Spinach, Mushroom and Tomato Tarts

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I have been lucky enough to have been challenged by Waitrose to concoct a vegetarian alternative to eat at Christmas lunch. They recently conducted a survey of vegetarians and found that Christmas is a particularly difficult time for those who don’t eat meat. Most vegetarians seemed to have a nightmare story of being served meat or a really substandard token replacement. I can certainly relate. As a vegetarian I feel most people presume that I just don’t like food very much, (this is particularly evident at Christmas time) and therefore would not be bothered if I’m served some ready-meal whilst everyone is tucking into a feast. The resounding reply to the survey was to ask the vegetarian what they’d like to eat. It’s obvious isn’t it? I say: the vegetarian does matter, they’re not doing it just to make your life difficult! [full results of survey at the bottom of this post]

As a result of the findings of the survey, Waitrose has picked 6 vegetarian bloggers to come up with suitable Christmas alternatives (all from the top 6 vegetarian Christmas meals) to be featured on their Christmas website. My assignment was spinach pie, and I have to say it’s been a big challenge for me. Cooked spinach is a tricky thing to make ‘special’, and since my blog is primarily dairy-free I felt that I had to come up with a recipe which didn’t contain cheese, but could have it added for anyone who wanted. I gave this a LOT of thought and tested quite a few flavour combos. I hope the final dish hits the spot – it’s a festive red and green, in elegant puff pastry, quite earthy from the spinach and mushrooms, but garlicky and contrasted with sweet and tangy slow-roast tomatoes, with an extra pine nut crunch. I’d enjoy it on Christmas day, and I’m someone who isn’t normally a fan of cooked spinach.

Should you/your guest eat cheese then these tarts are the perfect vehicle for using up some of your festive cheeses – I tested with both gruyère and feta, both delicious (although the gruyère  my particular favourite). But I also reckon some stilton or cheddar would work perfectly too. I hope it has also fulfilled a lot of other requirements of the ‘vegetarian alternative’ at Christmas – easily adapted to one large tart, or individual ones for the sole veggie guest, easily prepared in advance and reheated when required and also equally fitting for Christmas day, Boxing day or a drinks party.

Spinach, Mushroom and Tomato Tarts (dairy-free [if no cheese], egg-free, peanut-free, nut-free [if use sunflower seeds rather than pine nuts], sesame-free, soya-free, vegetarian and can be vegan)

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serves 4

  • 1 pack of puff-pastry [i use Jus-Rol non-butter version as it’s dairy-free]
  • 1 tbsp milk [i use oat milk to make the dish dairy-free]

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For the slow roast tomatoes: [or use Waitrose semi-dried tomatoes from the olive counter]

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  • 1/2 pack of cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2 tsp icing sugar
  • 1/2 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper

– Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Centigrade/Gas Mark 6

– Slice the tomatoes in half, drizzle with oil and sprinkle with icing sugar and seasoning.

– Roast for 30 minutes until starting to shrivel. Sprinkle with the vinegar and return to the oven for a further 5-10 minutes. Set aside.

For the wilted spinach:

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  • 200g fresh spinach
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • grind/grating of nutmeg
  • 1 dried chilli [optional]

– Thoroughly wash and devein the spinach, let some water drop remain clinging to the leaves

– Heat the oil and garlic in a lidded pan until fragrant. Add the spinach, toss and then cover with a lid.

– After a minute or two add the seasoning and nutmeg, toss again and replace the lid. About one minute later the spinach should be wilted.

– Remove from the pan and let cool.

– Once cool, squeeze out as much water as possible and roughly chop.

For the mushrooms:

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  • 100g small button mushrooms
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • sprinkle of herbs de provence [optional]
  • salt and pepper

– Heat the oil in a frying pan, add the mushrooms. Once they are starting to colour add the other ingredients and cook until golden

For the pine nuts:

  • 1 handful pine nuts

– Toast until golden and then set aside.

To assemble:

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– Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Centigrade/Gas Mark 6

– Roll out the pastry and cut out 4 even shapes, i like making squares with an edge, but circles would be pretty too.

– Layer on some spinach, top with a few pine nuts, then the mushrooms and finally some slow roast tomatoes.

– If using cheese, scatter on some small cubes of favoured cheese.

– Bake for 20-30 minutes until the pastry has risen and is golden.

– Serve with traditional Christmas lunch vegetables or a crispy salad.

