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Stuffing rolls

I think I may have mentioned this before but I’m fond of Christmas. Presents are lovely, family time is great, but a holiday that exalts stuffing is my idea of heaven! If there’s one thing I like more than stuffing things, it’s actually making stuffing itself. So imagine my glee when I was invited to a seasonal soiree with lots of people who don’t eat pork and I got the chance to try out my idea of vegetarian ‘sausage rolls’ using stuffing as a filling instead…

Inspired by last week’s Christmas doughnuts, it was essential that the stuffing would be based on chestnuts for a festive feel. To compliment their slight sweetness, I decided to pick up a parsnip and a sharp-sweet Bramley, both of which are in season and useful to have round the house anyway at this time of year. The kitchen essentials of some rye breadcrumbs from the freezer, an onion and some kale would complete the recipe nicely and make a delicious and fast stuffing when seasoned with mace and nutmeg.

 

While the finely diced onion caramelized down and the chestnuts roasted in the oven, I turned my attention to the pastry for the rolls. I’m a relative newbie to pastry having only made it a couple of times and never having tried to make puff or flaky pastry so I turned to the recent thread on the perfect sausage roll over at the Word of Mouth blog on the Guardian from a few weeks ago for some pastry tips and decided to follow Felicity’s recipe as I realised how awkward puff pastry really is to make.

I had no mustard powder to add to the pastry, but otherwise this was to the letter and very straightforward to make. Five minutes later it was resting in the fridge and I was adding grated parsnip to the onion mix and letting it cook down a bit while I peeled and grated a large Bramley, finely chopped some kale and turned my attention to peeling the chestnuts. This isn’t difficult, but it a bit time consuming and must be done while the chestnuts are still a bit warm, otherwise it is a nightmare to do. I then blitzed them in the hand blender with the remains of the chestnut puree from the doughnuts and then combined everything together with a beaten egg and some seasoning. It would be an excellent idea to mix and season everything, taste it and then add the egg, otherwise it’s difficult to sample the stuffing. I, of course, didn’t do this so this was a bit of a risky recipe as I just made the quantities up as I went along!

I left the stuffing to cool and got cracking rolling out the pastry. It’s a stiff pastry so didn’t need too much flour and rolled nicely. I did end up with some oddly shaped sections so trimmed them down to proper strips and re-rolled the trimmings. I then wet the edges with egg wash and rolled the pastry round the stuffing, sealing the edges with some serious crimping. I then cut the giant stuffing roll into bite sized sections, egg washed the top and popped them in the oven. With a bit of practice, this would be extremely quick and easy and since the stuffing and the pastry can be prepared well in advance, you can make these fresh when needed.

They take about 15 minutes in the oven which is less than the meat version and stops the edge of the stuffing becoming unpleasantly crispy. I left them to cool on a rack in order to carry them more easily, but you could serve them oven fresh as they are much nicer warm. We reheated them at my friend’s house and they were pretty good. The stuffing was quite sweet, more than I usually go for and when making them again, I’ll probably swap the parsnip for some mushrooms instead, but it’s a minor quibble. The pastry was lovely and short and crumbly, but overall they were a little dry and would definitely be lifted from nice to brilliant with a dip on the side. I’d go for something with chilli and in fact ate my leftovers with some crabapple and chilli cheese!

Team these with a lovely sauce or selection of condiments and they make a great meat free canape that everyone will enjoy. You’ll also look very impressive having made them from scratch, but you could use pre-bought pastry as long as you roll them yourself for an authentically wonky look!

A little taste of Lancashire

Boiled Onions with Lancashire Cheese and Poached Egg

I bought Simon Hopkinson’s new book, ‘The Vegetarian Option‘ at the start of the year, in an attempt to broaden my culinary outlook and provide new dishes to keep my veggie friends happy. Well, that was part of the reason: Hopkinson’s one of my very favourite food writers, and the next best thing to sitting down with a warming meal in the winter is curling up with a great cookbook. Happily this is as good I as expected; chock-full of wonderfully simple recipes, evoking tastes and memories of warmer, more verdant seasons. That’s not to say he neglects winter staples in favour of summery salads: there are some rib-stickingly good sounding suggestions to tantalise the reader’s imagination.

One recipe in particular caught my eye: Boiled Onions with Cheese and Poached Egg. Aye, you read that right… it sounds like the kind of food you might feed an Edwardian invalid, but Hopkinson absolutely raves about it, and the photo next to the listing beckoned invitingly. He’d come by it via the Three Fishes in Mitton, a Lancashire pub with a fine reputation which has been on my ‘to-visit’ list for years. I’ve still not made it there, but tonight I made the dish, and it was everything I could’ve hoped for, and more. Rich, savory, silky and oh-so-comforting. You’ve got to try this.

  • 250g onion
  • 25g butter
  • 175ml water
  • 1 bay leaf
  • a good portion of cheese (preferably tasty or crumbly Lancashire)
  • generous pinch of sea salt
  • light pinch of pepper
  • curly parsley to garnish

Chop the onion into small, regular-sized pieces, then add it to the water, butter, seasoning and bay leaf in a saucepan. Bring this to the boil, then down to a gentle simmer, covering for 20-30 mins. When the onions are soft and silken, transfer them to a small dish, sprinkle the grated cheese on top and melt under a grill. Don’t let the cheese brown, just let it become molten and coalescent in the broth before garnishing with chopped parsley and a freshly poached egg. Eat while hot.

One last thing: the recipe calls for white-skinned onions and white pepper to keep a traditional appearance and texture. I had neither to hand, but it still tasted and looked great.