NOTE: The super pretty dish with flowers I used in this post is from DishesOnly! If you’re in Italy, check them out for some Christmas gifts inspiration!
NOTA: Il piatto adorabile con i fiori mi é stato mandato da DishesOnly! Date un’occhiata al sito per della buona ispirazione per i regali di Natale!
Imagine the atmosphere: It is December 24th, the day of Christmas. At least 25 people are gathered around a red-and-gold table, gathered after the 12 PM mass, ready to enjoy the most gorgeous meal of the year.
Those people are my family, who, back when my grandma was still active and in the mood for cooking, would gather up at her house after she, my mom and aunt had spent 3 full days cooking for the holidays.
Being a family of farmers, several animals would be sacrificed for the occasion, as the meal was heavily meat-based: every year, the menu included roast duck or Guinea fowl, pan-braised rabbit, roast potatoes and vegetables. The primo (first course) would change every year, but the carousel was always pretty much the same: cappelletti in broth with a meat filling, or lasagna, homemade gnocchi with duck ragu or tagliatelle with boar ragu. Christmas was a time of abundance, and up until some ten years ago my family of farmers still celebrated Christmas remembering the times when it was one of the very few days of the year when they could have meat.
Lunch ended late, at about 4 in the afternoon. Then, everyone would start playing cards while having coffee, some liquor, and some Cantucci for dipping. Some people would just collapse on the sofa, until 5 PM came and the whole family would head out to the lit-up town for a refreshing stroll, enjoying the people’s singing in the streets, and the bright display windows of the shops. A brief stroll in the fields was also greatly appreciated, before heading to town.
As time passed, my grandma’s health got a little worse, and the willingness of the women of the family to cook all that meat started to wane, and so did the willingness of the family members to eat it: everyone seemed to realize they did not need to show off meat as a social status anymore, and vegetables took an ever larger place at the holidays table. Even my granddad, who is 88 years old and a person who has been eating the same things over and over for his entire life, stated that maybe it was time to change things up a little bit.
Two years ago I decided that I did not like to overeat, ever, no matter how big the occasion was, and my Christmas meals shifted to mostly vegetables. In an effort to have me eat along with everybody else, my mom started preparing all sorts of sides that I incredibly enjoyed, so I would end up stuffing my face with vegetables rather than pasta or duck!
Now that I am a (99%) full vegetarian, I am seriously looking forward to the time we will all gather up together, and maybe have some more veggie based dishes on our table with red plates and gold candles!
One of the dishes my mom would often make for the holidays was a sort of pork wellington: it was pork loin, butterflied and stuffed with brie and tons of spinach sautèed in garlic and olive oil (or asparagus for Easter), then rolled up tight and encased in a bread crust. I loved that dish as a kid, so I thought it would be nice to replicate something like that. Although you have to prepare several different things to put this roll together, each single preparation is very easy and involves no more than mixing all ingredients with a food processor or sautè some veggies in a pan. If you cannot be bothered to make your own bread dough, go ahead and buy some pre-made (pizza dough will work great as well) or you could encase the veggies in phyllo pastry. Sure, you could even use puff pastry if you think that it’s Christmas after all and who gives a crap about extra calories for this once.
The protagonists in this roll are a great truffled chickpea paste, that I found in Sant’Agata Feltria during the truffle festival and that I fell head over heels for, and braised kale, that is now in full season and that I was reminded of after my trip to Florence this past monday (where I was a host for Vetrina Toscana – check out their blog, it’s in english!)
This recipe was also inspired by two chefs I love seeing on TV in this period, Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver. Jamie had a great-looking recipe for veggie wellington as well!
He also has a recipe for a vegan gravy that looks very good (not sure about that Marmite though) and would go great with this. I made a mushroom cream myself, but while it was very good I feel like it can be improved so I am not including the recipe for now.
ABOUT THE TRUFFLED HUMMUS: Though we’re using it as a stuffing here, this is great as a bruschetta topping, addition to a pasta sauce, or, well, for using in any context that you would regular hummus. If you cannot find truffle of any sort, don’t like it or do not want to use it, flavor up this hummus with 4-5 halves of dried tomatoes in olive oil, and use a tbsp of the tomato oil instead of the truffle oil. It pairs wonderfully with rapini, broccoli or any cooked greens!
