There is a moment, somewhere between draining brussels sprouts for 14 and trying to beat the lumps out of the turkey gravy with a wooden spoon, that your one and only non-meat-eating guest briefly becomes 'the bloody vegetarian'. You don't mean it, of course, and you were happy enough to invite them, but in the heat and sweat of getting Christmas dinner on the table, the idea of someone needing a different meal from everyone else suddenly rankles.
I want my vegetarian guests' Christmas lunch to be as much of a feast for them as the roast leg of organic pork with gingerbread stuffing will be for us; unusual, extravagant, luxurious and enticing. I want there to be a whiff of sweetness and spice, and hopefully something to eat that they wouldn't have every day.
I found one such recipe in Casa Moro by Sam Clark and Sam Clark (£25, Ebury), which is quite the most exquisite, inspirational and downright delicious cookbook I have seen in ages. This is the most headily fragrant of paellas, a dish with Moorish notes of saffron and paprika, fit for a celebration. And for my vegetarian guests this year I took inspiration from the Clarks' tender lamb-filled potato cakes to make something similar with a crisp crust of parsnips stuffed with chestnut mushrooms, pine kernels and spinach.
For Christmas lunch I get as much as possible done the day before - the time-consuming bits and bobs, the alternative dessert for those barmy lot who won't eat Christmas pudding, and, of course, the main dish for the bloody vegetarian.
Hot, crisp cakes with a nutty, savoury filling. Serve on a salad of watercress or rocket, scattered with pomegranate seeds and yoghurt. Serves 2 as a main.
For the filling:
50g lightly toasted pine kernels
a large onion
a tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic
half a tsp ground coriander
4 green cardamoms
a tsp of ground cumin
75g fresh spinach leaves
For the parsnips:
a pinch of ground cinnamon
1 heaped tbsp plain flour
oil and butter for frying
Peel and chop the parsnips into large pieces and boil in salted water till just tender (about 20 mins). Drain and return them to the heat for a couple of minutes to 'dry out', then mash them with the cinnamon and a little ground black pepper. When no lumps remain, stir in the flour. Leave to cool.
While the parsnips are cooking, make the filling. Toast the pine kernels in a non-stick pan over a moderate heat till golden. Set aside. Chop the onion fairly finely, then let it soften till pale gold in a pan with the oil and butter over a moderate heat. Crush the garlic and add it to the onion, along with the coriander, the crushed black cardamom seeds and the cumin. Let all sizzle briefly. Chop the mushrooms and add them to the pan, letting them cook gently to a soft, nutty brown. Stir in the pine kernels.
In a separate pan cook the spinach briefly, drain, squeeze and roughly chop. Stir the spinach into the mushroom stuffing, season with salt and pepper and set aside to cool. When both parsnips and stuffing are cool enough to handle, flour your hands and divide the parsnip mix into four. Flatten each one into a thick disc, put a couple of spoonfuls of the filling in the centre, then bring up the sides to enclose the stuffing. Flatten the ball gently with a floured hand and put on to a lightly floured baking sheet. Continue with the rest of the mixture to make four large, stuffed patties. These will keep, wrapped in clingfilm for several hours, or overnight.
To cook the patties, heat a shallow pool of oil and a little butter in a non-stick pan. Cook the cakes on one side till golden, then turn and colour the other side. They are best eaten straight from the pan. Serve with salad leaves, yogurt and pomegranate seeds.
Moro's wonderful paella. Serves 4 as a main course.
6 tbsp olive oil
a large Spanish onion, finely chopped
a green pepper, seeded and finely chopped
2 dried noras peppers, seeds and stalks removed, broken into small pieces and covered with boiling water or 1 tsp sweet paprika
3 large globe artichokes, prepared
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
a level tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 litre of vegetable stock
a pinch of saffron (about 40 threads)
1 dessert spoon tomato puree
250g calasparra (paella) rice
1 tsp sweet paprika
5 piquillo peppers (85g), sliced into strips, or 3 red peppers, grilled, skinned and seeded
2 tbsp roughly chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 lemon, cut into wedges
Heat the oil in a 35-40cm paella pan or frying pan, and soften the onion, green and noras peppers over a medium to high heat. Cook for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cut each artichoke in half and then into six wedges. Add these, along with the rosemary and garlic, to the softening onions and peppers. Fry for a few minutes, then cover with foil or a lid and cook for a further 8-10 minutes over a medium heat, stirring every now and then. Bring the vegetable stock to the boil and add the saffron and tomato puree to infuse.
Now start cooking the paella. Over a medium heat add the rice and paprika to the vegetables in the pan. Stir the rice well for 2 minutes before adding the stock. Bring to the boil then season the liquor. When the rice appears above the stock, don't stir it: just lower the heat to prevent it sticking to the pan. Cook for another 10-15 minutes until 80 per cent of the stock has been absorbed into the rice. Remove from the heat. Scatter the strips of pepper over the top of the paella and cover the pan tightly with foil before letting it rest for 10 minutes. Take off the foil, sprinkle with parsley and serve with the lemon wedges and perhaps a green salad with a sherry vinegar dressing.