*Or, A Meal Fit for a King
Show of hands: who watched the Royal Wedding this morning? (I won’t tell anyone.) I had set the PVR for 3:00 AM (Toronto time) just in case I slept through the alarm. . . which, of course, I did. But even pre-recorded, it was a lovely affair, and Kate did look rather smashing in her Sarah Burton-designed wedding gown, didn’t she? And wasn’t it touching when Wills whispered, “You look lovely–you look beautiful” to her and then when she turned to him in the carriage and said, “Are you happy?” (thanks, lip readers)–because really, what person in their right mind in that situation wouldn’t be deliriously happy–I mean, seriously, people, she is going to be queen. Oh, and kudos to her for not snorting through her nose when she uttered the “in richer or in poorer” part of the vows.
Although I made this dish for the HH and my Easter dinner, I thought it was perfectly fitting as a tribute to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. In my mind, nut roasts are decidedly British. Why? Well, I think it has to do with one of my first cookbooks, bought from the remainder bin at Book City (English cookbooks are always cheap in Toronto, since most people still resist cooking exclusively in grams and millileters). In fact, most of the nut roast recipes I’ve encountered (except those on blogs, of course) were from UK-based cookbooks–one doesn’t see the term “nut roast” too much in North American tomes.
This particular recipe is a throwback to the 1990s, when I cooked up a what was definitely an American take on the classic loaf, for a very artsy dinner party. You see, back ithen I had the opportunity to teach English at the acclaimed OCA (later OCAD), or Ontario College of Art and Design, at one time welcoming institution to JEH MacDonald, Arthur Lismer, Michael Snow, and many other famous Canadian artists. Situated in the heart of the university district downtown and abutting Chinatown, it is a wellspring of creativity, eccentricity, emotional immaturity and oil paint.
I remember vividly the day of my interview. I had applied for a one-year replacement position while the regular English teacher was on sabbatical. Knowing that OCA was an art college and, therefore, the polar opposite of my usual place of employ (where I dealt mostly with computer studies students), I determined to jazz up my typical “interview uniform” consisting of black blazer, black knee-length skirt, black tights, black pumps, gold stud earrings (with black stones) and subdued makeup (black mascara but definitely no black nailpolish). Instead, I donned my one and only patterned suit jacket, a fitted collarless button-down featuring muted floral print in shades of beige, maroon. . . and black.
As I waited outside the boardroom in which a six-member panel
interrogated grilled humiliated met with candidates, I could hear muffled chatter of the previous interview in progress. Every now and then, punctuating the murmurs and dull buzz came an eruption of laughter so sharp and so drawn out that I imagined Robin Williams had dropped in for some impromptu entertainment between questions about curriculum.
Finally, the door swung open and the previous candidate sashayed out, her face flush with victory. She barely glanced my way as she strode by, raised her eyebrowns and wrinkled her nose as if to say, “Sorry, sweetie, this one’s in the bag.” Before I could worry too much, I was ushered in to the room and accosted with a barrage of questions. I walked away feeling as if I’d done my best–but sure my best was not enough. The following day, I received the call–I was hired!
I worked at OCA for two years, during which time I helped to launch the first Writing Center at the college (though I never did find out what happened to that other job applicant). I loved all the unconventional, offbeat students and professors there, with their scraggly hair that hung like tassels to their shoulders, their landscape tatoos, asymmetrical skirts, spiked hair and piercings in noses and eyebrows and lips and various other appendages that seemed just too bizarre at the time.
I often lunched with one of my colleagues (I’ll just call him “Roman à Clef) when we wanted to escape the maelstrom of the college and have a proper chat. Everything about Roman was soft and gentle, from his whisper-quiet voice to his pale blue eyes to his salt-and-pepper beard, full and plush like moss on a tree trunk. Roman was also a vegetarian, a perfect lunch companion.
