Using your loaf to good effect

If you don’t eat meat, this loaf could be  the centrepiece  of your midwinter Christmas, writes Nigel Slater. Or you could just enjoy it with the roast turkey.

I made a vegetable loaf the other day, seed-encrusted and flecked with herbs. A tangle of root vegetables, parsnips and carrots mostly, coarsely grated and held together with buttery onion and a little egg. Soft and giving, with the crunch of seeds and woody herbs, the loaf sliced neatly enough. The outside had crisped up nicely in its wrapping of buttered parchment.

The loaf was good, but needed some sort of gravy. I made it with onions and mushrooms, a sauce as dense and dark as Christmas pudding. Included in the recipe is a bitter stout which I tamed with sweet redcurrant jelly. You can tinker with the bitter-sweet thing to your heart’s content, letting the fruit jelly dissolve into the simmering gravy, tasting as you go, to get something to everybody’s liking.

The next day I fried slices of the loaf in a little butter and ate them with shredded red cabbage and kale with slices of crisp apple, pomegranates and sticky dates. I warmed up a pan of the onion gravy, too. 

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Parsnip loaf, rosemary and mushrooms

Let the loaf rest for 10 minutes or so before slicing, using a palette knife to ease it from the baking parchment.

Serves 6

500g parsnips

250g carrots

1 apple

75g butter

2 medium onions

2 large garlic cloves

2 heaped Tbsp parsley, chopped

2 Tbsp rosemary needles

1 Tbsp thyme leaves

1 Tbsp hemp seeds

1 Tbsp pumpkin seeds

1 Tbsp sunflower seeds

1 Tbsp poppy seeds

2 eggs

butter for greasing the loaf tin

8 sprigs thyme

loaf tin measuring about 22cm x 12cm x 8cm, lined with baking paper

Method

Heat the oven to 180degC.

Peel the parsnips, then cut lengthways into quarters. Grate finely using the coarse blade of a food processor, slightly thinner than matchsticks, then do the same with the carrot. (I don’t find it necessary to peel the carrots, only to scrub them with a vegetable brush.) Grate the apple, without peeling it, and add to the bowl.

Warm half the butter in a shallow pan, then add the grated root vegetables and apple and let them cook, for 3 or 4 minutes, until they are bright and approaching softness. Tip them into a large mixing bowl.

Peel, halve and finely slice the onions. Melt the remaining butter in the shallow pan then cook the onion until it is soft and pale gold. Peel the garlic, crush finely then add to the onion and continue cooking. Tip the onion and garlic into the bowl with the carrots and parsnips. Add the chopped parsley to the mixture then finely chop the rosemary needles and thyme and add them, too. Add the hemp, pumpkin, sunflower and poppy seeds and a generous grinding of salt and pepper.

Break the eggs into a bowl, beat them lightly to combine yolks and whites, then fold into the mixture. Combine the ingredients, making sure the seeds, eggs and herbs are evenly distributed.

Line the loaf tin with baking paper then butter it generously. Scatter a few thyme sprigs over the bottom of the tin. Transfer the mixture into the loaf tin, pressing it firmly into place. Smooth the surface level and cover with buttered parchment. Place the loaf tin on a baking sheet and bake in the oven for about 45 minutes, until lightly firm to the touch.

Remove from the oven and leave to settle for 10 minutes then turn it out of the tin and carefully peel away the paper. Cut into slices and serve with the stout and onion gravy or Cumberland or cranberry sauce.

Stout and onion gravy

Photo: Linda Robertson
Photo: Linda Robertson
A dark and deeply flavoured accompaniment for the vegetable loaf (above), but also good for spooning over baked vegetables or a slice of pie.

Enough for 6

2 medium onions

40g butter

3 cloves garlic

250g button mushrooms

3 Tbsp olive oil

8 sprigs of thyme

1-2 Tbsp plain flour

250ml vegetable stock, hot

250ml stout or other dark beer

4 Tbsp fruit jelly, such as redcurrant

Method

Peel the onions, cut them in half from stem to root, then slice each half into thin segments. Warm the butter in a heavy-based saucepan, add the onion and leave to cook over a medium heat. Peel and thinly slice the garlic, add to the onions and continue cooking for a good 15-20 minutes until the onions are thoroughly soft, golden and sweet.

Slice or quarter the button mushrooms as you wish, then add them, together with the oil, to the onions. Pull the thyme leaves from their stalks then stir into the onions and mushrooms. When the mushrooms are soft and nut brown, scatter the flour over the surface, stir and cook for a couple of minutes. Pour in the stock and stout and bring to the boil. While stirring, lower the heat, season with salt and black pepper, then leave to simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Stir in the redcurrant or other fruit jelly, taste for sweetness, adding more if you wish. You are after a nicely balanced gravy — savoury and sweet with a deep, wintery character.

— Guardian News and Media

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