Not everyone cherishes festive culinary tradition. We invited Catherine Fulvio to share the magic of a Sicilian Christmas, Eleanor Heffernan creates a dish for ‘the vegetarian in the family’ and Trish Deseine brings us into her French kitchen
Roast Pheasant with Pancetta, White Wine and Rosemary
Arrosto di fagiano con pancetta, vino bianco e rosmarino (Roast Pheasant with Pancetta, White Wine and Rosemary)
This is an impressive yet simple meal that is just perfect for when you're entertaining guests. I really like dishes that I don't have to stand over whenever I have guests round. That way, I'm free to enjoy my visitors' company. If pheasant is unavailable, this works wonderfully with chicken – just add a couple more slices of pancetta. Serves 4.
YOU WILL NEED
Extra virgin olive oil
4 sprigs of rosemary, leaves chopped
1 lemon, zested then sliced
1 x 1kg pheasant
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
4 slices pancetta
200ml white wine
Chicory roasted with Parmesan to serve
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4. Mix some olive oil, some rosemary and all the zest, then brush it over the pheasant. Season the cavity with the remaining rosemary, salt and pepper and a few lemon slices.
Cover the breast with the pancetta, place in a roasting tin and pour over the wine. Roast for 1 hour, basting your pheasant from time to time. Lower heat to 150°C/300°F/gas mark 2 and leave in the oven for up to 30 minutes. When it is done, the juices should run clear. Remove, place on plate and pour on the juices. Serve with chicory roasted with Parmesan. Add 12 olives and use Marsala instead of wine for a change. Or add double creamto the juices for a richer sauce.
'Catherine's Italian Kitchen' published by Gill & Macmillan.
Cornucopia's Leek, Spinach and Lentil Nut Roast
YOU WILL NEED
For the nut roast
6 bay leaves
500g red lentils
300g mixed nuts (hazelnuts, cashew nuts, almonds, brazil nuts etc)
2 medium carrots
2 cloves of garlic
2 stalks of celery
A few springs of fresh thyme
400g spinach or baby spinach
Freshly grated nutmeg
A few sprigs of fresh basil
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
For the lemon and parsley sauce
150g cooked red lentils (from the main batch)
1 bulb of garlic
Juice of 1 -1½ lemons
200ml vegetable stock or 200ml boiling water with half a teaspoon of bouillon
50g fresh parsley (medium bunch)
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
Preheat your oven to 180°C. Start by cooking the lentils. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Add two bay leaves and the lentils and reduce to a simmer. Stir occasionally to prevent the lentils from clumping together or sticking to the bottom of the pot.
Cover with a lid and cook for 8-10 minutes, until soft and yellow. Drain in a sieve, remove the bay leaves and set aside. Do not be alarmed that the lentils are quite mushy.
When the oven is hot, spread the nuts out on a baking tray and toast in the oven for eight minutes, tossing once or twice.
Set aside to cool, rub them briskly to remove any loose skins and then chop them roughly.
Chop the top off the bulb of garlic (for the lemon and parsley sauce), toss the whole bulb in olive oil and place it in a small baking tray. Pour a little extra olive oil into the top to coat the garlic cloves inside. Roast in the oven for 30 minutes, then set it aside to cool.
Next, chop the onion, carrot, celery and garlic (two cloves) really finely. Coat the base of a large pot generously with olive oil, place it over a medium heat and add the onion, carrot, celery, garlic, the sprigs of thyme and two bay leaves.
Cover with a lid, reduce to a low heat and sweat for about 20 minutes, stirring regularly, until the vegetables are all just soft. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and then remove the thyme and bay leaves.
While the vegetables are sweating, prepare the spinach and leeks. If using regular spinach, remove the stalks and wash and drain thoroughly. Baby spinach generally comes pre-washed.
Keep half of a leek separate and unchopped to be used later as a garnish. Slice the rest of the leeks in half lengthways and then into medium pieces. Wash well in a big sink of water and set aside to drain.
Now coat a frying pan sparsely with olive oil and place over a high heat. Add half the spinach, some salt and pepper and a grating of nutmeg and cook until the spinach is soft and most of the moisture has evaporated from the pan. Repeat with the second batch of spinach, or use two pans simultaneously.
Add the cooked spinach to the mixing bowl. Once again, coat the pan with oil, only a little more liberally this time, and reduce to a medium heat.
Now throw in half of the leaks along with some salt, pepper and a bay leaf and fry until everything has turned soft, stirring regularly.
Repeat this process with the second batch of leeks. Add all of the cooked leeks to the mixing bowl and remove the bay leaves.
Next, mix all of the ingredients for the nut roast. Keep aside 150g (about a cupful) of cooked lentils for the lemon and parsley sauce, then add the remainder to the mixing bowl.
Keep aside about 50g of chopped nuts (for garnish) and add the rest of them to the mixing bowl. Now chop the fresh basil finely and put that in too.
