Lamb and Lentil Shepherd’s Pie

Lamb and lentil shepherd's pie

Lamb and lentil shepherd’s pie

Tomorrow is my birthday and I had hoped this week would be a little quieter than usual so that I could have some time to prepare myself for becoming a year older.  In fact, the opposite happened and I have been busier than ever.  Such is often the way.  This also means that I have not had time to write up a shepherd’s pie that I cooked a couple of weeks ago that was more successful than I anticipated.

It started with us cooking a the lamb shawarma from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem for a family Sunday supper.  I usually look to Ottolenghi for my vegetarian recipes, but could not resist this lamb.  It has had a post-it marking the page for longer than I care to admit.  If you have the book, it is worth making for an alternative Sunday roast: it is marinated in no less than 11 spices and slow roasted for about four and a half hours.  We served ours with the usual array of kebab accompaniments – shredded iceberg, pickled chillies, hot sauce and a little hummus – and with a butternut squash, lentil and feta salad on the side.

Of course, we had some lamb left over, although not a great deal as we were all rather hungry.  Once I had shredded it from the bone, there was about 250g of meat, which would make a very skimpy Shepherd’s pie indeed.  I almost popped it in a tupperware to use for sandwich meat, and then remembered that I used to pad out vegetarian ‘shepherd’s’ pies with lentils and that it could also work well with the lamb.  As it happens, it worked perfectly.  Not only did it stretch the filling to make a pie for two people with a little leftover, but it added another dimension of texture to the shredded lamb. I was worried that the spices from the shawarma would overpower the dish a little, but in the end I could barely taste them, save for a bit of extra heat.

Food waste is one of my biggest bete noires, so the thrill of creating a new meal from old leftovers is pretty unrivalled as far as culinary thrills go.  I have always found more satisfaction in creating something from the odds and ends of the fridge than having a whole supermarket full of ingredients at my disposal.  This is partly why I shop daily rather than do a big ‘weekly shop’ – it is far easier to see what you already have, and then figure out something to do with it.  A shepherd’s pie, or cottage pie, is a perfect way of using up leftovers: the meat, old bits you have lurking around the veg drawer, and the ends of bags of potatoes.  As far as the filling goes, you can add in more or less anything you like.  The idea of creating this as a completely new dish seems like an odd one.  Some people do this with mince, which I prefer not to use if I can help it.

Lamb and Lentil Shepherd’s Pie

100g dried green lentils
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, diced
2 celery sticks, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp dried thyme
100ml red wine
250g leftover roast lamb
100ml chicken stock
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
3 tbsp tomato ketchup
1 tbsp tomato puree
Salt and pepper
750g potatoes, peeled and cubed
3 tbsp salted butter
Grated cheese, for topping

Cook the lentils according to packet instructions and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 200ºc.  Heat the oil in a large frying pan, or chef’s pan, and cook the onion, carrots and celery over a medium heat until soft but not browned, approximately 10 minutes.  Add the garlic and thyme in the last two minutes of cooking.

Pour in the wine and increase the heat a little to let it bubble.  Cook for a couple of minutes until it has reduced a little.  Add the lamb, stock, Worcestershire sauce, tomato ketchup, tomato puree, salt and pepper.  Cook on a medium heat for around 15-20 minutes until the mixture has thickened and most of the liquid has been reduced.  Stir in the lentils and transfer to a suitable pie dish.

Meanwhile, cook the potatoes until tender.  Drain and mash with the butter and a little milk until smooth.  Check the seasoning.

Pipe or spoon the mash over the lamb mixture and top with a layer of grated cheese.  Bake in the oven for around 30 minutes until the top has browned and the edges are bubbling.  Serve with green vegetables.

