I was determined not to make a wellington for this year’s Christmas recipe. The main reason for this was that I wanted the dish to be gluten-free. I know you can get a gluten-free puff pastry, but it is heavier and doesn’t rise as well as the regular kind. I also wanted something that would come out like a roast and have a real seasonal flavour. I came up with this dish with those things in mind. This is a very hearty, gluten-free main course that has so much of a taste of Christmas that my family and I got the full sense of the festive season while we were eating it. The recipe calls for fresh, unshelled chestnuts, but you can go ahead and use pre-cooked ones if you prefer. Make sure, when you serve it, that each guest gets some of the orange topping. The flavour is incredible.
Prep time: Up to 1 hour. Cooking time: about 3 ½ hours
For the Fruit and Nut Roast:
850g chestnuts (weight while still in their shell)
2 tbsp oil, plus extra for greasing
100g vegetable suet
150g pecan nuts
140g chopped, dried apricots
75g dried cranberries
3-4 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and bashed with the flat of a knife
1 red onion, peeled and roughly chopped
150g buckwheat flour
100g gram (chickpea) flour
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
100ml cold water
½ tsp salt
Large pinch black pepper
For the Filling:
2 medium pears, peeled and sliced
3-4 chestnut mushrooms, sliced
8 cherry tomatoes, halved
30g dried cranberries
Handful of whole pecans
75g redcurrant jelly
Salt and pepper to taste
For the Topping:
2 tbsp oil
1 large orange, cut into thin slices
2 tbsp brown sugar
50ml cold water
1 heaped tbsp marmalade
First you need to cook the chestnuts. Preheat the oven to gas 6/200C/400F and, using a small serrated knife, cut a cross into the top of each chestnut. Be careful here as it is so easy to slip and cut yourself.
When all the chestnuts are crossed, put them onto a baking tray and pour over the two tablespoons of oil. Mix the chestnuts so that the oil covers all of them, then roast in the oven for 35-45 minutes, until the shells are crisp and the nut inside is tender. Remove from the oven and allow the chestnuts to cool enough to be able to handle them easily.
If the nuts peel easily then remove the shell from each one and put the flesh into a bowl. If they do not come off easily (mine didn’t) then break the shell apart and scoop the flesh out with a teaspoon (don’t worry, you are going to process it anyway).
Turn the oven down to gas 5/190C/375F.
Once all the flesh is free from the shells, discard the shells and put the flesh into a food processor. Put in the vegetable suet, pecans, apricots, cranberries, garlic and onion, and process until quite smooth. This is a large amount, so do it in batches if you need to.
Pour the processed mixture into a large mixing bowl and add both the flours. Stir it all together to fully combine, and then add the rest of the nut roast ingredients. Mix well and bring together with your hands to form a dough.
Grease a lipped baking tray with a little oil and then line it with greaseproof paper, making sure it goes up over the sides of the tray. Place the dough in the middle of the tray and roll out so that it is even and fills out all sides (I used a plastic beaker for this instead of a rolling pin).
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Once it is rolled out, line the middle of the dough with the pears, mushrooms, tomatoes, cranberries and pecans. They should form a line that stops about 3cm from the edge of the dough (see picture). Put the redcurrant jelly and marmalade together in a microwavable bowl and microwave them for about 30 seconds, until they are almost liquid. Mix them together, and them pour them over the top of the filling. Season with the salt and pepper.
Now the hard bit: bring up the left and right edges of the chestnut dough, so that they are easier to seal when you roll the whole thing. Grab the sides of the greaseproof paper closest to you and furthest away from you, and draw them together, so that the dough rolls up around the filling. Press together any parts of the dough where the filling might leak out, and then wrap the rest of the paper around it. Take another sheet of greaseproof paper and place that op top of the rolled dough. Wrap that around as well, so that the dough is now covered with two sheets of greaseproof paper. Tuck any loose bits of paper in so that it is nice and tight.
Now do the same with two sheets of tin foil, wrapping the top and bottom to completely cover the roast. Get some kitchen string and tie the rolled log shape together (you might want a second person to help you with this). You should now have a tightly-wrapped, large sausage-shaped roast, tied together with string (see picture).
Take the same baking tray you rolled the dough into and fill it about one third full with cold water. Place the wrapped roast into the centre of the water and then bake in the oven for 2 hours. You might need to add a little more water towards the end to stop it from drying out.
Once the two hours is up, remove the tray and drain off the water.
Turn the oven back up to gas 6/200C/400F.
Now cut the string and carefully unwrap the roast, leaving just the bottom sheet of greaseproof paper for the roast to sit on. If the roast has split open at all (mine did just a crack), make sure this side is up during the next steps, so that the filling doesn’t leak out. Cut the excess paper off around the roast, so that it all fits in the tray, then pop it back in the oven and roast, uncovered, for another 25-30 minutes, until it has browned, but not burned.
While it is roasting, it’s time to make the topping. Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the orange slices on a medium heat for about 5 minutes, until they are just starting to brown. Add the sugar, the water and the marmalade and cook for a few more minutes, until you have a nice glaze. Allow to cool a little.
Remove the roast from the oven and arrange the orange slices on top, covering up any cracks that might have formed, then spoon over the rest of the glaze. Put it back in the oven for an additional 15 minutes or so, until you have a nice caramelised top. Allow to test for 10-15 minutes before cutting into slices and serving.