Christmas is in the air: bright lights, shop windows and supermarket shelves all shout “It’s Christmas; hooray!”- type subliminal or not so subliminal messages at you. Mince pies started invading my office four weeks ago and quite a few invitations to Christmas office lunches have reached my work inbox…It all feels a bit precocious but that is how things roll here:-)
I was never a Christmas grouch. Au contraire. I have always enjoyed soaking up the cheerful atmosphere, the seasonal ice skating, mulled wine, present planning and the endless number of Christmas drinks you get invited to in December.
But nope: I never really got into the civilised British habit of sending Christmas cards. Sorry everyone, I just cannot do it. Anyway…
But when you lose someone essential in your life, such as a parent, for example, Christmas starts to taste a little bit bitter.
I guess that we all have our difficult moments, and I think it is only right to give them some space and let them be, rather than pushing them away.
Then I am usually ready to pull myself together and search for the beauty in all the things that surround me every day, and to cherish all the wonderful people I still have in my life – my husband being definitely my number one.
How does it work for you? How do you cope with similar struggles?
Despite the expected low mood, I am determined to make this Christmas break less difficult and as a result I am starting to think about all the wonderful dishes I can help my mum make, including the superstar albero di pasta sfoglia.
And this is the perfect timing to tell you about this beautiful and really yummy stella di pasta sfoglia: a moist filling of ricotta and kale (the substitute for Neapolitan friarielli, a type of wild broccoli) wrapped in crispy, golden puff pastry.
If you are having Christmas drinks chez vous and want to provide some scrumptious and eye-catching finger food, this is your recipe.
This stella di pasta sfoglia is quick and easy to make (once you get the technique right) and you can be really flexible with the filling. You could replace the kale with ham or salmon, or spinach, the more common choice. Use your imagination!
I am going to make stella di pasta sfoglia for Christmas Eve dinner together with the gorgeous albero di pasta sfoglia. I know that all eyes will be on these two items that evening, as they are every time. By the time I place them on the beautifully decorated dinner table and go and get some napkins, they are pretty much gone!
If you wonder whether I make my own puff pastry: nope, it is far too time-consuming and the fresh one sold in supermarkets is just as good. That may make me a bit lazy, but Christmas is a very manic time, and when you’re trying to get 34,858,585 things ready and avoid diplomatic accidents…it is best to save time whenever possible.
Ready for Christmas? Let’s get into the spirit by making stella di pasta sfoglia together.
- 2 sheets of pre-rolled puff pastry
- 250g ricotta, well drained
- 2oog friarielli/kale/spinach
- 4 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 2 tablespoons of fine breadcrumbs
- 1 egg
- 50ml milk
Preheat the oven to 220°C (200°C fan).
To make the filling
Wash and dry the kale. In a large frying pan add the oil and the garlic.
Sauté the garlic on low heat until light golden. Then take the garlic out. Move the pan away from the hob. Add the kale (if it is not dried well it will cause the oil to spit when they come into contact. If that happens, place a big lid on the pan and press well. Wait a few seconds before moving back to the hob).
Add some salt, stir gently and make sure all the kale is well coated with oil.
Leave the lid on, cook for about 10-15 minutes on low heat, until the kale loses its crunchiness and bright green colour. Check every now and then, stir and if it is getting too dry, add some boiling water.
When ready, let cool for a few minutes. In a bowl add the ricotta and kale and mix well with a fork. Kale is quite strong in flavour when cooked in garlic and oil, so there’s no need to add any eggs, salt or cheese to the mixture.
You will need two round sheets of puff pastry. If you can’t find any, use rectangular ones.
Line a large baking tray with non-stick oven paper. Place the first sheet on it.
If you are using rectangular sheets, place a round dish over your first sheet and cut to get a circular shape.
Distribute the breadcrumbs evenly. This will prevent the puff pastry from going soggy as it will absorb any liquids/humidity.
On another flat surface, with the second sheet of puff pastry still on the paper it came on, use the same round dish as earlier to cut a circular shape again.
Yes, you will have some puff pastry left, but no fear: you can use that up easily by making some Nutella or apple and cinnamon puff pastry squares, or even to make a small quiche.
On the first sheet add the filling and distribute evenly with a knife, making sure you leave a 1cm space around the edge.
Place the second round sheet on top and press gently with your finger tips to seal the edges. If some filling comes out, just clean it off with some kitchen paper or a spoon.
In the middle place a small tea cup and press gently to create a circle. With a knife make a cut from the outside of the tea-cup circle to the outside edge of the puff pastry, cutting through both layers. Repeat three times at equal distances to form an X where each quadrant is the same size.
You then need to divide each quadrant into four equal parts (as in the top quadrant on the right), again cutting all the way through to the baking tray. In total you should now have 16 parts!
Take two adjacent strips and twist them twice, away from each other. Repeat for the other seven pairs.
When you completed the round, pinch the ends of each pair strips together to give it a star shape. You will get 8 parcels.
In a bowl mix the egg with the milk and brush the surface of your star.
Place in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes or until the pastry turns a nice gold.
Take out of the oven, let rest for a few minutes and then transfer to a nice serving dish.
It’s great eaten hot, but also delicious at room temperature, if you want to make it the day before and serve it as part of a buffet menu.