When it comes to Christmas lunch, with so many other dishes jostling for attention, do vegetarians even need a culinary centrepiece for the big day? Well of course they do, you Scrooge. As we become more conscious of our meat consumption, and vegetarianism and flexitarianism becomes more popular throughout the UK, you may find yourself needing a veggie option for your Christmas table.
My offering, the good old nut roast, is not as pretty as some of the other festive staples: it lacks the gloss of a properly roasted turkey, the technicolour of a good cranberry sauce, the golden, smooth surface and crispy edges of goose fat potatoes. I concede visually, it is not a showstopper. To the contrary, it tends to be loaf shaped, a matt brown, and carved into slightly crumbly slices. But don’t be misled by its unassuming appearance: a nut roast can be one of the most delicious dishes on your Christmas table.
Forget those awful oft-mocked nut roasts of yesteryear, which veered between a dusty muesli and a dense, tasteless, lentil disappointment. Instead, this is a satisfying, deeply savoury version: the eggs and cheese add richness but more importantly stop the whole thing crumbling apart when cut, and a long cook in a hot oven should ensure firm edges and a crunchy top, with the mushrooms keeping the inside moist.
Although the humble nut roast still often appears as the only vegetarian option for Sunday lunch, this one has been Christmassed up a little, with pistachios and cranberries and a splash of brandy joining the usual assortment of nuts, breadcrumbs and veg. It might even tempt the most die hard of carnivores and turkey lovers.
Makes: A 1.5 litre loaf (enough for six)
Takes: Half an hour
Bakes: An hour
1 tablespoon oil
1 onion, finely diced
1 carrot, finely diced
2 ribs celery, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, finely diced
2 tablespoons tomato puree
1 tablespoon soy sauce
200g chestnut mushrooms, diced
2 tablespoons brandy or madeira
150g mix of hazelnuts, pecans and pistachios
40g dried cranberries
100g mature cheddar cheese, grated
- Melt the butter in a medium sized pan over a low heat along with the oil, and add the onion, carrot and celery. Cook until softened, but not coloured. Add the garlic, and continue cooking for another 3 minutes. Add the tomato puree and soy sauce and stir through the mix.
- Add the mushrooms and, as the mushrooms release their water, increase the heat. Cook until the mushrooms have lost most of the moisture and dried out. Throw in the brandy or madeira and allow it to cook off, as the mushrooms sizzle. Remove from the heat.
- Line a 1.5 litre loaf tin with strong parchment paper, and preheat the oven to 180°C.
- Blitz or chop the mixture of nuts: you want uneven pieces, some very small, some a little chunkier. Stir these through the mix, along with the breadcrumbs, and cranberries.
- Beat the eggs with a fork and then stir the beaten egg and grated cheese through the mix. Season generously with salt and pepper, and spoon into the lined loaf pan.
- Cover the top of the tin with foil and bake for 45 minutes, then remove the foil and cook for a further 15 minutes. Allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning out, removing the parchment paper, and serving.