After that, using a gentle touch, fold everything together and season it with salt and pepper. Transfer the mix to a suitable baking dish and smooth it down.
To garnish, take the leek and slice into thin rounds, but at an angle so that they are an oblong shape. Arrange them into lines on top of the bake and then drizzle all over them with a little olive oil.
Scatter the mixed and chopped nuts between the lines of the leeks and bake in the oven for 30 minutes.
While the nut roast is baking, make a start on your parsley and lemon sauce. First of all, place the 150g of cooked lentils into a suitable bowl and add 200ml of vegetable stock or water and bouillon, the squeezed out flesh from the roasted garlic and a dash of olive oil (use the oil from the garlic roasting if available).
Use a stick blender to blend until smooth and then pass through a sieve (the finer, the better) to make for a smooth sauce.
Afterwards, add the lemon juice and the parsley and blend again. Season with salt and pepper, place in a small pot and bring to a low simmer, ready to spoon over each portion of the nut roast when you take it from the oven.
'Cornucopia at Home' is available from Cornucopia, 19 Wicklow Street, Dublin, (01) 677 7583.Check out talks on cornucopia.ie.
Trish Deseine's Galettes des rois
Every year, just when everyone is getting over the excesses of Christmas and New Year, the bakers and patissiers of France assail the population with flat, shiny galettes des Rois – King cakes.
Filled with frangipane and encased in rich puff pastry, it seems impossible that anyone would want to tuck into one so soon after buche de Noel – yule log – and turkey with chestnuts.
It is perhaps the ritual more than the cake that has people hooked, for the cutting and serving of the galette is turned into an elaborate scenario.
The first time I encountered it, I truly believed it was a joke at my expense, unsuspecting foreigner that I was.
The galette was cut into 11 pieces (one more than the number of guests), then I was sent under the table to call out everyone's name and thus impartially decide the order in which everyone got their slice.
This secrecy is necessary because the stakes are high. Inside each galette is a feve – a little charm. First served in Roman times, whoever came across it in his piece of cake was crowned king of the party.
The tradition is still going strong, though galettes are now served at Epiphany and the feves have become little porcelain figurines that are passionately collected by fabophiles.
It has become the customary way for families, companies, town halls and schools to gather and celebrate the New Year all through the month of January.
Bakers and patissiers always include cardboard crowns with the cake, some of which are objects of great beauty and, just as with the buche de Noel, can be designed for famous shops by artists or fashion designers.
Nowadays, the king or queen gets to choose his or her corresponding co-monarch from around the table and wins the honour of inviting everyone for the next galette.
The extra slice is la part du pauvre – the poor man's share – given in the past to those who would beg for food. Now it is given to the greediest guest who wants second helpings.
This is rarely the case in my house, for among my rather competitive children, the lure of the prize and the ensuing coronation is more attractive than the cake.
All eyes are on my knife as I cut up the galette, checking to see if it goes "clink" as it hits something hard, so giving away the mystery.
This cake is served at Epiphany. The kings (rois) in the name refers to the three kings who followed the star to Bethlehem. For the feve to determine who becomes king or queen of your table, you could use a small dried bean, as the Romans did, or the now traditional tiny china figure. Or you could just as easily use a coin. Serves six.
YOU WILL NEED
50g butter, softened
50g caster sugar
1 tbsp plain flour
50g ground almonds
A few drops of bitter almond extract
A pinch of salt
1 tbsp rum (optional)
1 packet good puff pastry
1 egg, lightly beaten
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4. Line a large baking sheet with baking parchment and set it aside.
The puff pastry should be defrosted but kept in the fridge until the very last minute to make sure that it will rise properly.
In a bowl, mix the butter, 2 eggs, sugar and flour until well combined. Add the ground almonds, mix well, then add the bitter almond extract, the salt and the rum, if you're including it.
Roll out the puff pastry and cut two 22cm rounds. Place one on the baking sheet (leave the other in the fridge for now). Scoop the almond mixture into the centre of the pastry and gently and evenly distribute it across it, leaving a 2cm rim uncovered.
Place the feve anywhere you like on the almond cream, then brush the uncovered rim with beaten egg.
Remove the second puff pastry round from the fridge and gently place on top of the almond cream, aligning the edges so that they sit directly over those of the lower round.
Without pushing the almond cream out, gently bring the edges down to just touch the lower ones, pinching them together.
Brush the remaining beaten egg over the top of the puff pastry to glaze it, then make a small hole in the centre with a knife.
Gently score the pastry to make a criss-cross pattern, being careful not to cut all the way through.
Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 160°C/325°F/gas mark 3 and bake for 20 minutes or until lightly golden and the pastry has puffed up.
Let it cool completely before you start cutting into it.
From 'Trish's French Kitchen' by Trish Deseine, published by Kyle Books.