Winter is the time for roasts. While I can manage chicken, pork, turkey and beef fairly well, there was one I had never attempted – the vegetarian. No, not a roast made out of vegetarians, I mean one that doesn’t contain meat. And yes, there is such a thing. Meatless roasts are a popular alternative, especially at the holidays when a main dish is still expected as the centerpiece of the table. Like any roast, they serve the same purposes: to warm, fill and perhaps even comfort.
You can find vegetarian or vegan roasts in the freezer section of grocery stores and you’ll be surprised to find how many different styles are out there. While I’ve heard good things about some of them, I just wasn’t tempted enough to take one home.
Then I came across a recipe for a nut roast and found myself intrigued. The ingredient list contained nothing out of the ordinary: mostly mushrooms, rice, nuts and vegetables. It sounded normal. There are many false stigmas about vegetarian foods and I think one of the big ones is that they include too many imitation and highly processed ingredients. That may be true if that’s what you buy, as the same could be said of any packaged foods in stores today. Just look at the ingredient list. If you don’t recognize items in that package of cookies, loaf of bread or bottle of juice, maybe you should question those as well. Quality is quality no matter the diet preference and homemade is likely always going to be better.
Back to the nut roast. The base is a creamy mushroom risotto with celery, onions and garlic. It’s mixed together with chopped pistachios and almonds, cheese, fresh herbs, eggs and breadcrumbs. Then there’s the cranberry topping. Cranberries and brown sugar go into the bottom of the loaf pan so that when you invert the pan to remove the baked loaf, you have an attractive topping that’s a little tart and sweet. This would be particularly good around Thanksgiving, though I’d eat it any time of year.
I started off trying this recipe with pure curiosity and remained skeptical throughout cooking. In the end, I couldn’t have been more pleased with the result. It’s a tasty dish for both vegetarians and meat lovers alike. I tend to base my opinion of vegetarian meals on whether or not I felt something was missing. If it felt like I was just eating a side of vegetables or am still hungry after, then it didn’t work for me. But this roast was fantastic. It was filling, flavorful and a surprise hit with my girlfriend who often doesn’t care for mushrooms.
Baking the roast in a loaf pan produces a dish reminiscent of meatloaf. You could serve it with a side of roasted vegetables or a side salad, if you like. Although the roast turned out relatively moist at first, leftovers were a little dry after reheating. If you had the time, a vegetable stock based gravy would make a welcome addition.
Mushroom Nut Roast
Adapted from Jamie Oliver Serves 6-8 as a main dish
Ingredients 1 cup dried porcini mushrooms, chopped
2 sticks celery
2 red onions
3 cloves garlic
4 tablespoons olive oil
2/3 cup risotto rice
½ cup white wine
2 ½ cups vegetable stock
8 ounces mushrooms (whichever kind you prefer)
1 red chili pepper
2 sprigs sage
2 sprigs rosemary
2 sprigs thyme
5 ounces cheddar cheese
4 ounces pistachios
4 ounces almonds
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons brown sugar
8 ounces fresh cranberries
Start the risotto base by putting the dried porcini mushrooms in a bowl and covering with boiling water. Let the mushrooms sit while you chop the celery, onions and garlic.
In a large pot, such as a Dutch oven, heat two tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat. When hot, add the chopped vegetables and a ½ teaspoon of salt. Cook until everything is soft, about 10 minutes. Stir as needed. Meanwhile, in a small pan, heat the vegetable stock.
Add the rice to the vegetables and cook for a couple of minutes until you hear it start to pop. Then pour in the wine and stir until absorbed. Next, add the porcini mushrooms with the soaking liquid to the pot and cook for another minute or two.
Start adding the hot vegetable stock one ladleful at a time. Stir after each addition until the liquid is mostly all absorbed into the rice. Repeat with additions of the stock and stirring until the rice is cooked al dente. You may not need all of the stock to reach this point. When done, transfer the risotto to a large bowl and wipe down the pot.
Preheat the oven 375 degrees. Now prep the rest of the ingredients. Chop the mushrooms, the chili and the herbs. Grate the cheese, zest the lemon and beat together the eggs. Lightly toast the nuts in a small clean pan on top of the stove, then finely chop or pulse them in a food processor.
Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in the pot and sauté the mushrooms for 5 to 10 minutes until they just start to brown. Season with ½ teaspoon of salt then remove from the heat.
Stir the breadcrumbs, cheese, chili, lemon zest, eggs, chopped herbs, nuts and mushrooms into the risotto. Taste and add salt and pepper to your liking.
Grease a large loaf pan with the remaining tablespoon of oil. Add the cranberries and sugar to the bottom of the pan and stir. Place the pan in the oven for just a couple of minutes until the cranberries start to soften and bubble. Shake the tin to spread the cranberry topping across the bottom and then pack in the roast mixture with a large spoon.
Cover the roast with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and bake 15 minutes more until golden. Let cool for 10 minutes, then run a knife along the edges to loosen the roast from the pan. Place your serving plate on top of the pan and carefully flip everything over. Gently shake the pan to transfer the roast to the serving plate. Serve warm.