Looking for a plant-based entree that won't leave your guests wanting? "The spinach, chestnut and blue cheese Wellington is a terrific addition to a holiday party," says Jonathan Leff, executive chef of The Lake House Catering in Wolcott. "It has many of the ingredients and aromas of the fall and winter seasons." He points out that it's a versatile dish as well: "It’s a vegetarian entrée that’s just as much at home as a side next to the turkey, goose or prime rib." To plan ahead, you can make and chill the sauce up to 2 days beforehand.
Spinach, chestnut and blue cheese Wellington
Serves: 16 (two puff pastries)
Prep time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
- 2 cups vegetable stock
- 2 leeks, thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1½ cups heavy cream
- 2 ounces butter
- 1 pound leeks, thickly sliced
- 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 8 ounces spinach
- 15½-ounce can chestnut purée
- 3 large eggs, plus 1 for egg wash
- ½ whole nutmeg
- 8 ounces whole roasted chestnuts, halved
- 3 ounces fresh breadcrumbs
- 8 ounces blue cheese, diced
- 17¼-ounce pack all-butter puff pastry
Make the sauce
Heat the stock in a medium pan, add the leeks, boil for 5 minutes, then take off the heat and scoop out 2 tablespoons of the leeks and reserve. Put the rest of what’s in the pan with the cornstarch into a blender. Return to the pan and cook, stirring until thickened. Pour in the cream and reserved leeks and warm through. Can be made 2 days ahead and chilled.
Make the Wellington filling
1. Melt the butter in a large frying pan. Add the leeks and garlic, stir, cover and cook for 10 minutes until the leeks are soft. Put into a large bowl. Put the spinach in the pan and allow it to just wilt. Remove. When cool, squeeze out as much liquid as possible.
2. Add chestnut purée to the bowl with the leeks and the 3 eggs, nutmeg, chestnuts, spinach, breadcrumbs, cheese and stir until well mixed. Chill for at least 1 hour or until the mixture firms up.
3. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
4. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the pastry to a rectangle large enough to completely enclose the filling. Carefully lift onto a long baking tray (cookie sheet) that has been lined with baking parchment, then brush around all the edges of the pastry with the remaining egg. Spoon half the filling down the center of the length of the pastry, leaving the ends clear. Tuck the ends over the filling, then firmly lift up the sides to wrap them round, trimming away any excess pastry as you go. Brush with more egg to glaze, then make a few holes in the top so steam can escape as it cooks.
5. Bake for 40 minutes until golden and the filling is firm. Remove from the oven, brush with more egg and bake for 10 more minutes.
Serve the Wellington in thick slices with the sauce.
Q&A with Chef Jonathan Leff
How did you first get into cooking?
Back in the early ’90s I chose to go back to school. I’d always loved cooking for family and friends and thought, “I can do this,” so I applied to what is now called The Institute of Culinary Education but at the time was called Peter Kump’s New York Cooking School. It’s an amazing school with some of the best chefs in the country teaching. I went as a work-study student and worked my way through the program absorbing as much as possible.
What’s your fondest memory of a holiday meal?
The one that stands out would be a Christmas holiday party at my aunt and uncle’s house in Pennsylvania. They had a party every year, in their beautiful home in the country. The one single strongest memory I have from all the many parties is the oyster stew that my aunt made; it’s one of the meals that stands out in my life.
Tips on using local ingredients in holiday meals?
Shopping locally is always the best way to go. With the help of Facebook or Instagram it’s easier than ever to find local farms, even for the home shopper. Many supermarkets have a local produce section with the names and towns of the farms listed.
When preparing a holiday feast, is it better to be a traditionalist or an innovator?
This is where you want to mix it up. If you serve only “innovative,” people will miss the traditional, if you only serve “traditional” foods, you might find the meal full. So mix it up; each year make one or two new dishes with perhaps a more modern flavor profile. Today’s new modern dish will become next year’s traditional dish.
Jonathan Leff on Instagram: @chefleff