One Year Ago:  Cornish Pasties

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Toad in the Hole for British Sausage Week

Toad in the Hole

Toad in the Hole

This weekend I visited two south-east London markets in one day.  ‘Double-marketing’ as my friend Jassy called it.  I went to the brand new Peckham Market and then walked down the Queens Road, through New Cross and on to Brockley Market, one of my long-time favourites.  Needless to say I ate far too much.  More on that later…

At Brockley Market, right on the far side, is a stall called The Butchery, at which I am a frequent visitor.  Their moniker can leave you in no doubt as to what they sell, but gives little clue to the fact that they are one of the best butchers in London.  To discover that, one has to try them for themselves.  I first discovered them when their shop appeared on Forest Hill’s London road a couple of years ago, before that they had a pop-up shop that was part of the SEE3 project, supported by Mary Portas, to regenerate parts of Forest Hill and Sydenham.  Since then, I have visited them mainly at their stall at the market which has a good selection of their full range.  Their excellent bacon makes it into my shopping bag with some regularity, and I find I can pick up some excellent cheaper cuts too, like the beef shin I used in my beef shin, black bean and chipotle stew.

This weekend, I was after some good sausages, with this week being British Sausage Week.  I must have been on the same wavelength as my fellow shoppers as, by the time I had arrived at Brockley Market and scarfed down my lunch (beef short rib braccos from The Roadery, if you’re interested) there was only one packet left in the whole market:  a packet of some rather sizeable pork sausages from The Butchery.  So large were they, in fact, that the cost of £6.60, nearly double that of supermarket sausages, barely caused me to bat an eyelid.  I was happy to pay this and to take them home.

These sausages had a very special purpose:  they were going to be made into one of my childhood favourites, a dish that I had not eaten in some time but had been craving ever since the weather turned cooler.  Toad in the Hole.  With such an unappealing name, it is easy to see why those who are unfamiliar would turn up their nose.  For the rest of us, mainly those of us who grew up in Britain, went to a British school or have British relatives, the combination of sausages and Yorkshire pudding, doused in gravy, is the ultimate in comfort food.  My mother, undisputed queen of all things batter, makes an excellent one.  Her secret is to make sure the fat in the pan is very, very hot before you add the batter.  She also makes excellent yorkies and pancakes using the same principle.

There’s not much else I can add except to say to use the best sausages you can find.  Make friends with your local butcher.  If you’re making a veggie one, Cauldron sausages are by far the best.

Toad in the Hole

6 sausages
Olive oil
150g plain flour
2 eggs
2 egg whites
200ml whole milk
Sea salt and black pepper

Preheat the oven to 220ºc and lightly oil a tin or baking dish large enough to accommodate all of the sausages with some gaps in between.  Whilst the oven heats up, make the batter.  Beat the eggs, egg whites and milk together in a jog.  Place the flour in a bowl and gradually whisk in the wet ingredients until you have a smooth batter.  Season with salt and pepper.  Set aside.

Place the sausages in the dish, add a little more oil and shake gently to coat.  Bake the sausages in the oven for 15 minutes.

Remove the sausages from the oven.  The fat should be spitting hot.  Stir the batter a couple of times and then pour it into the tray around the sausages.  Return to the oven for 20 minutes until the batter is puffed and golden.

Douse with gravy and serve with green vegetables.

One Year Ago:  Instagram Round-Up: October 2013

Parsnip, Sage and Blue Cheese Risotto

My local fruit and veg shop, SMBS Foods in East Dulwich, sells such enormous bunches of herbs – far bigger than those packets that you get in the supermarket – that I always end up with a week of meals planned around them.  After picking up a bunch for yesterday’s lentil soup, I find myself with an abundance of sage.  This is far from a problem as common sage, or salvia officinalis to use its Latin name, is an excellent winter herb as its pungency lends itself to a range of meats and root vegetables.  Sage and onion stuffing and butternut squash and sage risotto are seasonal classics.  I also love a scattering of crispy sage leaves on top of a white pizza with sausage. Cold weather heaven.

