Christmas is the perfect occasion to be inventive with your cooking. You’ve got people coming around for the holidays. The whole family’s going to be there, so it’s time to impress. At least that’s one scenario. The other is that you’re the one doing the visiting, and we both know that your host is just pulling their hair out trying to find a way to veganise that turkey before you get here. If that’s the case, take them a dish, relieve the pressure a little. Whichever way it works out, this recipe will be a crowd-pleaser. It’s a substantial main course that has so much flavour your guests will be abandoning their potatoes and asking you for more. This recipe uses butternut squash as a base, which is cooked in paprika and cinnamon too give it a wonderful festive taste. The squash is layered with spinach, béchamel sauce, dried apricots and walnuts, and encased in puff pastry. Salivating yet? I know I am.
The puff pastry used is ready-made and bought at your local supermarket. I use Jus-Rol, which is vegan. They also do a gluten-free version, for those who are intolerant, making this an extremely versatile dish. The only other gluten in my recipe is in the flour used to thicken the béchamel. You can substitute this for any gluten-free flour and you’re good to go. The trick to not getting in a mess with this wellington is to layer it all out in clingfilm first (or whatever eco-friendly version you are using), and use that to mould the filling into a large sausage shape. This is then put in the fridge to chill for an hour before placing onto your rolled-out pastry.
You don’t have to make this just for Christmas, of course. I had this one with bread and hummus and it was a perfect evening meal. Try it out before the big day if you want. See it as a dress rehearsal.
Prep time: 20 minutes. Cooking time: about 1 hour. Cooling time: 1 hour.
- 1 block ready-made puff pastry (or gluten-free alternative), brought up to room temperature
- Knob of vegan margarine, for greasing
- Dairy-free milk, for basting.
For the squash:
- 1 small butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and cut into cubes
- 1-2 tbsp olive oil
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp ground paprika
- 3-4 tbsp cold water
- Salt and pepper to season
For the béchamel:
- 1 tbsp vegan margarine
- 1 tbsp flour (gluten-free if using that option)
- 200ml dairy-free milk
- 3 tbsp nutritional yeast
- Salt and pepper
- 1 bag/160g fresh baby spinach
- 3 tbsp cold water
- 75g dried apricots, chopped
- 50g walnut pieces, chopped
You will also need clingfilm and a large baking tray.
First cook the butternut squash. Heat the olive oil in a pan and add the squash. Cook for 15-20 minutes on a medium-low heat, stirring occasionally until the pieces are soft and can be broken up easily. After 10 minutes of cooking add the paprika, cinnamon and salt and pepper and stir in. You will probably need to add a few tablespoons of water towards the end to help with the cooking and stop it drying out too much. Mash the cooked squash slightly, making sure there are still plenty of lumps, and set aside.
Now make your béchamel. Melt the margarine in a small saucepan and then take the pan off the heat and add the flour. Use a whisk to bring them together. It will immediately form a thick lump at the bottom of the pan. Add the milk, a little at a time, until you get a paste consistency, then put the pan back on the heat and continue adding the milk, whisking as you go to prevent lumps from forming. Add the nutritional yeast and season to taste. Cook on a low heat for about 4 minutes and then set aside. The béchamel will start to thicken as it cools, which is what we want. Just whisk it occasionally to stop a skin forming.
Wilt the spinach by cooking it with a few tablespoons of water for about 4 minutes, and then drain in a sieve. Use a spoon to squeeze out as much of the spinach water as you can. Now you are ready to assemble your filling.
Tear off a strip of clingfilm about 18 inches long and place it on your worktop. Spoon the mashed butternut squash onto the film, forming a line about 11 inches long and 4 wide. Spoon the cooled and thickened béchamel sauce on top of the squash, trying not to spill any over the sides. It should be thick enough to do this easily. Use your fingers to spread the spinach out over the top of the béchamel and then sprinkle the apricots and walnuts on top of that. Bring the sides of the clingfilm together, so that the filling becomes sausage-shaped, then twist the ends to seal it. Put this on a plate in the fridge for an hour to cool completely.
Grease a large baking tray and preheat the oven to gas 6/200C/400F.
On a floured surface, roll out your pastry to about 14-15 inches long and 10 inches wide. Place this on the baking tray and then put your chilled filling, upside down, onto the middle of the pastry. Carefully remove the clingfilm without disturbing the filling too much. Now brush all around the visible pastry with the dairy-free milk. Bring the sides of the pastry together, just like you did the clingfilm, and press one on top of the other to seal. Brush any areas with milk that haven’t been done. Press down each end and tuck them in, pinching them with your fingers to seal. Now carefully turn the whole thing over so that the sealed bits of pastry are hidden at the bottom. Brush the top with the milk and then gently score diagonal slices only a tiny way into the pastry with a sharp knife. Now score diagonal slices the other way so that you end up with diamond shapes (see picture). Cook towards the bottom of the oven for 30-35 minutes, until the pastry is risen and browned. If you’ve scored it correctly you’ll have raised diamonds on the top. Allow to cool for 10 minutes and then slice into six and serve.