‘But surely the most crucial point of all is that if someone doesn’t want to eat meat, the chances are they don’t want their dinner to look like it either. You wouldn’t dream of presenting your Jewish guests with fish carefully manufactured to look like a pork chop. So why wave replica meat in front of someone who clearly doesn’t want to see it?’
Despite Johanna’s protestations, I think that Nigel makes rather a good point, poking fun, gently, at the sort of vegetarian cookery no longer considered in vogue. Having arrived at the flesh-free party somewhat late, I’ve never quite grasped the notion that replacing meat, with something concocted to look like it, is wise. Besides, I’m more of a legume girl, content to be drawn into the kitchen by what’s seasonal and abundant.
No-one writes about food like Nigel Slater. It’s writing one sinks, blissfully, in to. Later in the same book, he pokes a little more fun at ‘The Slightly Grubby Wholemeal Cook’:
‘Here you will eat healthily…the yoghurt will be goat’s, the chocolate barely sweetened and the milk soya…[the cookbooks] are on the same shelf as the meditation CD’s, the fruit tea and the tantric sex manual’
Mind you, he’s got my pantry eerily right, but the sound of dolphins cavorting through rainforests inexplicably angers me and frankly I’d rather eat Tofurky wrapped in Soy Bacon than spend hours and hours tangled tantrically. Perhaps a foray into faux meat, in light of Nigel’s dubious stereotyping, was worth exploring. I settled on Deborah Madison’s much-lauded terrine from Greens.
Nut roast is, essentially, something akin to the stuffing that steams in the cavity of a roasting bird, minus, obviously, the bird. Think meatloaf and you’re halfway there. A nut cutlet is similar in construction, differing only in size and shape.
This smells like a proper roast while it cooks: incredibly, deliciously, good. It’s substantial, weighty and golden: worthy of presenting at the table with a flourished ta-dah! Madison warns this is heavy, rich fare and she is right. Thin slices, daubed with plenty of chunky tomato and basil sauce are ideal. And if the thought of half a kilo of cheese and all those nuts fills you as much fear as it did me, try to make up for it in the days that follow with truckloads of salad and fruit…
Cheese and nut roast - feeds six or more, with leftovers
Serve with a quick tomato sauce made by dumping two tins of chopped tomatoes into a saucepan with 3 thinly sliced cloves of garlic, a glug of red wine and a sprinkling of sugar. Bubble away until reduced by about one third, add half a bunch of torn basil leaves and serve. Nut roast adapted from Greens by Deborah Madison.
½ cup of brown rice, or a mixture of brown and wild if possible
4 dried shiitake mushrooms
½ cup, packed, of dried porcini mushrooms
2 cups of nuts, a mixture of cashews, walnuts and pecans
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 stalks of celery, diced
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 large handful of parsley leaves, chopped
250g (½ pound) of cottage cheese
250g (½ pound) of strong cheddar cheese, grated
Place the rice in a small saucepan and cover with one cup of water. Bring to the boil, lower the heat right down to its lowest possible setting, clamp a lid on tightly and leave, untouched, for 45 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180 C (350 F) and line a large loaf tin with baking paper.
Soak the dried mushrooms in hot water to cover for 20 minutes. Drain well and de-stalk the shiitakes, then chop the mushrooms. Spread the nuts out on a baking sheet and cook for 5 minutes. Cool on a plate. Chop the nuts quite finely, but not so much that you’re bored. A few chunks here and there don’t matter much.
Increase the oven temperature to 190 C (375 F). Warm the oil in a frying pan over a medium heat and cook the onion and celery until soft, about 6 minutes or so. Add a little salt, followed by the mushrooms, garlic and parsley and cook for a further 2 minutes.
In a roomy bowl, combine the cooked rice, nuts, onion and celery mixture. In another bowl, lightly beat the eggs and cottage cheese, then stir through the grated cheddar. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, combine well and press into the prepared loaf tin.
Bake for 1 – 1 ¼ hours until the top is burnished and golden, the loaf coming away easily from the sides of the tin. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes before gingerly slicing with a serated knife.