This particular dish was a triumph in the game of let’s-use-up-what’s-in-the-fridge, played by those too lazy to brave the abominable London weather and make a trip to the shops.  It used up the last of the Christmas ingredients still hanging around from before our trip home, most notably a few scratty old parsnips and the end of a wedge of Stilton, far past its best.  Making a risotto is a great way of saving these kinds of odds-and-ends from the bin, so I usually keep a stash of arborio rice in the cupboard (it can also be used to make rice pudding).  I roasted the parsnips first in a little olive oil and sea salt and then stirred them in towards the end of the cooking as they taste much better than if you try to boil them in the stock with the rice.  The crumble of blue cheese at the end means that you can forgo the usual risotto staples of parmesan and butter, making it (very) slightly more virtuous.

Parsnip, Sage and Blue Cheese Risotto

  • 4 medium parsnips, peeled and cut into large dice
  • Olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • 2 eschalion shallots, finely chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, finely diced
  • 1 stick celery, finely diced
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 3 large sage leaves, finely chopped, plus extra for the topping
  • 350g arborio rice
  • 125ml dry white wine
  • 1l vegetable stock
  • Black pepper
  • A chunk of blue cheese

Preheat the oven to 200ºc / 400ºf / gas 6.  Place the parsnips on a baking tray, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt.  Bake in the oven for 20 minutes until they are tender and brown.  Remove from the oven and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan (I use one with straight sides) and saute the shallots, carrot, celery, sage and garlic until soft – do not let them brown.  Add the rice and stir until thoroughly coated in the oil.

Turn up the heat slightly and add the wine.  Allow it to bubble away and cook until it is almost evaporated.  Start to add the stock, a ladle at a time, adding the next ladle when the previous one has evaporated. Stir constantly.  When most of the stock has been added, stir in the cooked parsnips breaking them up just a little.  Add the remaining stock if necessary.  Check the seasoning.

When the risotto is cooked, remove from the heat, crumble over the blue chese and stir through.  In a separate pan, heat some oil and quickly fry a few sage leaves over a high heat until they are crisp.  Crumble these over the risotto and serve in large warmed bowls.

The Post Christmas Bulge

Homemade Soda Bread and Lentil Soup

Homemade Soda Bread and Lentil Soup

After a lovely Christmas break in Hampshire, we arrived home to find that five days of festive excess had made us considerably fatter than when we left.  Of course, eating and drinking is what Christmas is all about, but the endless roasts, bottomless tins of Quality Street and countless glasses of port are enough to tire out even the most committed glutton.  On the way home on the A3, car piled high with suitcases and gifts, Ollie and I agreed that we would not eat anything soaked in brandy for a very long time.

Coming home is always rather lovely: your own bed, full control over the remote and being able to cook in your own kitchen.  Inevitably, the fridge was bare, but we managed to pull together a lunch of toasted almost-stale bread, a packet of supermarket coleslaw lurking at the back and the last truckle of cheese, an applewood cheddar.  The last hurrah of excess before a few days of healthier eating, if only so we can squeeze back into our jeans in time for New Year’s Eve.

In the few days before Christmas and New Year, I always make a large batch of lentil soup.  I read somewhere that it is an Italian tradition to eat lentils on New Year’s Eve, their rounded shapes are said to resemble coins and encourage prosperity for the year ahead.  With my bank balance always severely depleted by the end of December, it can’t hurt, right? In any case, a wholesome lentil soup is the perfect tonic for several days of overindulgence – this particular recipe contains nothing more than vegetables, herbs, lentils, stock and the tiniest slosh of vinegar.  Homemade bread is always the perfect accompaniment for soup, but with all of those new Christmas presents to play with, who has time?  A loaf of soda bread can be made in a mere half an hour.  Saves a trip out to the bakery.

