For a dinner party main with a difference, why not try this delightful carrots en croute recipe. Whether you're catering for vegetarians or committed carnivores, this recipe is sure to go down a hit with everyone. It even makes a fantastic Christmas Day main if you're cooking for someone who doesn't eat meat.
- 120g dried sour cherries
- 75ml Amontillado sherry (or cream sherry if you prefer)
- 16 medium heritage carrots, ideally all similar thickness and length, peeled (reserve 2 long stalks if still on the carrots, alternatively long chives or butchers string)
- 1tbsp olive oil
- 85g sesame seeds
- 50g coriander seeds
- 25g fennel seeds
- 100g blanched hazelnuts
- 800g puff pastry
- 400g soft goats cheese
- 400g baby spinach leaves
- 1 large egg, beaten
Set the cherries in a small bowl with the sherry, set aside to soak for 1 hour or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 160C fan, gas 4. Spread the carrots between two baking trays, drizzle with oil, season then roast for 25 minutes or until just tender. Set aside to cool. To stack the carrots, set the carrot stalks or chives in boiling water for 2 mins then run under cold water to refresh, bunch the carrots to make a thick even stack around 4 wide and deep, alternating the tips and the tops and slotting in some sour cherries where possible. Tie the stalks, chive or butchers string to secure in place (remember to warn your guests about the string if you use).
Toast the sesame seeds, coriander seeds, fennel seeds and hazelnuts in a dry pan for around a minute until starting to pop, allow cool then crush with a pestle and mortar.
Turn the oven up to fan 180C, gas 6. Roll out around a quarter of the pastry into a rectangle around 18cm wide and 30cm long, depending on how big your carrot stack is, there should be a border of around 4cm all the way round. Transfer to a baking sheet, prick with a fork and chill for 30 mins, then bake for 12-15 minutes, until puffed and golden. Cool on a wire rack.
Put the spinach in a bowl, cover loosely with clingflilm and microwave for 1-2 minutes, until just wilted. Allow to cool slightly, then carefully squeeze out any excess water and set aside.
Return the cooked pastry to the baking tray. Cover the centre with a third of the spinach mixture, spreading the leaves as you go, leaving a 2cm border. Dot over a third of the cream cheese, sprinkle over a layer of the spice mix and a third of the sour cherries, Set the carrot stack on top. Now slot in the rest of the cherries all over the stack where you can, sprinkle over some of the spice mix, and dot over the goats cheese. Cover the stack completely with the spinach leaves.
Roll out the remaining pastry to a large rectangle, big enough to wrap around the carrots and come just over the edge of the base. Don’t let it go too thin in the middle or it may break as you set it on top. Brush the border of the base pastry with egg, then cover the whole thing with the pastry, pressing lightly around the stack to seal, trim the edges then press all around the border with a fork, brush with all over with egg. Roll any off-cuts into shapes if you like and brush with egg. Chill for another hour or overnight if you are preparing ahead.
Lightly score the pastry in a criss-cross pattern with a knife, brush with egg again and stick on the pastry shapes is using. Bake for 40-50 minutes on the bottom shelf.