A long, long time ago a rather battered vegetarian recipe book came into my possession. It’s a long story, and I will bore you with it because I can.
It was 1987. From memory I had just graduated from my fashion degree, and Mr.B and I were quite a new item. Uni had ended, and neither Mr.B or I wanted to go home to our parents – young and in the throes of a new romance – ahhhh. We couldn’t afford to pay rent, so we ended up living in a squat. Actually, we didn’t, but it does sound so bohemian and daring. The more mundane reality was that we ended up kind of house-sitting for a friend’s place while it was on the market to be sold. Students who had been on my course had previously rented the place, and one of them had left behind the aforementioned recipe book. After this phase I got a job and moved down to London, and the book came with me. I wasn’t a vegetarian, but I did try a few of the recipes and they were extremely tasty – not at all what I thought vegetarian hippy food would be. Of course I can’t remember the title or author of the book, and I seem to remember that it was missing its cover.
The book did not make it on our world travels, and has been lost somewhere along the way, but I’ve been thinking about a couple of those meals and decided to have a go at recreating this comforting and flavoursome casserole. Packed full of hearty vegetables and cheesy dumplings in a rich gravy with the sweet nuttiness of chestnuts, it’s a truly wintery meal.
- Olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 400g Brussel sprouts, left whole, outer leaves removed
- 400g shallots (the French type, NOT what I'd call spring onions), peeled, left whole
- 400g button mushrooms (I used Swiss Browns as they hold their shape)
- 300g chestnuts, shelled and peeled - use vacuum packed if you can get them. It's a whole lot of trouble doing it the traditional way, and I cut my finger on a shell - not worth it.
- 2 tblsp cornflour (gluten-free)
- 800ml vegetable stock (gluten-free)
- 250ml red wine
- 1 tblsp tomato paste
- 1 tblsp soy sauce (gluten-free)
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- For the dumplings:
- 200g gluten-free plain flour
- 1 tsp xanthan gum
- 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 2 tsp cider vinegar
- 1 tsp mixed herbs
- Pinch of salt and pepper
- 150g butter of margarine
- 200g finely grated cheddar cheese
- To make the casserole:
- Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy based pan and gently fry the Brussel sprouts, shallots, mushrooms and garlic for 5 minutes, until the mushrooms have released their juices and they have evaporated.
- In a large jug mix together the stock, wine, tomato paste, soy sauce and thyme and set aside.
- Add the cornflour to the vegetables in the pan, and stir well, ensuring everything is combined.
- Cook for a minute or two, stirring carefully.
- Pour in the stock mixture, stirring constantly to avoid lumps forming.
- Bring to the boil, stirring as it thickens.
- Add the chestnuts, cover the pan and lower the heat.
- Simmer on a low heat for 30 - 40 minutes, stirring and checking from time to time.
- Add the dumplings to the pan 20 - 25 minutes before the end of cooking, gently placing each one on the surface and pressing down slightly.
- Remember to replace the pan lid after adding the dumplings.
- To make the dumplings:
- Add all the dry ingredients to a mixing bowl and combine.
- Add the butter and rub into the flour mixture with your fingertips until it resembles breadcrumbs.
- Add the vinegar and form into a ball, adding water a little at a time if the mixture is too dry.
- When you have formed a nice dough divide it into 8 or 10 pieces and roll each one between your hands to form a ball.
- Place on a lightly floured board or plate and set aside until needed.
It turned out pretty much as I remembered it, so I was really chuffed. The sauce was rich and delicious and I didn’t bother even serving green veg or potatoes as I already had Brussel sprouts and dumplings. It might have been nice to have some crusty sourdough on the side though, to mop up the sauce.
Next time I do it I will definitely use vacuum packed chestnuts as these were a nightmare to prepare. I couldn’t remember how I’d done it years ago, so I thought I’d seek expert advice and turned to Martha Stewart, who made it look a breeze – it wasn’t, but here’s the link anyway. If foul language and workplace injuries in the kitchen are your thing, then go right ahead!
Another Important Note*
If any of my family should happen to have this recipe book, please can I have it back – thanks!