Romanesco cauliflowers have got to be one of the most beautiful vegetables we grow. Their mathematical fractal shapes are breathtaking to look at and luckily they are also extremely tasty! Our favourite way by far to cook them is to chop them into florets and roast them. Have a look at the end of this smashed cucumber recipe for a great marinade idea. In this recipe I use them in a one-roasting-dish meal to make a simple summery stew. This way you get some crispy tops and some soft, simmered bits too. All in one easy dish! Serve with bread, potatoes, rice or pasta. Or just eat it as it is.
Ingredients (serves 4-6 people depending on sides)
Whole Roast Veg, Nutty Stuffing, Roast Potatoes, Maple & Mustard Roots, Brussels with Citrus, Rosemary & Garlic, Nutmeg Cheese Sauce and Gravy.
As many of us are putting plants front and centre on our dinner tables, I thought I would show you what my plans are for our plant based Christmas dinner this year. Settle in, this is going to be a long blog. But don’t be discouraged, everything here is super-simple to make and, if you make the stuffing ahead of time, you could get Christmas dinner done in under two hours. I’ve put a handy ‘order of things’ bit at the end for you if you want to make Christmas dinner my way.
Christmas dinner in our house is just a slightly fancier, Christmassy version of our weekly Sunday Roast. Do you have a weekly ritual around food? Pizza night on Fridays or taco Tuesdays? Do you alway have pasta on a Wednesday or a Saturday curry night? To me, a roast dinner is the definition of a special family feast. We try and do one every Sunday, not just because it’s the traditional ‘Sunday Roast’ day, it also happens to be the only day off we all have together. So we go for a long walk mid morning after a lazy start, then come home and take our time making a big feast.
It feels important to have that ritual, that tradition of gathering around the kitchen table and decompressing. After a hectic week of work and school, enjoying a weekly feast of good food and good company and really taking the time to chat and make sure all is well in our little bubble is like a breath of fresh air. We all have our favourite part of a roast (is anyones favourite bit not roast potatoes?!?) but I think what really ‘makes’ the meal is to have something spectacular to carve in the centre of the table. The traditional focus of course has always been meat, but these days, beautiful, vibrant vegetables take centre stage. Again this year, we are letting the goose go and instead roasting a range of whole vegetables to carve.
Whole roast vegetables are a revelation. The crisp, caramelised edges and juicy, sweet centres are as delicious as they are beautiful. As much as I love a nut loaf or a flakey pastry beetroot Wellington, the spectacle of a whole roast Romanesco cauliflower has won my favour this year for Christmas. I mean, it looks an awful lot like a Christmas tree, it’s in season in December, so how could I not? I also love whole roast squashes and red cabbage, but they take longer to cook through than the Romanesco, so I’ve chopped them in half to roast them in time together in one beautiful pot. If you can’t find a romanesco you can replace it with a regular cauliflower. But the cauliflower has a tighter structure and takes longer to roast, so don’t halve the other vegetables, they will cook in around the same time as each other – just increase the total cooking time and adjust when you put the trimmings in the oven. Romanescos have a more open structure, a bit like a broccoli, so cook much quicker than their tight-as-a-snowball, pale cousins.
I like to first steam the whole vegetables, lid on, in the oven, on a bed of stock, wine, onions, garlic and herbs (and I’m adding apples and cranberries too for extra festive flavours). Then take the lid off and let them crisp up for the last half of the cooking time. And at the end, all those lovely juices in the bottom of the pot will be turned into a rich gravy.
While that’s all going on I make a nutty, lentil and oat based stuffing (for those worried about protein, you’ll find ample here – it’s basically a nut roast), a big tray of roast veg – the sweet roots roasted with a maple and mustard dressing, a nutmeg spiked cheese sauce to spoon over the roast Romanesco, and it wouldn’t be Christmas without Brussels sprouts. So here we go! Here’s my step by step, easy but oh so delicious, Christmas dinner plan for 2020. (More photos and a video coming soon so come back and check this space).
Start with The Stuffing
You can prepare this ahead of time, make it the day before if you like. It is actually the longest process of the whole meal.
Boil a small mug of green lentils in stock until they are cooked through. Lentils need about triple their volume of liquid to cook through so keep an eye on them as the cook to make sure they don’t absorb all the liquid and burn on the bottom. I simply measure out a small mug of lentils into a pot, then add a stock cube and 3 mugs of water. Then bring it to the boil, turn down the heat to simmer with the lid on and just peek in every now and then to see if I need to add any more liquid. Once they are done ( test this by eating a lentil), you can tip them into a large mixing bowl. You could make this step much quicker by just using a tin or two of ready cooked lentils.
Again, use my ever-flexible mug measurements… about a mug of chopped nuts – or more! This recipe, like most of mine, is very forgiving and doesn’t need exact measurements.