ABOUT THE SIMPLE PIZZA DOUGH: I will share my pizza recipe at some point, which involves a longer time of leavening and proofing, but for pies and rolls and other similar preparations like this, we use a quicker version that works wonders and is ready in 2-3 hours. If any of you are in Italy, I’ve got to say that ever since Molini Pivetti sent me some of their flour a few months ago, we’ve been using it constantly for baking, for pasta and pretty much anything that involves flour. It just works wonders and yields a soft, pillowy results we hardly experienced with other supermarket flours. I especially loved their Kamut bread & pizza mix(though I am not a fan of Kamut at all) and their burnt wheat flour, which is so incredibly tasty. One of the best pizza places ever in this area, that also makes the best pizza I’ve ever eaten, uses their flours. ‘Nuff said. You can find their products at Euro Spar and Esselunga (I don’t have any of these supermarkets nearby, meh). I really recommend their products and, in general, I really recommend you use good quality flour that is made with good quality wheat. The quality of the flour you use highly affects your final results. For more info, check out my guide to flours!
(Makes about 1 cup)
250g / 9oz cooked chickpeas
1 tbsp Truffle oil, or 1 heaping tsp truffle paste*
1 fat garlic clove, crushed
1 generous tbsp rosemary, finely chopped
A squeeze of lemon
Salt & pepper
1/4 cup + 1 tbsp olive oil (possibly extra virgin), and extra for garnish
1/4 cup (more or less) water or stock
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
Heat a tbsp oil in a pan, and add the garlic and rosemary, and stir-fry for a minute, until aromatic. Add the chickpeas, and stir-fry until heated through, about another minute. Remove the garlic, and scrape the contents of the pan into a food processor. Add all the other ingredients, and process until a smooth paste forms. If it is a bit too thick, add another drop of oil. It is best served with an extra drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Store in a jar for 3-4 days.
Simple Pizza Dough
150g Whole Wheat or Spelt flour
150g Strong flour
about 3/4 cup warm water
1 tbsp Olive oil
1 tsp Barley Malt
1 1/2 tsp Active dry yeast
1 tsp Salt
In a bowl (or in a kneading machine if you have one) combine the flours and the salt. Dilute the yeast and the malt in the water, and whisk in the oil. Add the liquid mixture to the flours, and knead until a smooth ball of dough forms, about 15 minutes. Cover the dough with clingfilm and let it rest in a warm, current-free place – the oven with the light on will work wonderfully. Let it raise for about 3 hours, or until doubled in size. At this point, the dough is ready to use.
And now, on to the assembly!
- 1 Recipe Simple Pizza Dough (see recipe above)
- ¾ cup Truffled Hummus (see recipe above)
- 2 lbs rapini, cleaned and trimmed
- 2 tbsp Olive oil
- 2 fat garlic cloves, crushed
- Extra salt for the rapini cooking water
- 3 oz. Taleggio or brie, sliced, for the vegetarian version, or ½ cup Vegan Bechamel with a healthy dose of nutritional yeast for the vegan version
- Trim and wash your rapini, and prepare a large pot of water. Bring it to a rolling boil, add a good tbsp of salt and cook the rapini until tender, about 20-25 minutes. The rapini should be very tender. Drain, and let the water evaporate a bit.
- Preheat the oven to 370 F˚.
- Hava the Truffle Hummus, rapini and Pizza dough ready. You can prepare the hummus and rapini the day before.
- Heat the olive oil in a pan, add the crushed garlic and stir-fry for a minute, until aromatic. Add the rapini, along with a good pinch of salt, and stir-fry until well coated in oil, about 5 minutes.
- Knead the dough for 5 minutes, then roll it out on a working surface, using a bit of flour if it threatens to stick. Roll it out to an even ¼ inch thick square. Spread the hummus, rapini and cheese (or vegan bechamel) evenly, then roll it up carefully and seal the edges. If you have some leftover dough from the edges, you can use it to make some decorations. Pierce the roll with a toothpick in a couple of spots, and transfer it to a baking tray lined with baking paper. Bake for about 30 minutes, until golden brown on top. Let cool before slicing.
- Serve with the Mushroom gravy (but it's oh-so-delicious on its own, as well!)