fried chestnut mushrooms mixed with fresh tarragon and garlicky sautéed spinach for juiciness. Soft floury chestnuts and toasted pine nuts for structure and nuttiness. And dried cranberries for a tart accent to balance the sweetness of the other ingredients.
I like to go all out on Christmas Eve, filling the table with lots of small dishes to accommodate everyone’s taste and dietary preferences. My annual pitfall in this, is that no matter how well I plan ahead, a lot of ingredients have to be prepared just before serving and I end up spending most of the afternoon in the kitchen without talking to my guests. But not so this year! All ingredients for the Christmas wreath filling can be prepared the day before. The wreath itself can be assembled in the morning and kept covered in the fridge until ready to bake. I’ll combine it with creamy scalloped potatoes which actually taste better if you prepare them a day ahead. A few salads and a couple of sides brought by my family and nothing will stand in the way of spending some festive time with my guests while the oven is doing its work.
I wish you and your loved ones leisurely celebrations and a very happy Christmas!
Savoury Christmas wreath with roasted veg and fresh herbs – serves 8 as a festive centrepiece, when accompanied by sides
If you like, all ingredients for the filling can be prepared a day ahead. The roasted squash may release some liquid overnight, so be sure to drain it well before filling the pastry. For the best result, store the prepared veggies in separate containers in the fridge, then mix just before assembling the wreath.
- 1 medium-sized butternut squash (800 g), peeled and diced into 1×1 cm pieces
- 15 g fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
- 4 tbsp. olive oil or other plant-based oil
- 400 g chestnut mushrooms, brushed clean and roughly chopped
- 10 g fresh tarragon leaves, finely chopped
- 75 g pine nuts
- 200 g fresh spinach leaves
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
- 150 g vacuum-packed, pre-cooked chestnuts, roughly chopped
- handful of dried cranberries
- 800 g vegan puff pastry, defrosted
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- plant milk for brushing
Heat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6. Line a baking sheet with baking parchment.
Mix the squash cubes with the chopped sage and 1 tbsp. of the oil. Divide over the baking sheet and season well with salt and pepper. Roast the squash for 25-30 minutes until soft. Take out of the oven and set aside.
Heat 2 tbsp. of the oil in a large frying pan. Add the chopped mushrooms. Over a high heat, stir-fry the mushroom pieces until any liquid in the pan has evaporated and the mushrooms are golden brown and caramellised. Season to taste. Take off the heat and stir in the chopped tarragon. Set aside.
Heat a second frying pan over a medium heat. Tip in the pine nuts and, shaking the pan regularly to prevent burning, dry-toast them for a few minutes until golden brouwn. Transfer the pine nuts to a bowl and leave to cool.
Put the frying pan back on the stove and heat the last tablespoon of oil. Turn up the heat and add the spinach. You may want to do this in batches, so you’ll have room in the pan to stir. Stirring regularly, heat the spinach until the leaves are wilted and the liquid in the pan has evaporated. No need to take the batches out of the pan before adding the next one, just keep stirring so everything gets well heated. When the spinach is almost ready, turn down the heat a little and add the chopped garlic. Fry the garlic for a minute until fragrant. Season the spinach with salt and pepper, then take off the heat.
In a large mixing bowl, mix the roasted squash cubes with the fried mushrooms, the toasted pine nuts, the wilted spinach, the chopped chestnuts and the cranberries. Set aside until ready to use.
Cover the work top with a piece of baking parchment. Take two thirds of the puff pastry. Remove any foil and stack the pastry on top of the baking parchment. Cover with a second parchment sheet, then roll the pastry thinly into a rectangle, appr. 25×70 cm. Remove the top parchment layer.
Spread the squash mixture in a long log shape over the middle third part of the pastry, leaving the ends and the sides uncovered. Fold over the sides of the pastry to enclose the filling and press well to seal.
Roll over the pastry log so the seam is hidden underneath. Then gently bend the roll into a wreath shape until the ends of the roll face each other. Trim off excess pastry of one of the log ends, then tuck it into the pastry of the other one. Press well to close, then lift the parchment with the wreath onto a baking sheet.
Use the left-over puff pastry to decorate the Christmas wreath to your fancy. You can cut the pastry into ribbons and make a bow to cover up the seam, roll it into garlands and use cookie cutters to cut out festive shapes.
Brush the wreath and the decorations with a little plant milk, then bake for 30-35 minutes until golden.