My favourite nuts to use this time of year are of course chestnuts. We sell them whole and raw so you’ll need to pierce them with a small sharp knife and boil or roast them until they are cooked. Then peel off their tough skins, chop them up and add them to the mixing bowl with the cooked lentils. If you want to buy ready cooked and peeled ones then that would make this step quicker. Otherwise you can use any nuts you like.
Toasted hazelnuts are so special and have the best flavour in this kind of dish so they are my first choice for replacing the chestnuts. Hazelnuts are easy to toast and peel, simply roast them in a hot oven for a few minutes until they are nice and toasted all the way through – keep an eye on them, they can catch very quickly – then tip them onto a clean tea towel, place another tea towel on top and rub them. The skins will just flake off. Then pick them out and carefully chop them up and add them to the mixing bowl.
SUGAR & SPICE
Then add some flavours to your nutty stuffing mix. By ‘sugar’ I mean a handful of chopped dried fruit. Dried cranberries are the best at Christmas time of course, but you could add a handful of chopped apricots or dates instead if you like? Add some orange or lemon zest for fragrance and flavour.
Then add some sweet christmassy spices. A pinch of ground cloves, a little touch of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger…that sort of thing, or for ease, a tsp of mixed spice. Go easy though, these spices have powerful flavours and you don’t want to overpower the dish.
SAGE & ONION
Sage and onion are classic stuffing flavours and so I generally add a finely diced red onion or two and a couple of tbsp of fresh or dried sage leaves to the mix too.
OATS OR BREADCRUMBS
If you have a stale half loaf of bread going, then chop it up and whizz it into crumbs in the food processor, otherwise do what I do as a cheat and just chuck a mug of porridge oats into the mixing bowl instead. (We also sell gluten free oats so this recipe is easily made suitable for the coeliacs in your life). Then give everything a good mix and taste it for seasoning. You may wish to add more salt or herbs and spices.
I also add a couple of tbsp of milled linseeds mixed with a little water to the mix to help it bind together. Ground linseeds are a fantastic egg replacement as work really well in this kind of scenario. I buy the whole ones from our shop and grind them up in a little blender so they are ready to use whenever I need them.
SQUISH & BAKE
Then really get in there with your hands or a potato masher and give everything a good firm squish together. You are aiming for a mixture that can form into a ball. If it’s too dry, add a little stock or water (or even the juice of that orange or lemon you zested earlier), if it’s too wet add some more oats or bread crumbs. Then press the mixture into a lightly oiled small baking dish or loaf tin. Rough up the top with a fork and bake in the oven with the roast for the last 30-40 minutes. The nutty stuffing will cook quicker if it’s in a wider, shallower tray than in a deeper loaf tin so do keep an eye on it.
The Pot Roast
You will need a large, oven-safe pot with lid. Or you can use a deep baking tray and some tin foil.
Start with the base. This is going to be the gravy in the end, but first it will do it’s job of steaming the whole vegetables, keeping them from drying out or getting burnt on the outside before they cook through, and infusing them with flavour.
I like to roughly slice in a couple of onions, halve a whole bulb of garlic, and then you can add some other stocky vegetables if you like, like sticks of celery and chunks of carrot, then a sliced apple or two and a handful of fresh cranberries. You could also use pears or plums.
Drizzle the base vegetables with a little good olive oil, season them really well with plenty of salt and pepper, then cover them with a glass or two or white wine and a little water. You could also use stock and a couple of tbsp of cider vinegar or a bottle of cider instead of the wine.
Then add some wintery herbs. A bouquet garni is perfect here, or just chuck in some fresh thyme, rosemary, bay leaves and sage leaves. All of the above or just pick one or two in a combination of your choosing.
THE MAIN EVENT
Then the main event. Trim the base off a romanesco cauliflower. Give it a rinse, gently score the base of the stalk and pop it into the pot or deep roasting dish. Then add a halved red cabbage, and a halved and deseeded squash. Drizzle the veg with some olive oil, season it with salt and pepper (I also love adding a few caraway seeds to the cabbage) pop the lid on the pot (or cover the dish with foil) and put it in the oven at 200C to steam-roast for 30-40 minutes.
Now is the time to get your tray of potatoes and maple & mustard roast roots ready for the oven! They need to go in in around 20 minutes from when then you put the whole roast veg in.
Your nutty stuffing needs to go in the oven around then too!
After the whole roast veg are mostly cooked through (test this by inserting a knife), remove the lid and roast for a final 20-30 minutes to crisp up and caramelise the edges.
How do you like your roast potatoes? Most often I just chop scrubbed, but not peeled, potatoes into large chunks, season them in their roasting dish with olive oil, salt and pepper and pop them in the oven to roast for around 40 minutes. But at Christmas I like to take the effort to peel and par-boil them first. Then tip them carefully into a pre-heated roasting tray with hot vegetable oil, and roast them for around half an hour. This way you get really beautiful, golden, fluffy-in-the-middle, crispy-on-the-outside roasties.
