So this is my vegetarian Christmas dinner. And, ahem. It is a nut roast. For some the term "nut roast" seems to epitomise an unimaginative, boring vegetarian Christmas dinner. I have a few thoughts about this.
The first is that my extensive, 20-year-long, completely anecdotal research tells me that this view comes predominantly from people who have never tasted a nut roast. Unfortunately, the image means that many of us otherwise nut-loving vegetarians have felt the pressure to reject it too. But there are a lot of nuts and recipes out there. Nut roast is a dish that varies pretty dramatically so don't knock a recipe till you've tried it.
I have tasted the chewy, gritty, dry versions - believe me. This one is nothing like those. Moist, herby and sweet, this dish is special. It is an integral part of the Christmas tradition in my house and has been our vegetarian Christmas dinner for years and years. On a few Christmases, I have deviated, succumbed to the pressure, done something different, followed the advice of celebrity chefs and made some cheesy pastry-based dish or scooped the flesh out of a squash and replaced it with the body of some other vegetable or other. But when I have, Christmas has always been completely ruined. Okay, I'm joking but something was definitely missing.This nut roast recipe is based on one from the fabulous Rose Elliot who has been writing excellent cookbooks for as long as I've been a vegetarian. In it, a lemony, herb bread stuffing is wedged between two creamy, buttery nut layers to create a three layered sliceable roast.
Unlike many other Christmas main dishes for vegetarians, it sits perfectly with all of the traditional accompaniments and, best of all, when you cook it, your house smells like Christmas.
This will seem very untraditional to some of you but a huge advantage of this recipe is that it can be made well in advance and frozen. This is something I was reluctant to try doing for a long time but my desire to make Christmas Day as easy and relaxed as possible took over. A few years ago I experimented with freezing and I promise this approach really is as good as cooking the roast on the day.
Make the nut roast a week (or up to a month) before Christmas. For me, the week before is best because once the nut roast goes in the oven, I start feeling like it's Christmas so November is a little early for me. Only cook it for about two thirds of the cooking time. About 45 minutes to an hour is about right or until set but not golden on top. Allow to cool completely and then freeze directly in the tin or pan. Remove it from the freezer on Christmas Eve to give it plenty of time to defrost. On Christmas Day, pop it in the oven for 30 minutes to finish off cooking.
1 large white onion
50g/half stick of butter
1 teaspoon of dried thyme
1 tablespoon of all-purpose plain flour
300ml/1¼ cups of milk
225g/About 1¼ cups (about 1½ cups or just under 2 cups when ground) mixed white nuts, finely ground (cashews, blanched almonds, pine nuts)
1¾ cups /100g fresh white breadcrumbs
freshy grated nutmeg
2 egg whites
3 cups/175g fresh white breadcrumbs
100g/1 stick of butter
grated rind of ½ lemon
1 small onion, very finely chopped
2 tablespoons of fresh thyme leaves or 1 teapoon of dried
4 tablespoons of chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon of dried oregano
2 egg yolks
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Turn the oven on at a moderate heat - 375F/190C. Prepare the loaf pan by greasing it with a little butter or olive oil and then lining it with baking paper. Alternatively use a silicone pan.
In a medium pot, melt the butter and fry until soft. Add the flour and a teaspoon of dried thyme and cook for a minute or two, then add the milk and stir until thickened. Add a little salt, pepper and nutmeg and remove from the heat. Stir in the nuts and 1¾ cups/100g of breadcrumbs. Whisk the egg whites until stiff and then gently stir into the nut mixture.
Next make the stuffing by mixing all the ingredients together.Spoon half of the nut mixture into your loaf pan, smoothing the top with a knife or the back of a spoon. Shape the stuffing into a flat layer the size of your loaf tin and place on top of the nut mixture.
Cover with the remaining nut mixture. Cover with foil and bake for 1 to 1.5 hours, removing the foil for the last 20 minutes to allow the nut roast to brown. Allow to stand for a few minutes before slicing.