Wednesday, December 28, 2005

What Do You Have for Christmas?

The title of this entry will be, I dare say, familiar to all veggies.

If I'm feeling a bit mischievous, then I'll answer "Anything I like. What about you, stuck with the same old turkey again?" I always like to point out that, as a vegetarian, in the run up to Christmas I'll have several different menus at the various Christmas ' do's' that one gets invited to, while most meat-eaters will have had the same dish of roast turkey et al several times by the time that they sit down at the table on Christmas day to the same dish, once again.

Don't get me wrong, I love all the other accoutrements of Chrimble-din - roast potatoes, sprouts, stuffing etc - so I do tend to try and find something that will go with the aforementioned vegetables. Eating a lasagne or mushroom stroganoff just doesn't appeal to me.

I tend to shy away from a standard nut roast or a manufactured meat substitute like a Quorn roast, probably because I see that as the easy option.

Last year I made Delia's parsnip roulade, the year before was chestnut bourgignon pie I believe. Before that, my memory is a blur.

For my first veggie Christmas, sometime in the mid 90's, I made a stuffed meatless loaf using the recipe from Linda McCartney's Home Cooking book. This year, I decided to revisit it. It's easy to make - it's just a mixture of several types of soya based meat substitutes mixed up and baked. It's a bit time consuming as you have to start cooking it the night before, then stuff it and finish cooking it the next day.

But it's very tasty, and goes well with gravy and vegetables. It is also very nice cold with pickles and bubble & squeak ( a Boxing Day tradition in my family) and if there's still some left over, you can chop it up and throw it in a curry. A true Christmas turkey substitute if I ever saw one!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Carluccio's Caffe, London

Carluccio's Caffe
8 Market Place,
London W1W 8AG

Tel: 020 7636 2228

Carluccio's Caffes are my favourite chain of restaurants. I've been to a few different ones now, and there are always plenty of vegetarian options on the menu and they are really tasty.

On Sunday, we braved the crowds to go Christmas shopping in Oxford Street. Market Square is just around the back of Selfridges, so when I found out there was a Carluccio's there it made the choice of lunch a no-brainer.

The restaurant itself is on two floors, one of which is a basement. We sat in the basement part so it didn't feel quite so airy as the other Caffes I've been to. That aside, the service was good and the food as tasty as ever.

On their Autumn/Winter menu there are seven meat-free main courses, which is pretty good for any restaurant that doesn't specialise in non meat dishes. Many of the dishes were on previous menus (Penne Giardiniera - penne with courgette, chilli and deep fried spinach balls is a special favourite of mine) but today I fancied something warming and filling.

I ordered a Pasta e Fagioli soup (thick soup of pasta, creamy borlotti beans and vegetables
drizzled with extra virgin olive oil
) followed by Lasagnetta con Porcini (a vegetarian baked lasagna with layers of porcini mushrooms and b├ęchamel sauce.)

To be honest, the soup would've been enough for me - it came in a fairly large bowl, so there was plenty of it and it was accompanied by a huge 'slab' of gourgeous bread. The soup itself was thick, full of beans, tasty and very filling.

My eyes always seem to automatically skip over any lasagne dish on a menu - I guess that's just too many veggie lasagnes when I first turned vegetarian - so I was particularly pleased that I'd picked this one.

The dish wasn't huge - which given the soup was just as well in these circumstances - but it wasn't small either. Layers of mushrooms, which looked like a mix of porcini and chestnut, covered in white sauce and cheese were interspersed between pasta sheets. It tasted great. Had I made it, I would probably have added a tomato sauce in an effort to be 'traditional' but this would have spoiled it. The cheese and white sauce were enough to give substance to the lasagne without taking away for the flavour of the mushrooms.

While we were there, people were finishing off the last of the items on the Breakfast Menu. I think that an early morning visit to one of Carluccio's Caffes might not be far away.