Eventually, I felt comfortable enough to throw a dinner party for some of my OCA colleagues, but I still fretted about what I’d serve that could please everyone. I turned to my first (vegetarian) culinary hero, Mollie Katzen, and the original Moosewood Cookbook. In the book, Katzen offers a dish she calls “Carrot-Mushroom Loaf.” Except it’s not a loaf; it’s baked in a rectangular pan and is more like a kugel, made with something like five eggs. Nevertheless, I made the recipe and it was a collosal hit, not only with Roman (who wolfed down three pieces–each with a glass of wine–and then remarked, “that was the best vegetarian meal I’ve ever had. . . if I were only twenty years younger, I’d ask you out about now”), but also with all the omnivores as well.
Naturally, when I sought out a superb nutroast recipe for my submission to Johanna’s A Neb at Nut Roast II event, I returned to the Katzen recipe. But I’d forgotten about the mushrooms in the loaf (verboten on the ACD); and there seemed no feasible way to replace all those eggs with ground flax. So I began with the concept of “carrot + loaf” and took it from there. I added pecans, a beloved but underused nut, and fresh dill, one of my favorite herbs to pair with carrots. For binding, I ground up a bunch of gluten free crackers, well, just to get rid of the broken ones hanging out at the bottom of the box.
I loved this loaf with its decidedly veggie slant. If you’re expecting a meat analogue, this is not the loaf for you. Still, even the flesh-loving HH enjoyed his slice with some caramelized onion gravy and a healthy serving of celeri rémoulade. Once baked, the slightly sweet carrots meld perfectly with the toasty nuts and herbs; and the slices hold up well the next day, perfect for sandwiches. The cooked carrots also imbue the loaf with a lovely golden hue that’s rather festive–in fact, one might even say, somewhat royal.
You’ve still got time to submit your own nutroast creations to the Neb at Nutroast II event–ongoing until May 5th!
suitable for ACD Stage 1 and beyond
This loaf is an ideal make-ahead main course, as the flavors mature and the texture firms up overnight in the refrigerator. It’s still great straight from the oven, too, slathered with gravy and served alongside mashed potatoes and your favorite vegetable.
1/2 medium onion, cut in half and then thinly sliced
1 Tbsp (15 ml) extra virgin olive oil, preferably organic
1/3 cup (80 ml) gluten-free cracker crumbs (I used 25 Mary’s plain crackers)
3 cups (300 g or 10.5 oz) toasted pecans
1/4 cup (60 ml) finely ground flax seeds
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) fine sea salt
pepper, to taste
1 pound (455 g) trimmed and peeled carrots (about 6 large), cut in chunks
1 large celery stalk, cut in chunks
2 large garlic cloves, cut in half
1/4 cup (60 ml) fresh dill or 1 Tbsp (15 ml) dried dill
1/4 cup (60 ml) fresh parsley
1 Tbsp (15 ml) Bragg’s liquid aminos, tamari or soy sauce (use Bragg’s for ACD)
1/2 cup (120 ml) vegetable broth or stock
Preheat oven to 350F (180C). Line an 8 or 9 inch (20-22.5 cm) loaf pan with parchment, or spray with nonstick spray and set aside.
In a medium frypan, heat the oil; add onion and cook over medium heat until the onion is soft and beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Turn off heat.
In the bowl of a food processor, grind the crackers until they become fine crumbs. Add the pecans, flax seeds, salt and pepper and process until you have what looks like a fine meal. Turn into a large bowl and set aside.
To the same processor bowl (no need to wash it), add the carrots, celery, garlic, dill, parsley, Bragg’s, broth and cooked onions from the pan along with any oil left in the frypan. Process until smooth, scraping down sides as necessary (there should be no lumps of vegetables visible). Add the mixture to the bowl with the nuts and stir together by hand. It should be fairly thick.
Spread the batter in the loaf pan and smooth the top. Bake in preheated oven for 60-70 minutes, rotating pan about halfway through, until deeply browned on the bottom and sides and a knife inserted in the center comes out moist but clean. Allow to cool 10 minutes before slicing. Makes about 8 servings. Serve with gravy, if desired. Will keep, wrapped in the refrigerator, up to 3 days. May be frozen: allow to cool, then slice and wrap slices individually; freeze, then store wrapped slices in a plastic bag in freezer.
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