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Christmas filo

Christmasfilo

The first question that strikes two vegetarians (of greater - David - or lesser - me - strictness) when preparing for their first Christmas meal together is what the main course will be. The German goose, the British turkey or the American ham all have a ceremonial heft one doesn't want to forsake, yet substantial dishes such as a lasagne are far too everyday.

As for many cooks making vegetarian meals, Deborah Madison is something of a guru for me: She doesn't conflate vegetarian with ascetic and has a range of dishes that belong to a realm I associate with classic French cooking (thyme, bechamel, shallots), love, and normally miss in meatless cooking, with its usual drawing on Mediterranean or Asian cuisines for inspiration.

After a few minutes of leafing through The Greens Cookbook, I had what I was after: A goat's cheese, spinach and walnut filo pastry, suitably festive and time-consuming enough that making it felt like Christmas, but not actually complicated in any way that would risk failure. (The only crisis I did have was finding filo dough, which in its transparent-sheeted form is very uncommon here; variants on puff pastry are more the order of the day. After coming up short at the Biocompany and Kaiser's, I made a hasty trip to the Reichelt at Storkower Strasse - a grim place to be late on the 23rd - and found a packet of Yufkateig, much to my relief. Though the pieces are triangular-shaped, this Turkish filo dough cooks up just as well.)

Christmas filo (based on 'Filo pastry with goat cheese and spinach' from The Greens Cookbook)

  • 1 300 g (10.5 oz) package filo dough
  • 1 C (100 g) walnuts
  • 30 g (2 T) butter
  • 3 slim leeks with lots of white, white part thinly sliced and washed (freeze the greens for future stock-making)
  • 5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • .5 tsp dried thyme (or quadruple the same amount fresh if available)
  • .5 tsp dried rosemary (or quadruple the same amount fresh if available)
  • 1/4 C dry white wine
  • 450 g (16 oz) chopped frozen spinach, defrosted in refrigerator and drained of excess liquid (or equivalent in fresh)
  • 230 g (8 oz) fresh goat's cheese (I used Ziegenfrischk√§se from the cheese stall at Kollwitzplatz)
  • 170 g (6 oz) ricotta
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 110 g (8 T) butter, melted

Take the filo dough out of the fridge or freezer before you begin. Heat the oven to 350 F (180 C, gas mark 4 in Germany) and roast the walnuts in a foil-lined baking tray for about 10 minutes or until fragrant. Chop finely.

Melt the butter in a large pan on medium heat and add the leeks. Cook for a few minutes, then add the garlic, herbs, and some salt and pepper, and cook for a few more minutes. Then add the wine and cook for about ten minutes, or until the leeks are soft. Mix in the spinach and cook for about four minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and stir in the cheeses and the eggs. (If you want to make the filling in advance, don't add the eggs now. Take the filling out of the refrigerator about an hour before you want to begin cooking and add the eggs just before you're ready to start.)

Preheat the oven to 400 F (200 C, gas mark 5 in Germany). Make the layers: Brush the bottom and sides of a 13-by-9-by-2-inch pan (or thereabouts) with butter. Lay down a sheet of filo dough and brush it with butter, and sprinkle with some walnuts, and continue until you've used about one-third of the dough and the walnuts. Spread on half the filling, then continue with the filo and walnuts until you've used the next third, spread on the rest of the filling, and continue again with the filo and walnuts until finished.

With a sharp knife, cut the pastry into 3 inch squares (or whatever size you'd like), making sure to cut through to the bottom. Bake for about 45 minutes or until golden brown, rotating the pan once after twenty minutes. I think it's a dish best served warm, but also fine at room temperature for a buffet.

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