Like fruitcake, nut roast is another very divisive and much-maligned food; oft-mocked and shunned by vegetarians in favour of something a little less clichè, it is rare nowadays to find it on a menu anywhere. Which is a shame as it is both incredibly nutritious and, if done well, extremely delicious. I make nut roast fairly regularly, both I and my fiance love it, and it works perfectly with all of the usual roast dinner trimmings; any leftovers also make great sandwiches with some cheese and chutney. It is also perfect for Christmas dinner as a vegetarian option (though it does also go down well with the meat eaters) as it can be served with all the same sides as the main roast. A regular nut roast is a little plain-looking though, too boring for a proper festive dinner; this pie however makes for a very impressive centerpiece, making sure that any vegetarians don’t feel left out and under-catered for.
I’m not going to pretend that this is a quick recipe, but it is easy to make and the filling can be prepared the day beforehand and kept, covered, in the fridge; let it come up to room temperature before assembling and baking the pie. I made a vegetarian version of hot water crust pastry (which usually contains lard) which is very easy to make and very forgiving; it contains far less fat than shortcrust which does mean that it isn’t as rich and crumbly, but the stronger structure means that it can easily support the large, lofty pie without caving or falling apart when you try to move it. It is a slightly strange method which involves mixing flour, salt and beaten egg together, heating butter and water until boiling then beating it into the flour mixture. The resulting pastry is quite soft but give it ten minutes or so in the fridge and it becomes easily workable and there is no need to be gentle with it unlike shortcrust. The recipe makes a generous amount, enough to easily line the tin, make the lid and leave some to cut out some festive decorations to adorn the top of the pie. I went for a simple star design (I have a limited selection of cutters) but let your imagination run wild. Because it is such a large pie it does take a while to bake, up to 1 1/2 hours and you will need to cover the top with foil after a while to prevent it from burning.
For the filling I used a mixture of nuts – brazils, cashews, almonds and walnuts, which I toasted to intensify the flavour before finely chopping them and mixing with breadcrumbs, mature cheddar (you can use stilton if you are that way inclined, I’m not.), cooked onion, garlic and mushrooms, herbs and mashed parsnips and eggs to bind. The pie is hearty and filling, with a rich, savoury flavour; I served it with creamy root vegetable gratin, greens and homemade cranberry sauce, but it would also be good with roast or mashed potatoes and some vegetarian gravy.
- 450g (16oz) mixed nuts (brazil nuts, cashews, almonds, walnuts etc)
- 30g (2tbsp) butter
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, crushed
- 250g (9oz) mushrooms, finely chopped
- a couple of sprigs of fresh thyme and rosemary, leaves only, finely chopped
- a few fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
- 500g (18oz) parsnips (unprepared weight)
- 140g (5oz) fresh brown breadcrumbs
- 175g (6.2oz) extra mature cheddar, grated
- salt and pepper
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 500g (4 cups + 2tbsp) plain flour
- 2 eggs, beaten
- ½ tsp salt
- 150g (1/2 cup + 2tbsp) butter
- 180ml (3/4 cup) water
- 1 egg, beaten, to glaze
- Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6. Grease a deep, 18cm loose bottomed cake tin. Spread the nuts out on a roasting tray and place under a grill, stirring occasionally, until golden. Set aside to cool.
- Melt the butter in a large pan and add the onion and garlic, cook gently for about 10 minutes until translucent. Add the mushrooms and herbs and cook until the mushrooms are soft and any liquid has evaporated; set aside to cool.
- Peel the parsnips, cut into chunks and cook in a pan of salted water until soft; drain then mash, set aside to cool.
- Place the nuts in a food processor and blitz until they are finely chopped. Tip into a large bowl with the breadcrumbs, mix in the cheese, cooled vegetables and mashed parsnip and season generously with salt and pepper, taste, then mix in the beaten egg until well combined.
- For the pastry, mix together the flour, salt and eggs in a large bowl. Place the butter and water in a pan and heat until the butter has melted and the mixture just comes to a boil. Quickly beat it into the flour mixture, a little at a time until it has all been combined and the mixture is smooth, it should be quite soft. Shape into a ball, wrap in clingfilm and pop in the fridge for 10 minutes until it has cooled to warm room temperature.
- Give the pastry a very brief knead then set aside two fifths for the lid and decorations. Roll the remainder out on a lightly floured surface until it is 5mm thick. Carefully lift it into the tin, easing it into the corners; trim off the excess pastry, leaving 1cm hanging over the edge of the tin.
- Spoon the filling into the tin and press it down. Brush the exposed pastry rim with the beaten egg. Roll out the remaining pastry to 5mm thick then cut out a circle 1cm wider than the tin. Place the pastry over the top of the pie and press the edges together to seal then crimp them. Cut a slit in the middle to let any steam escape.
- Re-roll any leftover pastry and trimmings then cut out decorative shapes such as stars or holly leaves with a pastry cutter. Brush the underside of each with a little beaten egg then arrange them on top of the pie. Brush the whole of the top of the pie with beaten egg.
- Bake for 1 to 1½ hours until hot all the way through, a metal skewer inserted into the centre should feel hot to the touch. Cover the top of the pie with tin foil after 20 minutes or so to prevent it from burning.
- Leave the pie to cool in the tin for 10 minutes then carefully unmould it. If the sides are too pale, you can place it on a baking sheet and pop it back into the oven for 10-15 minutes (keeping the top covered) until it is golden. You can also brush the sides with beaten egg before you put it back in the oven if you want the whole pie to be shiny.
I used British Lion Eggs for the filling and pastry, British Lion is a safety standard mark which means that the eggs have been produced to the highest standard of food safety; since it’s introduction in 1998, salmonella has effectively been eradicated in British eggs. Make sure when buying eggs that they are stamped with the lion mark so that you can be sure they are safe to eat.
I am sharing this with Saucy Saturdays hosted by The Flavour Bender, Take Two Tapas, La Petit Chef and Mid-Life Croissant, Meat-Free Mondays, Fabulous Foodie Fridays, Fiesta Friday hosted by Caroline’s Cooking and La Petite Paniere, Foodie FriDIY, Foodie Friends Friday and Friday Features