Lentil Soup

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 leek, finely chopped
  • 1 large carrot, finely chopped
  • 2 sticks celery, finely chopped
  • 350g brown lentils, rinsed
  • 2 large sage leaves, chopped
  • ½ tsp dried rosemary
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 litre vegetable stock
  • 2 tbsp cider vinegar
  • Sea salt and black pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan and cook the vegetables on a medium heat until soft.  The onions should be translucent but should not brown.  This will take about ten minutes.  Add the lentils and herbs and cook for a further few minutes.

Add the stock and bring to the boil, the reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, 35-45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are soft.  Remove the pan from the heat and transfer two ladles of the mixture to a separate bowl.  Blend the remaining soup in the pan with a hand blender (or transfer to a stand blender if you don’t have one) until smooth.

Return the pan to the heat and stir in the reserved lentils and the cider vinegar.  Serve in warmed bowls with a drizzle of olive oil on top.

Adapted from a recipe by Giorgio Locatelli.  Serves four.

Soda Bread

  • 225g plain wholemeal flour
  • 225g plain flour
  • 75g porridge oats
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp caster sugar
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • 400ml buttermilk

Preheat the oven t0 220ºc / 425ºf / gas 7.  Lightly oil a baking sheet and dust with flour.

Place all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl and stir together.  Add the buttermilk and mix with your hands to make a smooth dough.  Turn out on to a floured side and shape into a round with your hands.  If you like, you can add the traditional cross using the blunt edge of a sharp knife.

Sprinkle a few porridge oats on the top and transfer to the baking sheet.  Bake in the oven for 25 minutes.  To test if the loaf is ready, take it out of the oven, turn it upside down and tap the bottom.  If it makes a hollow sound, it’s done.

Chocolate and Salted Caramel Yule Log

Chocolate and Salted Caramel Yule Log

Chocolate and Salted Caramel Yule Log

The more eagle-eyed among you will recognise this as a bit of a flashback from last year.  Some time in the summer of 2012, Band of Bakers was approached by delicious. magazine to provide some recipes for their Christmas issue. The nature of publication schedules being as it is, I spent two weeks of the summer developing this recipe and then a blisteringly hot early September day in a studio, wearing winter clothes and pretending to drink mulled wine.  As you can imagine, it was very difficult to get into the spirit of Christmas when your photographer is wearing shorts and you can see people sunbathing in a car park through a window.  The magazine came out that November and we were very excited to see our recipes in print.  Naomi made the mince pies; a delicious cranberry and orange version on an almond pastry, Charlie made an excellent rum and raisin Galette des Rois, Juliet made beautiful little Italian riciarelli biscuits (see also my post on some favourite Christmas recipes) and Jassy made an unusual and scrumptious Christmas cake made with walnuts and an obscenely generous amount of sloe gin (her blog is called Gin and Crumpets, so it is hardly surprising).  My recipe was the dessert for people who hate Christmas pudding (and there are many!), a chocolate and salted caramel yule log.

I have yet to sit down to a Christmas dinner where there are not two desserts:  the traditional Christmas pudding and an alternative option for those that refuse to eat it.  In my house, it is the men that have an aversion to it.  The women, myself included, adore Christmas pudding and eagerly anticipate the time of year when it is acceptable to eat one.  My favourite recipe is Dan Lepard’s Simple Christmas Pudding from Short and Sweet, served hot with an enormous dollop of extra-thick double cream (the kind you have to extract from the tub with a spoon).  When a dessert is required to please the naysayers, it is difficult to go wrong with chocolate.  This chocolate and salted caramel yule log can be sliced up and served on its own, with cream or with some hot custard.  The leftovers are robust enough to be kept and sliced up with tea for any afternoon guests.  It does keep for a few days longer than a regular yule log as the filling is a meringue buttercream, rather than fresh cream which has an extremely short shelf-life.