MUSTARD & MAPLE ROOTS
A mix of roasted carrots, parsnips and beetroots make a beautiful, autumn-coloured side dish. I scrub them, but don’t peel, then trim and quarter them lengthways and pop them in a roasting dish. Then in a small jug, mix a couple of tbsp of wholegrain mustard with a generous drizzle of olive oil and maple syrup and a good pinch of sea salt. Pour this mixture all over the vegetables then mix them well so that each is covered with the dressing. Roast them in the oven for around half an hour or until they are cooked through. They should be sweet and sticky, but also sharp and savoury. Delicious!
Brussels sprouts are absolutely fantastic with citrus, herbs and garlic. You can do this dish in the oven if you have room, my oven is tiny so I just do it in a large frying pan or wok on the hob. Simply trim and halve your brussels sprouts and put them straight in your pan. Then drizzle them with oil and add lots of sliced garlic. Season them with salt, pepper and rosemary and turn the heat on. Get them sautéing in the pan about 10 minutes before you are ready to serve. Add the zest of a lemon, cut the lemon in half and add it, cut side down, to the pan. Let the cut side of the lemon almost burn and caramelise in the bottom of the pan. Then, using tongs, pick up the lemon halves and squeeze them over the sautéing sprouts just before they are ready to come out onto the table.
Cheese Sauce & Gravy
PLANT BASED BÉCHAMEL
I usually make this sauce for a baked cauliflower cheese on a Sunday, but as I’m making a whole roast romanesco cauliflower I am making the sauce on the side this year (my children would never forgive me if I didn’t include it in some form in every roast dinner we have). A béchamel is very very easy to make. Simply melt a fat of your choice (I like to do a mix of butter and olive oil), add some flour, salt, pepper, mustard, nutritional yeast and ground nutmeg and whisk it together, then slowly cook out the flour with little splashes of milk, whisking as you go. When the flour is cooked out and you have a beautiful silky sauce, taste it and adjust the seasoning as needed. You may need more salt or some extra nutritional yeast to make it a little cheesier. Here’s the illustrated recipe from my book to help you:
Of course you could just use a vegetable gravy powder. But I like to make use of those wonderful, flavourful juices in the bottom of the roasting dish. Once your roasted vegetables are done. Pull them out on to a platter and keep them warm. Then put the pot on the hob (if you are using a roasting dish then scrape the juices and all the vegetables into a small pan on the hob. Squeeze the garlic out of it’s skin and remove the skin and any woody bits of herbs left in the tray.
Add extra vegetable stock if there is not much left of the juices in the bottom the pot of roasting dish, then blend the contents with a stick blender until smooth. Add a splash of red wine or port, allow it to simmer for a while then taste for seasoning to see what it needs to become a dark, rich gravy. You may wish to add some more salt or pepper, I tend to add a splash of soy sauce or a spoon of marmite or miso. Then thicken the gravy with cornflour. Put a heaped tbsp of cornflour into a cup with a little splash of cold water and mix into a smooth paste. Then whisk the paste through the simmering gravy until it thickens to your liking. Serve in a warm jug on the table.
Serve the whole roast vegetables on a large platter surrounded by all the roasted potatoes, carrots, parsnips and beetroots and sautéed sprouts. Have warm jugs of gravy and béchamel on the table and the dish of nutty stuffing. Carve big slices of the vegetables and serve with scoops of nutty stuffing, roasted veg and sprouts drenched in gravy and drizzled with cheesy sauce. And don’t forget the cranberry sauce on the side!
Here’s a video of me making the full Christmas roast from scratch. I hope you find it helpful! Merry Christmas!
Cooking Things in the Right Order
make the nutty stuffing & get it into a covered dish ready to bake
peel your potatoes & get them in a pot of water ready to par boil
scrub your carrots, parsnips and beetroots
about 2.5 hours before you want to eat, pre-heat the oven to 200C
get the potatoes on to par-boil
assemble the pot roast and get it in the, now hot, oven
drain the par-boiled potatoes and get a tray of vegetable oil into the oven to pre-heat
prepare the mustard & maple roast carrots, parsnips & beetroots
20-30 minutes after the pot roast has gone in get all the roast vegetables (potatoes and maple/mustard roots) & stuffing into the oven
10 minutes later remove the pot roast lid
then you have about half an hour to easily make the béchamel and sprouts
remove the whole roast veg and other roasted veg and stuffing from the oven when it’s done and arrange it on a platter, cover it and keep it warm in a low oven while you make the gravy
heat up the gravy, sprouts and béchamel, take the platter of roast veg and stuffing out of the oven and serve!