Monday 20 December 2010

Chestnut and Red Wine Pate en Croute

Christmas can be a bit daunting if you've only recently given up eating meat and dairy products but it doesn't have to be.   It's certainly not a problem thinking of animal-free alternatives to turkey or making dairy-free mince pies, Christmas cake, Christmas pudding, etc.  Of course, you may have to put up with the odd sarcastic comment about your unconventional choice of food usually from someone who doesn't know better but then we're used to being different, aren't we!

Over the thirty or so Christmases I've been "different",  I've tried out many recipes for the traditional meal, ideally something that fits alongside everyone else's and that goes well with  roast potatoes, parsnips, brussel sprouts, cranberry sauce and all the trimmings.  Probably the dish I've made most at Christmas is Rose Elliot's Chestnut and Red Wine Pate en Croute.

Apart from the fact that it's really good, it's also very practical.  It's made in minutes with very few ingredients.  Even better, if you're spending Christmas away and have offered to take your own dish to help out as I usually do, you can make the chestnut pate a day or two in advance, keep it in the fridge, transport it across the country, then quickly roll out the puff pastry topping on Christmas morning and bake.

Over the years, I have made a few changes to the original recipe. I've doubled the quantity of mushrooms (to 100g) and put the cooked chestnut mixture into a loaf tin to create an oblong shape. My measurements and cooking times also vary from the original. 
I can guarantee you'll find steadfast meat-eaters quietly helping themselves to a piece on the day.   Don't forget to make some lovely mushroom gravy and cranberry sauce to go with it.  You'll find the recipes below.   Have a Wonderful Christmas!

Ingredients                 Serves Four

2 tbsp olive oil
2 medium onions
2 garlic cloves
100g (4oz) chestnut mushrooms, chopped
1 glass of red wine
435g can of unsweetened chestnut puree such as Merchant Gourmet (or mashed fresh/canned chestnuts)
75g (3 oz) fresh brown/white breadcrumbs
500g dairyfree puff pastry (e.g. Jusrol)
salt and pepper


Put your tinned/mashed chestnuts into a large bowl and mix in the breadcrumbs.

Line a 1lb loaf tin (approx 16 x 11cm (6½" x 4¼") top, 8cm (3") deep) with cling film.

Chop the onions finely and crush the garlic cloves.  Finely chop the mushrooms.
Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the chopped onions for about 5 to 10 minutes on a medium heat, stirring frequently, until soft.

Add the crushed garlic and fry for a further couple of minutes before adding the mushrooms.  Stir well and cook for 4 or 5 minutes.

Now pour in your glass of wine and let it bubble away on a highish heat for a couple of minutes until most of the liquid has gone.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir the mushroom mixture into the dry ingredients. 

Add some freshly ground salt and pepper and mash it all together with the back of a spoon so that it's well mixed.

Now press the mixture into the prepared loaf tin and level the top neatly.

Once cool, fold over the cling film and keep in the fridge until required.

When you're ready to eat, pre-heat the oven to 220C/200C fan/gas 7.

Lightly grease a baking sheet.  Dust your work surface with a little plain flour.

Cut off approximately two-fifths of the puff pastry and roll out carefully so that it measures about  25cm x 17cm (10" x 7").  Place on the baking sheet.

Tip the chestnut mixture out of the loaf tin and peel back the cling film from the top.  Turn upside down onto the middle of the pastry and peel away the rest of the cling film.

Brush around the edges of the pastry with a little cold water. 
Now roll out the remaining pastry so that it measures about 30cm x 22cm (12" x 9").  Carefully lay it over the top of the chestnut mixture,  easing it around the sides with your hands.

Press the pastry down lightly at the edges to seal and gently soften the top to make a more rounded shape.   Trim the edges of the pastry to leave a border of about 1". 

Roll out some of the trimmings and cut into decorative shapes or use a leaf cutter if you like.  You can make leaf markings too if you like.

Stick them on top of the pastry with water.  
Using a sharp knife, decorate the edges.
Make a few small steam holes with a knife and brush lightly all over with cold water.

Bake in a pre-heated oven for 8 minutes at 220C/425F/gas 7, then reduce the temperature to 200C/400F/gas 6 and bake for a further 30 to 40 minutes until the pastry is golden, crisp and flaky.  

Tip:  The recipe serves four hungry people or can stretch to six. If you're catering for more, just double up the ingredients, put the chestnut mixture into two loaf tins, roll the extra pastry to twice the length and place the mixture lengthwise down the middle.

Mushroom Gravy

2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 stick of celery. finely chopped
125g (4 oz) mushrooms, wiped and chopped
2 level tbsp plain flour
600ml (1 pint) stock
1 tsp fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp soy sauce
freshly ground pepper

Heat the oil in a saucepan and fry the onion and celery over a medium heat for about 5 minutes. Then add the crushed garlic and chopped mushrooms and cook for a further 5 mnutes, stirring regularly.

Turn down the heat and add the flour. Cook gently until the flour starts to brown, about 5 minutes, then gradualy add the stock, bay leaf, thyme and soy sauce.

Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Season with freshly ground black pepper. 

Remove the bay leaf before serving.  If you want a smooth gravy, use a hand-blender to whizz till smooth but personally I like it with bits in!

My Mum's Cranberry Sauce

250g cranberries
300ml water
250g sugar
2 tbsp Port

Put the cranberries in a medium sized pan with the water. 

Bring to the boil and simmer for about 10 minutes until the berries have burst.  Add the sugar and cook for a few more minutes, stirring until it has all dissolved.


Remove from the heat and add the port.


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