Thanksgiving is a vegetarian's delight because, let's face it, it's really all about the sides. Who needs turkey when you have bowls heaped with gingered carrot coins and platters laden with brown-buttered green beans? Not to mention the perfection that is mashed potatoes and gravy. And have I mentioned stuffing yet?
But still, the "center of the plate" habit is hard to shake and so it's great to have a showstopper main for the vegetarian table as well. Let us introduce you to this stunning nut loaf, packed full of roasted nuts, cauliflower, and savory cheeses, and strewn with fresh herbs. It's waiting to sit proud and pretty on your best holiday platter.
The Vegetarian Main for Everyone
This recipe is a variation on our beloved classic vegetarian nut loaf, with the addition of roasted cauliflower and hazelnuts, and a few minor adjustments to the herbs. After spending a relatively short time in the oven and filling your kitchen with delicious aromas, it emerges brown and crispy on the outside and moist and tender on the inside.
Shortcuts for the Cooking Process
Nut loaf isn't hard to make, but it does involve several steps. Here are a few hints to help you time-manage the process.
- Roasted nuts: Purchase already-roasted nuts and premade brown rice (Trader Joe's has a good frozen version).
- Food processor: Use your food processor for chopping the nuts and mushrooms and shredding the cheese.
- Staged assembly: You can cook and assemble the nut loaf in stages, too, and even freeze it up to several months ahead. Just be sure you give it enough time to thaw out.
Nut loaf is very forgiving and easy to fool around with. Feel free to substitute herbs, types of mushroom, and cheeses. I would imagine a little smoked Gouda would be fabulous, for instance. What innovative ways have you played with this old favorite?
P.S.: I think we need a new name for nut loaf because it is a thousand times more delicious than it sounds. I think they call it nut roast in Great Britain, which is an improvement. Any ideas?
Savory Hazelnut and Cauliflower Nut Loaf
1 small head of cauliflower
1 large onion, diced
2 tablespoons melted butter or olive oil, plus more for the cauliflower
1 pound fresh mushrooms, finely chopped (see Recipe Notes)
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 1/2 teaspoons dried marjoram
1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
1 1/2 teaspoons dried tarragon
1 1/2 teaspoons dried sage
Red wine or vegetable broth
5 large eggs
1 1/2 cups cottage cheese
2 cups cooked brown rice
2 cups toasted hazelnuts, finely chopped
1 cup toasted almonds, finely chopped
12 ounces grated cheese: Gruyère, cheddar, Parmesan, smoked cheese, or any combination
1/2 cup mixed chopped fresh herbs such as parsley, oregano, thyme, sage
Sliced mushrooms, for decoration (optional)
Mushroom Sauce (recipe below)
Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 350°F.
Core the cauliflower, then chop the florets into small pieces about the size of a cooked chickpea. Transfer them to a rimmed baking sheet, drizzle with oil, season with salt, and toss gently to coat the cauliflower evenly. Spread into a single layer. Roast until just softened and starting to brown, about 15 minutes.
While the cauliflower is roasting, heat the oil or butter in a large frying pan over medium-heat until shimmering or melted. Add the onion and sauté until it begins to soften. Add the mushrooms and a pinch of salt and pepper, and cook until the mushrooms release their juices and become soft. Add the garlic and dried herbs, and continue to cook. When the pan begins to dry out again, add a good splash of red wine or broth and cook until it is reduced. The contents should be moist but not swimming in liquid. Remove from the heat and let cool a little.
While the mushroom mixture cools, butter or oil a 9x5-inch loaf pan and line it with parchment paper or aluminum foil, leaving a few inches of overlap to aid in lifting the loaf out of the pan after it has been baked.
Beat the eggs with the cottage cheese in a large bowl. Add the cauliflower, rice, hazelnuts, and almonds. Stir in the cooled mushrooms, cheese, a big pinch of salt and pepper, and fresh herbs. Mix well. Taste for seasoning and adjust. (If you're worried about the raw egg, you can fry up a little patty to taste.)
Fill the loaf pan with the nut mixture, pick up the pan and rap it a few times on the counter to get rid of any air bubbles, and smooth the top with a spatula. (At this point the nut loaf can be refrigerated for 2 days or frozen up to 6 months.)
Decorate the top with with slices of mushroom, if desired. Place the pan on a baking sheet. Bake until the loaf is firm, about 1 1/2 hours or slightly longer if the mixture was refrigerated.
Remove to a cooling rack for 10 minutes. Lift the loaf from the pan using the excess parchment paper or foil. Peel off the parchment or foil and serve on a platter, garnished with fresh herbs. Serve with the mushroom sauce.
- Mushrooms and herbs: As with our classic nut loaf, this is a very forgiving recipe. You can change the kind of cheeses or use different herbs, for example. I like using a ratio of 50/50 button to shiitake mushrooms, but feel free to use all button or substitute the shiitake with porcini or chanterelles if your pocketbook allows.
- Food processor chopping: You can make quick work of chopping the mushrooms by using a food processor. Be sure that you pulse them, as they will process very quickly — it's better to pull out the occasional larger pieces than to process them too finely which will affect the texture of the loaf. Almond-sized pieces are good. While you have the food processor out, pulse your nuts and cheeses, too. No need to clean the bowl in between.
- Time-saving tip: You can use premade or frozen brown rice in this recipe. Not that making rice is at all difficult, but there are several steps to making a nut loaf and having the rice ready to go helps to streamline things.
- Make ahead: The unbaked nut loaf can be made up to 2 days ahead. Fill the prepared pan and wrap well in plastic wrap and refrigerate. If possible, allow it it sit out for 30 minutes or so before putting it in the oven to take some of the chill off. Even so, you may have to bake the nut loaf an extra 20 minutes or so.
- Freezing: The nut loaf can also be frozen for up to 6 months. After wrapping the unbaked loaf in plastic, wrap it again very tightly in aluminum and freeze. Let the loaf thaw in the refrigerator for 36 to 48 hours before baking.
1 pound fresh mushrooms
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup minced shallots
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 clove of garlic, minced or grated
1/4 cup white wine or vegetable broth
3 tablespoons tamari soy sauce
2 cups crème fraîche, at room temperature
Handful of fresh herbs, such as parsley, thyme, or oregano, coarsely chopped
Vegetable broth for thinning (optional)
Salt and pepper
Coarsely chop the mushrooms into large chunks. Have all of your ingredients measured and ready by the stove.
Melt the butter in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the shallots, season with salt, and sauté until softened. Turn up the heat slightly, add the mushrooms, and cook, stirring frequently, until the mushrooms have started to brown and have lost a lot of their volume.
Add the tomato paste and garlic and stir and scrape until they start to caramelize, about 1 to 2 minutes. Pour in the wine or broth and tamari or soy sauce, reduce the heat, and stir and scrape the browned bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon.
Reduce the heat further, whisk in the crème fraîche and herbs, and simmer for a minute or two to blend the flavors. Thin with a splash or two of stock if too thick. (The sauce will thicken as it cools.) Season with salt and lots of freshly ground pepper. Spoon some of the sauce over the nut loaf and pass the rest on the side.