The recipe has a lot of processes and can look daunting on first glance, but it need not take too long to make.  When you consider the length of time it takes to prepare, bake, ice and decorate a traditional Christmas cake, you are scarcely worse off.  Last year, not counting the ones I made when developing the recipes, I managed to churn out four of these: one for my colleagues, one for my family, one for Ollie’s family and one for some pre-Christmas visitors who scarfed a whole yule log in an afternoon.  Salted caramel was the big flavour that everybody was going gaga over in 2012, so that was the inspiration for the filling, but any other flavoured buttercream would work just as well – you could add booze or even make a chocolate buttercream for ultimate decadence.  Or, if you’re feeling lazy, just fill it up with fresh cream and a jar of Nutella.  If you’re really pushed for time, you could even omit the ganache and finish off the log with a mere sprinkling of icing sugar.

Chocolate and Salted Caramel Yule Log

For the sponge

  • 3 large eggs, separated
  • ½ tsp cream of tartar
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp milk
  • 30g cocoa powder
  • 30g plain flour
  • ¼tsp fine salt
  • Icing sugar, for dusting

For the salted caramel meringue buttercream

  • 120g caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp golden syrup
  • 120ml double cream
  • 1 tsp Maldon sea salt
  • 2 large egg whites (about 75g)
  • 150g granulated sugar
  • 200g unsalted butter, at room temperature

For the chocolate ganache frosting

  •  200g good-quality dark chocolate, broken into pieces
  • 100ml double cream

Preheat the oven to 180ºc / 350ºf / gas 4.  Grease and line a swiss roll tin (approx. 25cm x 35cm) with baking paper.  To make the sponge, whisk together the three egg whites in a clean bowl until soft peaks form.  Add the cream of tartar and whisk until stiff.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the caster sugar and egg yolks until thickened and pale yellow.  Add the milk and whisk again until just combined.  Sift the cocoa powder, plain flour and salt on to the egg yolk mixture and, using a metal spoon, fold together until just combined.  Gently fold in a third of the egg whites, being careful not to knock too much of the air from them as you fold.  Once fully combined with no streaks of egg white, repeat with the other two-thirds of the mixture. 

Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 15 minutes until the top is springy and the sides have shrunk away from the edge of the tin.  Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack.  Whilst still warm, roll up the sponge from the short end with the baking paper still on.  Leave to cool completely then carefully unroll.  This will help when rolling the cake.

To make the buttercream, combine the caster sugar, golden syrup and 120ml cold water in a heavy based saucepan.  Stir with a wooden spoon over a medium heat until the sugar has dissolved, then simmer for 3-5 minutes until it becomes a dark caramel (watch it closely to make sure it doesn’t burn.)  Immediately remove from the heat and carefully add the cream and salt, stirring until smooth.  Transfer to a bowl and leave to cool completely.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the two egg whites with the granulated sugar.  When soft peaks form, place the bowl over a pan of simmering water (don’t let the water touch the bowl) and stir until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture begins to resemble a runny marshmallow.  Remove from the heat and whisk with an electric mixer until the bottom of the bowl feels cool.  Add the butter, about 25g at a time, whisking continuously until thick.  Add the cooled caramel to the buttercream and whisk until just combined.  Transfer to the fridge and chill until needed.

For the frosting, break the dark chocolate into a heatproof bowl.  Heat the cream in a saucepan until it is just about to boil and pour over the chocolate.  Stir with a wooden spoon until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is thick enough to spread.  Allow to cool completely.

To assemble the cake, peel the baking paper from the sponge and place, smooth side down, on a fresh piece of baking paper dusted with icing sugar.  Spread the buttercream across the sponge and gently roll up from the short end, as before. Place on a serving plate and chill in the fridge for 15 minutes.

Spread the ganache on to the cake, leaving the ends bare, and use a fork to create a bark-like texture.  Dust with more icing sugar and serve.

