Italian Plait

This looks difficult but is very straightforward. The colours look so attractive when you cut it into slices and the asparagus spears add a touch of luxury. It can be made in advance and then baked just before you need it. Although it is intended to be served hot, it is also delicious cold.

Serves: 6-8

Preparation: 1 hr 40 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 Aubergine, cut into 1cm cubes
  • 1 red onion, cut into pieces the same size as the Aubergine
  • 225g Chestnut Mushrooms, wiped with kitchen paper and halved
  • 5 midi plum Tomatoes, halved
  • 2 red peppers, de-seeded and cut into 1cm pieces
  • 2 Garlic Cloves, crushed
  • 2 sprigs of fresh Thyme, leaves removed, or 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 3 tbsps extra virgin Olive Oil
  • Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper
  • 125g thin Asparagus Spears
  • 500g Puff Pastry
  • 250g tub of Ricotta Cheese
  • 60g grated Parmesan Cheese
  • 50g Pine nuts, toasted lightly
  • 1 Egg, beaten

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 6/200ºC/fan oven 180ºC.
  2. Place the first seven ingredients in a single layer in roasting tins – you will probably need two.
  3. Sprinkle over the oil and mix in thoroughly so that the vegetables are coated evenly. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Roast in the oven for about 30 minutes until the vegetables are tender and beginning to turn brown.
  5. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for about half an hour.
  6. In the meantime, steam the asparagus tips until they are just tender and rinse under cold water to prevent them from cooking further.
  7. Reduce the oven temperature to Gas Mark 5/190ºC/fan oven 170ºC.
  8. Reserve a small piece of the pastry and set aside. Roll the rest of it out to a large rectangle of about 25 x 30cm.
  9. Spoon the roasted vegetables down the centre of the pastry, to a width of about 13cm.
  10. Dot the ricotta all over, sprinkle over the Parmesan cheese and pine nuts and then lay the asparagus spears over the cheeses.
  11. Using the tip of a sharp knife, cut the pastry diagonally on either side of the vegetables leaving about 21⁄2cm  between each strip.
  12. Lift the end pieces over the filling and then fold over the strips, alternating from each side and brushing with the beaten egg.
  13. You need to ensure that the filling is completely enclosed – to do this simply push in the sides and lift up the strips a little higher.
  14. Roll out the reserved pastry and cut it into holly leaf shapes or cut into three strips and create a plait.
  15. Brush with the egg and arrange the pastry leaves or plait along the centre where the strips meet.
  16. Bake in the oven for 30–40 minutes – you will probably need to cover the top loosely with foil to prevent it from getting too brown towards the end of the cooking time.
  17. Transfer to a serving platter and cut one slice to reveal the filling.
  18. Garnish with roasted tomatoes and some salad leaves such as rocket, if you wish.

Freezing: Open-freeze the plait on a tray and then place in a freezer bag. Thaw overnight in the fridge and then warm through in a moderate oven.

This recipe is from WI Complete Christmas by Sian Cook & Margaret Williams and published by Simon & Schuster in 2010.


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