Nut Loaf. Trust Me.
Unless you're a real live hippie from the 1960s or you're British (in which case you might call this a nut roast), you may not be familiar with nut loaf.
Don't let that scare you away. You guys, this is really good food. And it's a great vegetarian main dish option for the holidays.
Yesterday evening at 5:23 we were slipping pungent, silky pieces of Taleggio onto a few crackers for a snack and settling in to start our homework. Then, in a surge, the lights went out, and everything that beeps was beeping. We heard a noise so loud that I'm convinced I saw it. And the telephone pole with the transformer across the street had burst into flame.
In the time it took me to eye the wires connecting the pole to our daughters' bedroom and think, "Huh...that's prolly not great," the town managed to deploy four emergency vehicles. They arrived almost before it happened. I have a bit of a complicated relationship with our little town, but one thing I know for sure is that we are incredibly lucky to have our stellar emergency response teams. While we slept under extra layers in a dark and chilly house, a throng of police, firefighters and folks from the power company worked through the night in driving rain to put up a brand new telephone pole. I have no idea what they did -- which may be obvious from the way I'm calling the thing a damn telephone pole -- but it brought our utilities back before we finished breakfast. And with 30 minutes to spare before the kids started walking to school, they cleared away all the chaos and left us once again in Pleasantville, fumbling with our awkward, bulky gratitude.
Let me just diffuse the tension by putting it out there: Thank you to all of you good-crazy people the world over who move in the direction of danger as the rest of us advise our kids to hang out in the back half of the house. We notice you. You never cease to amaze us, and you never will.
We all do what we can. And while you make the world safer, sometimes I make nut loaf while contemplating whether I somehow caused this fire by doing one too many loads of laundry. I think we can all agree that neither nut loaf nor misplaced self-doubt is as important as public safety. And yet at least one of those things is kinda major. (Psst...it's the nut loaf.) Have you tried it? You should.
What is nut loaf?
Nut loaf -- somewhat more appealingly called nut roast by Brits -- has as many variations as there are aging hippie home cooks and those of us who admire them. With eggs and cheese aplenty, this version falls squarely into the comfort food/special occasion side of the long and winding spectrum of nut loaf recipes. That's why I was going to post it last week for Easter. But I was busy and a little unpleasant to be around, and you and your comfort food don't deserve to be treated that way.
How to serve nut loaf
Serve this umami-rich loaf of love with simple mashed potatoes, The Best Vegetarian Gravy, and an old-school vegetable like a tangle of springy green beans. Maybe watch an episode of Mad Men afterwards, or go thank a public servant. Like a jumble of mushrooms and nuts, herbs and cheeses, it'll all come together beautifully in the end.
- 1 yellow onion, diced small
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt, divided
- 1 pound cremini mushrooms, minced*
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 1 teaspoon dried tarragon
- 1 teaspoon dried sage
- 1/4 cup dry red wine
- 2 cups cooked brown rice
- 2 cups walnuts, minced*
- 1 cup cashews, minced*
- 5 large free-range eggs
- 1 cup cottage cheese
- 6 ounces smoked gouda, shredded
- 4 ounces fontina, shredded
- 2 ounces Parmesan, grated (generous 1/2 cup)
- 1/4 cup minced flat-leaf parsley
- A few good grinds black pepper
- Preheat oven to 350°F with a rack in the center. Spray a 9- or 10-inch loaf pan with cooking spray and line with parchment that overhangs slightly on two sides.
- Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and a sprinkle of the salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the minced mushrooms and another sprinkle of the salt, raise heat to high, and cook until they have released their juices and reabsorbed them, about 7 minutes. Add garlic, thyme, oregano, basil, tarragon and sage and cook 2 minutes more. Deglaze the pan with the wine, scraping up any browned bits, and cook until liquid is absorbed, about 1 minute.
- In a medium mixing bowl, beat together the eggs and cottage cheese.
- In a large mixing bowl, toss together the brown rice, walnuts and cashews. Stir in the egg mixture, then add the mushroom mixture, cheeses, parsley, remaining salt and pepper. Mix well.
- Spoon mixture into loaf pan and smooth top. If desired, decorate with a few mushroom slices or walnut halves. Place loaf pan on a rimmed baking sheet.
- Bake until firm, about 60 minutes. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes before removing to a platter to serve.