Ah, nutloaf. Not the sexiest sounding main dish but that hardly matters once you've taken a bite. Rich, chewy, umami-loaded and very satisfying, Nutloaf has won the hearts and palates of many people, even non-vegetarians. Read on for the classic recipe, alternative serving suggestions and, of course, ideas for leftovers.
I first encountered nutloaf when I had Thanksgiving with a community of Buddhist vegetarians, where it is a special occasion treat. It works very well as a 'turkey alternative', served up with the usual sides: mashed potatoes, two veg, cranberries, etc. I've also had it tucked in to hollowed-out Delicata squash and roasted until the squash is soft. Yum.
Many of the steps can be prepared in advance. Certainly the brown rice can be cooked, the cheese shredded and the nuts chopped. The assembled nutloaf can keep in the refrigerator for about 24 hours if well wrapped but it may take a little longer to cook.
Nutloafserves 6 to 8
1 onion, medium chopped
butter or oil
2 cups mushrooms, finely chopped (see note)
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon each dried thyme, marjoram, basil, tarragon, sage
red wine or sherry
2 cups cooked brown rice
2 cups walnuts, finely chopped or pulsed in a food processor
1 cup cashews, finely chopped or pulsed in a food processor
1 cup cottage cheese
3/4 pound grated cheese: Parmesan, Gruyere, cheddar, fontina, smoked or any combination
1/2 cup mixed fresh chopped herbs such as parsley, oregano, thyme
salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 350°.
Sauté the onion in oil or butter 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 the red wine or sherry and cook until it is reduced some. The contents should be moist but not swimming in liquid. Remove from the heat and let cool a little.
Prepare your pan while the mushrooms cool. Butter or oil a 9-inch loaf pan and line with parchment paper or foil. Butter the parchment/foil again.
In a large bowl, toss the brown rice and nuts together. In a separate bowl beat the eggs with the cottage cheese. Add to the rice/nut mixture along with the mushrooms, grated cheese and fresh herbs. Mix well. Taste for seasonings 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, rap a few times on the counter to get rid of any air bubbles and smooth the top with a spatula. (The nutloaf can be kept, well wrapped, in the refrigerator at this point for no more than a day.)
Bake for about an hour or until the loaf is firm (maybe longer if the mixture was refrigerated.) Remove from the oven, rest on a cooling rack for ten minutes, then remove from the loaf pan. Peel off the parchment or foil and serve on a platter, garnished with fresh herbs.
Serve with a mushroom gravy, accompanied by your favorite autumn vegetables.
Note: Nutloaf is a very forgiving recipe. You can add more mushrooms or less cheese if you want to lighten it up, for example. You can use ordinary button mushrooms for this with wonderful, classic results. Or you can substitute some or all of the buttons for fresh shiitake. I've never used the more exotic wild mushrooms because I imagine their flavor would get lost. But if you have the spare cash, they may be worth experimenting with.
Alternative Serving Ideas:
• Besides the Delicata squash mentioned above, I've seen nutloaf stuffed into other small squashes such as Acorn or Sweet Dumpling.
• For a retro-look, use a ring-shaped mold instead of a loaf pan, unmold onto a round plate and fill the center with mashed potatoes. Decorate with curly parsley.
• You can also decorate the top of the nutloaf before cooking with sliced mushrooms, whole walnuts or slivers of red pepper.
Crumble leftover nutloaf into a pan of already sautéed onions, carrots, parsnips and/or turnips. Turn this into a casserole dish and dollop the top with mashed potatoes to cover completely. Run a fork over the potatoes to create ridges. Drizzle butter over the top and bake it in a 350° oven until the filling is bubbly and the potatoes have started to brown. Viola! Vegetarian Shepard's Pie.
And of course, there's always the nutloaf sandwich.
(Image: Dana Velden)