Eating Away the Winter Chill

The ultimate comfort food: chicken 'n' dumplings

The ultimate comfort food: chicken ‘n’ dumplings

In this, the first weary week of December when we are all desperately craving our Christmas break, we all seem to be divided into two camps: those who have the sniffles and those who are trying to avoid catching the sniffles as best they can.  In our smoggy city with the recycled air circulating through our offices and the incredibly close proximity to our fellow Londoners on our public transport, it is inevitable that we will all end up with at least one cold during the winter months despite our attempts to evade the dreaded lurgy. In the depths of winter, a sneeze on a crowded train might generate the same reaction as pulling a pin from a hand grenade.

Of course, hot drinks and bed rest are the best remedy for a cold, but I have two other things I can’t live without: Lucozade and chicken ‘n’ dumplings. When laid out on the couch, coughing and making a general nuisance of myself, I will often send Ollie out for six bottles of Original Lucozade (never flavoured) and a whole chicken. Once the Lucozade has kicked in and I have mustered the energy to move, I head to the kitchen to make a huge pot of chicken ‘n’ dumplings: the ultimate in comfort food.

Chicken ‘n’ dumplings is exactly what it says: a brothy stew made with vegetables, white wine, and all of the joints of a chicken, topped with pillowy dumplings.  It is thought that chicken contains an enzyme that is effective at breaking up mucus, which goes to explain why chicken noodle soup is given the famous moniker ‘Jewish penicillin’ and why some studies have shown chicken soup to be more effective at treating symptoms of the common cold than some over-the-counter remedies.  After an hour in the oven, it will fill your kitchen with a smell that will alone make you feel better. If you can find somebody kind enough to bring you a chicken, you’re all set.

Chicken ‘n’ Dumplings

  • 1 whole chicken
  • Sea salt and cracked black pepper
  • Olive oil
  • 1 stalk celery, roughly chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, roughly chopped
  • 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 slices smoked back bacon
  • 1 fresh bay leaf
  • ¾ tsp dried thyme leaves
  • 180ml dried white wine
  • 350ml chicken stock
  • 350ml water
  • 125g plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 150ml single cream

Preheat the oven to 200ºc / 400ºf / gas 6.

Joint the chicken into 10 pieces (two drumsticks, two thighs, two wings and two breasts, each halved) and season well with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large saucepan and brown the chicken pieces, in batches if necessary. Set aside on a plate.

In the same pan, cook the vegetables and bacon for around 10 minutes on a medium heat until the bacon is brown and the vegetables are tender. Return the chicken to the pan.  Add the wine, turn up the heat and let it bubble away until reduced by a third. Add the stock and water and bring to the boil.  Transfer the contents of the pan to a large casserole dish, cover with a lid and cook in the oven for one hour.

Make the dumplings by combining the flour, baking powder and cream until a soft dough forms. Remove the casserole from the oven, divide the dumpling dough into eight balls and nestle them among the chicken pieces. Return the casserole to the oven, uncovered, and cook for a further 10-12 minutes until the dumplings are puffed up and brown on top.

Adapted from a recipe by Gwyneth Paltrow. Serves four.

Guess Who’s Coming to (Christmas) Dinner

I have a suspicion that people fear vegetarians at Christmas almost as much as they fear forgetting a present or running out of booze.  Traditional Christmas food in the UK generally focuses around two very non-veggie ingredients: meat and suet, and people find they are often at a loss as to what to what to feed a vegetarian for Christmas dinner.  I’ve heard so many horror stories from vegetarian friends – one was given a plate of vegetables and potatoes with vegetable stock poured over the top (the gravy was made with meat juices), another was given two Quorn sausages in place of the meat and no gravy, and I have been told of people who have been served pasta with stir-in sauce without anything at all from the traditional roast.  I was a pescatarian for twelve years and was never particularly enamoured with the anaemic meat-substitute products, so would often be given salmon or a nut roast, which wasn’t at all bad.  I have often wondered, though, why so many people find it difficult to make inspiring food for vegetarians at Christmas.

