I love the few days before Christmas. In fact, I think prefer them to the day itself. I thrive on the frantic last-minute shopping, the armfuls of bags, the evenings wrapping and tying presents. Queuing out the door of the greengrocer’s to overfill my basket with every possible thing I might need (and then the same on top again). Crisp late-night walks, when the world seems empty and the frosty air clings to the gap between my winter coat and the thick, folded wool of my hat. Christmas Day, with all its clattering of forks and spoons, is a joy, but I love the days before, where I can soak up the spirit of what’s going on, carefully gather prized ingredients and make sure everyone’s favourites are on the table.
Our Christmas dinner has long been a sisterly affair, one that my sister, Laura, and I took very seriously from a young age (most notably in 1994, when Laura decided to gold-leaf our pudding). In our family, Christmas centres around the food we eat. As we’ve got older, the presents, decorations and gold-leafed desserts matter less, while our time at the table and what we feast on only grows in importance year by year.
How we eat has changed and shaped our family. We are a family who no longer eat meat or fish, and eat very little dairy – two vegetarians, two vegans and Dad, who has the occasional roast – so the things we put on our Christmas table have had to move with us. I’m pretty sure our extended family think we are a bunch of hippies and, despite my oldest aunt having lived in California for 20 years, she still rolls her eyes at our almond milk; our uncle still jokes about the waste of space taken up by the nut roast and then eats two helpings. I understand, though – it’s all tied up in our individual obsessions with Christmas; we each have our own take and it’s one of the last bits of tradition we seem to stick to.
These days, the star of our festive family dinner is a pie, roast, tart or galette that we have carefully crafted to earn its place on our Christmas table
I get the importance of these rituals – it’s what separates Christmas from any other day of the year – but remember: Father Christmas used to wear a green suit; it used to be goose on our tables not Turkey; so we, like the big man, have to adapt here and there. In Japan, thanks to some clever marketing by the Colonel, KFC is eaten in some houses as their Christmas dinner, so, needless to say, I'm OK with some traditions dying out.
These days, the star of our festive family dinner is a pie, roast, tart or galette that we have carefully crafted to earn its place on our Christmas table. It has become a joyful collaboration between our family; one standout dish at the heart of the table – something to wow the tutting uncles and uncertain aunts. My goodwill rainbow pie is favourite – layers of flavourful veg wrapped in a herb-spiked pastry, or sometimes we’ll go with a seriously good nut roast – this one has a flavour-packed mushroom risotto base with sticky cranberries sitting on the top.
Christmas lends itself seamlessly to cooking with layers, textures, punchy spices: the savoury greens of winter herbs and the jewel-like glisten of cranberries. The spritz of holiday citrus, the deep earthiness of beetroot – it’s everything that is exciting about food. Dotted around our table beside our pie or galette sit deep bowls of garlic- and thyme-roasted potatoes, cinnamon- and chilli-spiked squash, braised sticky red cabbage, almond milk and bay bread sauce, clementine-spiked cranberries, caramel veg gravy and a bowl of blood orange and fennel to interrupt the richness.
It's as much a feast for the eyes as the appetite; round our table, the meal is a celebration of our family, of our story – nothing is missed.
Almond thyme and beetroot galette
You will often find this galette at the centre of our festive table. I love using nuts and seeds to make bases for tarts and pies; this galette is naturally grain- and gluten-free. You could use hazelnuts instead of the almonds here. I love marinating beetroots: it keeps them fresh and succulent without them being too crunchy. I use whipped goat’s cheese here but, if you are vegan or dairy-free, then I’ve added a note on how you can use tofu instead.
For the beetroots:
- 8 beetroots
- Juice of 2 oranges or 4 clementines
- Juice of 1 lemon
- Few sprigs of rosemary, leaves chopped
- Couple of juniper berries, bashed
- Good squeeze of runny honey
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the galette base:
- 50g blanched almonds, plus extra for decorating
- 50g sunflower seeds
- 50g linseeds
- 100g unsweetened chestnut purée
- 50g coconut oil
- 1 tbsp maple syrup
- Small bunch of thyme
- Few sprigs of rosemary
For the topping:
- Butter or coconut oil
- 2 onions, peeled and finely sliced
- 250g spinach
- 250g goat’s cheese (or, for vegans, 250g silken tofu)
- Zest and juice of 1 lemon
- Small bunch of tarragon or dill, leaves picked
- Preheat the oven to 180ºC/fan 160ºC/gas mark 4.
- First, marinate the beetroots: peel them and very finely slice them using a mandoline and put them into the bowl with all the other marinade ingredients and a good pinch of salt and a generous grinding of black pepper. Leave to infuse for as long as you have; three to four hours is best.
- Next, get on with the tart base. Roast the nuts and seeds in the oven for five to six minutes until just golden. Transfer to a food processor, with the chestnut purée, coconut oil and maple syrup, and blitz until it comes together into a ball. It will be sticky to begin with, so stop and scrape the sides as you go.
- Place a large sheet of baking paper on a work surface and sit the dough on it. Then, with lots of gluten-free flour on your hands and a rolling pin, roll out the dough as thinly as possible and cut to the size of a large, shallow baking tin, and transfer to the tin using a fish slice. Prick the pastry all over with a fork, cover with baking paper, fill with baking beans or rice and bake blind for 12 to 15 minutes. Leave to cool in the tray, and keep the oven on.
- Meanwhile, make the topping. Heat a good knob of butter or coconut oil in a pan, add the onions and cook very slowly on a low heat for about 30 minutes until soft and very, very sweet and almost jammy. Remove from the pan and put to one side.
- In the same pan, heat another knob of butter or coconut oil, and wilt the spinach. Season with salt and pepper and take off the heat.
- Put the goat’s cheese into a bowl with the zest of a lemon and chop most of herbs and add to the bowl. Whip with a wooden spoon until soft and peaky. (If using tofu here, put it into a food processor with the lemon and herbs, and blitz until whipped and smooth).
- Now put your galette together: spread the whipped goat’s cheese over the base and top with the spinach, then the onions. Drain the beetroots and scatter over the top, and finish with some more fronds of herbs.