To be honest, I’d be happy just eating roast potatoes smothered with horseradish and gravy on christmas day. However it’s worth the extra effort making something a little snazzy as your veggie centre piece. And you know that all the meat lovers won’t be able to resist either so make extra….
You can play around with flavours here so use your favourite herbs and extra bits if you fancy. It’s important to use a soft cheese that will hold its shape for the middle. Goats cheese, cream cheese and mascarpone have all work gloriously. Here I use sundried tomatoes and fresh basil to jazz up the cheese but it’s also lush with olives, lemon zest and thyme. Again with the risotto mix you can change it up a bit using peas, roasted squash or beetroot.
Served alongside the usual fanfare of vegetables, this is enough to feed six hungry tums.
400g cream cheese
1 jar sundried tomatoes (save the oil and add to the risotto later)
massive bunch of fresh basil
400g risotto rice
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
100g chestnut mushrooms, chopped up small
250g halloumi, cut in to small cubes
100g pecorino, grated
1 litre boiling water
salt and pepper to season
The pastry bit…
1 packet of puff pastry (try this organic west country one….)
1 egg, lightly beaten for egg wash
Handful of nigella seeds/black onion seeds
WHAT TO DO
1. Pop the cream cheese in a bowl. Whizz or chop sundried tomatoes and basil finely and mix into your cheese. Lay out a double sheet of cling film and spoon your cheesy mix in a line down the middle. Wrap tidily and twist the ends until you get a neat sausage around 25cm long which will be the creamy treat in the centre of your finished roll. Put it in the freezer to chill down until it’s firm and easy to handle.
2. Make your risotto. Melt half the butter over a medium heat until it’s slightly toasted and releases a nutty aroma. Add in the garlic, mushrooms and halloumi and let the glorious smells fly around the kitchen! Allow everything to lightly colour in the heat of the fat and after a few minutes toss in the rice and mix to cover each grain in the buttery garlicky goodness.
3. Add the boiled water ladle by ladle, mixing after every addition and keeping the pan on a medium heat. You can use a stock but I like to season at the end so just using water gives me more control over the flavours. 1 litre should be right but you need to play it by ear a little. After 10 minutes of cooking, try a little grain and keep doing this until it reaches your preferred al dente-ness. Now season until your hearts content. Add the other half of butter to create a glossy affair. In goes the grated pecorino, oil from the sundried tomatoes, salt and pepper and any herbs you fancy. It’s important to taste and taste again. The rice can soak up a lot of flavour and sometimes looses it somewhere, so just like stage makeup, go over the top with your seasoning. To speed up the process, you can spoon the rice mixture on to a flat metal tray so it cools down and is easier to handle when constructing your creation.
4. Roll out your puff pastry to approx. 30x30cm. Place on to a well oiled baking tray. Cooking it straight on the metal will help to avoid a soggy bottom…
5. You want to dress the bottom half of the pastry sheet, giving yourself room round the edges when you come to fold over the top half and seal to prevent your innards from oozing out in the oven. Line with about a 1cm depth of risotto then retrieve your cheesy sausage from the freezer, unwrap and place on its ricey thrown. Pack the rest of the risotto around the filling with a bit at each end too. You may not need it all and it is important not to over pack. You can use any leftover rice for arancini balls to nibble on boxing day.
6. Now fold over the top layer of pastry and seal round the edges with your egg wash and pastry brush round the sides. Use a fork to add detail and really press the two flaps of pastry together. Egg wash all over the top so it’ll get a lovely sheen and sprinkle with nigella seeds to add some colour. Pop in the middle of your preheated oven on 180’C/Gas Mark 5. The cooking time varies but lingers around the 40 minute mark. You want a lovely colourful crust and a crispy bottom so when these two things are achieved, you are ready to whip it out. If your top isn’t colouring then move the tray higher in the oven. If you are having trouble crisping up your bottom then move it lower.
7. Leave for 5 minutes so it can all settle together and then you can ‘carve’ your feast and watch all around the table dribble with delight! And if by any miracle it doesn’t all get munched up, it is heavenly to revisit later in the day, consumed cold with a dollop of mayo and a smidgen of chilli jam….