One of the most common worries about having vegetarians to Christmas dinner is that cooking for them is yet another thing to do in the never-ending list of tasks in the run up to Christmas. When faced with present-wrapping, endless entertaining and precision timing of the Christmas dinner itself, it is always tempting to pick up a nut roast from the freezer section and douse it in vegetarian instant gravy.  The best vegetarian Christmas dinners are the ones where everybody, or the majority of diners, are vegetarians – I went to a vegetarian pre-Christmas dinner once and the range of meat-free dishes, including a rather delicious aubergine and red pepper strudel, was amazing.  The vegetarian main course is a great addition to any Christmas table as it can be enjoyed by all.  Meat-eaters are unlikely to want to try a slice of a Quorn roast, but they may be tempted by something a little more enticing.

Cooking the filling for the mushroom, chestnut and spinach Wellington

Cooking the filling for the mushroom, chestnut and spinach Wellington

My Christmas vegetarian dish is based around two very hearty ingredients – mushrooms and chestnuts – which create a substantial, and almost meaty, texture and flavour.  This is a mushroom, chestnut and spinach Wellington – a combination of those three ingredients with red wine, breadcrumbs and cream wrapped in puff pastry.  It is very easy to make; the filling is combined in one frying pan and, if you use shop-bought puff pastry, the entire Wellington can be prepared, assembled and cooked in little over an hour.  For extra convenience, this can be made and assembled the day before and then put in the oven half an hour before needed.

Mushroom, Chestnut and Spinach Wellington

Mushroom, Chestnut and Spinach Wellington

The filling is everything a Christmas dinner should be: festive, rich and with a big kick of umami flavour.  The contrasting textures of the crunchy chestnuts, meaty mushrooms and slightly crunchy spinach prevent it being too same-y and bland and the puff pastry gives it enough substance to make it a filling meal.  A slice of this with a sharp vegetarian gravy would make for a very happy vegetarian indeed.

Mushroom, Chestnut and Spinach Wellington

  • 25g dried porcini mushrooms
  • Olive oil
  • 3 large onions, finely sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 250g chestnut mushrooms, sliced
  • 250g Portobello mushrooms, halved and sliced
  • 200g cooked and peeled chestnuts (I used Merchant Gourmet)
  • 1 tsp dried tarragon
  • 85ml red wine
  • 3 tbsp creme fraiche
  • 100g breadcrumbs
  • Sea salt and black pepper
  • Puff pastry, either home-made or one packet of shop-bought

Put the porcini mushrooms in a small bowl and pour over 250ml boiling water.  Leave to soak for 20 minutes before draining the mushrooms, squeezing out any excess liquid, and reserving the water.

Blanch the spinach in boiling water until wilted, then refresh in cold water.  Drain and squeeze as much of the liquid out of the spinach as possible.  Roughly chop and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan and gently fry the onions and garlic for about ten minutes on a medium-low heat until the onions are translucent – do not let them brown.  Add the mushrooms, including the drained porcini, to the frying pan and cook until the mushrooms are soft and caramelised.  Add more olive oil here if necessary.

Halve or quarter the larger chestnuts, add to the pan with the chopped spinach and cook for a further couple of minutes.  Add the red wine and 85ml of the reserved porcini soaking liquid along with the tarragon, salt and pepper and simmer until the liquid has reduced by half.  Stir in the cream and the breadcrumbs and cook for a couple more minutes, stirring until all of the ingredients are combined.  Allow the mixture to cool.

Preheat the oven to 200ºc / 400ºf / gas 6.  Roll out the puff pastry to a large rectangle – the pastry should be about the thickness of a two-pence piece.  Arrange the cooled filling in a rectangular mound along the length of the pastry, leaving enough pastry either side to wrap around the filling.  Slice the edges into strips and ‘plait’ across the top of the pastry, sealing the edges until all of the filling is sealed in.  Place on a well-oiled baking sheet, brush with egg wash and bake in the oven for 35 minutes or until the pastry is browned – use a thermometer to check the filling is cooked through.  Serve in slices with festive vegetables and vegetarian gravy.

Serves eight.