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Waitrose Survey Results:

  • 1 in 5 vegetarians have thoughtlessly been served meat on Christmas day
  • Over a quarter (28%) of vegetarians questioned had never been asked what they would like to eat on Christmas day
  • 1 in 4 (25%) veggies prefer to cook for themselves at Christmas to ensure all the elements of the meal are vegetarian
  • 37% of vegetarians voted a meat substitute such as Quorn as their ‘usual’ Christmas dinner option
  • The traditional nut roast was voted the top vegetarian Christmas dinner
  • The ‘usual’ suspects Vegetarians opt for at Christmas include – ‘A meat substitute such as Quorn’ (37%), Nut Roast (26%), A vegetable pie/pastry dish (23%) and stuffed butternut squash (7%)
  • Over a 1 in 3 (36%) vegetarians questioned said they would like shops and restaurants to be more creative with their vegetarian offering at Christmas time
  • Just under a third (30%) of vegetarians said that shops and restaurants don’t sufficiently cater for vegetarians at Christmas
  • Just under a quarter of vegetarians (22%) cook for themselves at Christmas so they can make something creative for their Christmas dinner
  • When asked what advice vegetarians would give people cooking Christmas dinner for a vegetarian this year, the most popular answer was – Always ask your vegetarian guest what they would like to eat!

Other answers included;

–          Be aware not to use goose fat to roast potatoes

–          Don’t use the meat juices to make the gravy and if you do, serve a gravy suitable for veggies too

–          Be creative with what you serve

–          If in doubt make sure you serve extra vegetables on the day

  • When asked to recall their worst Christmas dinner experiences, the following were common answers

–          When at a Christmas do, being served their meal much later than the meat eaters. One participant was even given their meal while everyone around them ate their dessert!

–          Being served meat

–          Only being served soggy, undercooked, burnt or plain boiled vegetables

–          When the hosts make the gravy with the turkey giblets or meat juices and/or, use goose fat to roast the potatoes meaning they have to go without

–          Having to make do with sandwiches, pizza or an omelette

Dairy, egg, sesame and nut free products

One of the real challenges of catering for allergies is finding suitable ready made products in the supermarket without spending hours walking up and down aisles, reading virtually every label. Here I’ll make a list of all the suitable products I have found (and where to buy them) and also brands/types to avoid. This will be a constantly evolving list – please be patient!

Breads

Bread is rather difficult if you are sesame allergic – it will never be possible to buy from in-store bakeries as the risk of cross-contamination will be too risky. It also rules out most bagels, pittas and burger buns.

Milk is likely to be present in many soft rolls, and egg is often used as a glaze. These are some of the safe brands…

Biscuits

It seems that the cheaper the brand of biscuit, the more likely it’ll be dairy-free. I guess the butter/milk add considerably to the cost of production.

Crackers
Crackers that are free from dairy, egg and sesame are particularly difficult to locate.

Crisps

Bread Sticks
  • Tesco own brand are the only ones free from traces of sesame that i have found

Popping Corn

  • Marks and Spencer stocks the only type I’ve found that doesn’t contain traces of sesame or nuts
Breakfast Cereals
The main problem with cereals is the risk of ‘traces of nuts’, but milk can also be present so do be sure to read the ingredient list. I’ve found that Kellogg’s is better than Nestle – in my experience you might as well not even bother checking Nestle cereals and just stear clear! The following are all ‘safe’….

Chocolate

‘Creams’

  • Granovita – Soya whipping cream (Available from Tesco)
  • Soyatoo – squirty rice/soya cream (available from Vegan Store)
  • Alpro soya (widely available)

‘Butters’/Spreads

Be careful as most margarine contains milk!

‘Ice creams’/frozen desserts 

Non-vegetarian convenience/frozen foods

Sauces

Hot chocolate and cocoa twirls

Children seem to love hot chocolate and it obviously needs no recipe – anyone can make their own delicious version with no instruction. But you do have to be wary of the ingredients if you are dairy allergic. Most drinking chocolate powder contains milk, and most cocoa  ‘may contain traces of milk protein’. The only totally ‘safe’ brand I have come across is Clipper, Luxurious Organic Drinking Chocolate (available from Waitrose). This combined with Oatly oat milk (only the non-organic as it is calcium enriched) makes a fabulous ‘creamy’ and nutritious hot choc. For the full experience top with Soyatoo squirty soya/rice cream and mini marshmallows!

These cocoa twirls go exceptionally well with the hot chocolate and are inspired by The Vegan Boulangerie by Marianne and Jean-Michel

Cocoa Twirls


makes approx. 8-10

Pre-heat the oven to 220 degrees/gas mark 7

  • 1/2 a pack of puff pastry (Jus Roll basic version is dairy free)
  • 1 heaped tsp Clipper drinking choc
  • 1 heaped tsp caster sugar
  • oat milk mixed with 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

– Grease and flour a baking sheet

– Roll out the dough into an oblong

– Brush over the oat milk and evenly sprinkle on the cocoa and sugar

– Fold in half and firmly press down

– Cut into strips about 1 cm wide

– Twisting from both ends in opposite directions, make a spiral. Then place on the baking sheet.

– Bake for 10-15 mins until golden and risen.