I made nut roast for our Sunday roast this week. I'm not sure I've ever consciously eaten one before though I have known of their existence for the longest time. In my mind they are a joyless attempt to create the pleasure it is to eat a proper roast - so you can't say I'm not honest about my prejudices!
Not sure why I feel so negatively about something I'd never tried though I'm not the only one if this thread on the Guardian's food blog is anything to go by. I think it's to do with the idea that if you don't eat meat, for whatever reason, you should be attempting to emulate the meat eating experience which for some reason infuriates me. It is too ridiculous and almost always wrong as well as disgusting. Textured vegetable protein anyone? Quorn sausages - a tasty construct made with mycoprotein, onion & a savoury flavouring - yummmm. Nut roast somehow slips effortlessly into this category. I guess I think it's good to eat vegetables, so there's no need to pretend they're bacon.
One of my favourite meals in the whole world is steak and salad but it’s not the only thing I want to eat. For me eating is a kind of never ending adventure and, probably because of that, I finally let nut roast into my life. The recipe came from one in the Guardian a few years ago and sounded promising – good nuts and lots of herbs and plenty of dairy in the form of both eggs and cheeses. All of which I can eat till the cows come home.
I had some cheddar in the fridge that needed using and also most of a blue castella that I bought in Waitrose the other day because there was a time when I really liked blue castella. Fortunately that time is now passed but it is still a mild and inoffensive blue and so would be fine to cook with. I assembled all the requisite ingredients and set to with the man at my side to grate and stir. (We make a fine team).
It took far longer to make than I was expecting but then that is common with me, even when I have previously made something. It looked interesting and smelt great all the way so I took that as a good sign, though the note at the end about making a vegan version replacing all dairy with mashed tofu I read with less pleasure.
About to go into the oven it was a big thing – solid and heavy but fragrant and attractively speckled. I was looking forward to it, but not with roast veg as they seemed far too dense to be a good accompaniment. Have to say, with sprouts it worked a treat and other boiled or steamed vegetables would be lovely, especially with a generous slick of gravy. But I must confess I used some leftover roast chicken gravy from the freezer rather than the suggested sherry one – but if it’s as good as the nut roast turned out to be, it’s definitely worth making.
It was good – it tasted a lot like a very fine stuffing, moist and textured with the crushed nuts and brown rice and rich with eggs and cheeses. Damned fine in lunchboxes too with nothing more than a pea shoot salad. Let me recommend this as an occasional roast dinner – or even a centrepiece for a veggie feast. My only caveat would be to be light handed with the dried herbs or lose them all together, they are a bit redolent of chicken stuffing of the 1970's, and simply use more fresh parsley.
Cheese, cashew and walnut roast
175g (6oz) onion, finely diced
175g (6oz) chopped mushrooms
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium red pepper, finely diced
2-3 sticks celery, finely diced
1 tbsp mixed herbs250g (9oz) cooked brown rice (about 100g/3½oz before cooking)
110g (4oz) walnuts, finely chopped
110g (4oz) cashew pieces
5 medium eggs
175g (6oz) cottage cheese
340g (12oz) grated cheese (including cheddar, smoked cheddar and red Leicester)
50ml (2 fl oz) chopped fresh herbs (including parsley, rosemary and thyme)
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Sauté the onion and celery in olive oil until they begin to go transparent.
2. Add the mushrooms, garlic, red pepper, dried herbs, salt and pepper. Cook until mixture is soft, stirring regularly to avoid burning.
3. Combine the cooked ingredients with all the remaining ingredients in a large bowl and mix well.
4. Line a 1kg (2lb) loaf tin with baking parchment. The simplest way to do this is to use two pieces that will cross over on the base of the tin - a narrow one for the length of the tin and a wide one for the width. Fill to, at most, 7cm (3 inches) deep. Fold over paper, to help prevent drying out. If the mixture is too deep, the outside may get rather leathery before the inside is properly set. Avoid using ordinary, old-fashioned greaseproof paper as it lacks the non-stick properties of silicone parchment and this is a very sticky mixture. If you have to use it, make sure it is generously buttered.
5. Bake at 180°C (350°F, gas mark 4) for 1-1½ hours until firm. A knife inserted will come out wet but relatively clean showing that the eggs have set. Remove from the oven and allow to stand for five to 10 minutes before turning out and serving. Garnish with roughly chopped parsley. Carve into generous slices. Can also be served cold.
Note: For a dairy-free version you can omit the cheese, and also the eggs if necessary. Instead add 250g of crumbled tofu to the mixture.
I shall include the sherry gravy as it would make a nice accompaniment if you like gravy with your roast!
A rich vegetarian gravy to accompany nut roast, freshly cooked local veggies and roast potatoes. You should be able to find yeast flakes available at your local health food store, but they can be left out if necessary.
Serves six to eight.
600ml (1 pint) stock
3 tbsp nutritional yeast flakes
4 tbsp plain white flour
1 tsp dried marjoram
50ml (2 fl oz) sunflower oil
20g (¾ oz) butter
2 tbsp soy sauce/tamari
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
50ml (2 fl oz ) medium sherry
2 cloves crushed garlic
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1. Place the nutritional yeast flakes, dried marjoram and flour in a saucepan large enough to hold the total volume of liquid in the recipe (about 1litre). Turn the heat on and stir these dry ingredients briefly with a wooden spoon until they get hot and begin to give off a nutty, toasty smell.
2. Add the oil and butter and continue to cook, stirring regularly, for two minutes.
3. Whisk in the stock and bring to the boil. Lower heat and simmer for 5 minutes. If stock is not available, add water and season with additional vegetable stock powder/cubes after you have added the soy sauce or tamari (other wise it may be too salty). The water your carrots have been boiled in will make a good stock if you can get your timing right.
4. Add the soy/tamari, mustard, garlic and pepper and sherry. Cook for a further two minutes. Thin if necessary. Adjust seasoning to taste. Serve hot.
Note: For a wheat-free version cornflour or arrowroot can be used as a substitute for white flour.