A Recipe: Vegetarian Sausage and Cannellini Bean Casserole…

Note: This is a provisional recipe, to be made tomorrow or Monday, depending on how well I am. I’m confident in it, though, and any changes will be minor. I’ve spoon-rated it, as I’ve already made the meaty version of it.

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Tomorrow, spoons permitting, there will be cooking perpetrated. My leg is healing, and I can finally stand without excruciating pain – for a little while, anyway. It still complains if I take liberties.

The week before last I made a sausage casserole using Tesco pretend Toulouse sausages. I used to regularly make the same dish a few years ago, before illness sapped my urge to cook and, ultimately, to eat at all – and we know how that turned out** – but using Sainsbury’s Toulouse sausages, which were excellent. Tesco’s were, then, something of a leap of faith.

Er, no I didn’t – my mind’s going. Tesco don’t do Toulouse-style sausages – they were Sainsbury’s that had been in my freezer for a few weeks. For some reason – perhaps Toulouse sausages now have protected status – Sainsbury’s now call theirs Toulouse Inspired Sausages. Not as good as they used to be, either.

**For those who don’t know, I almost starved to death, and spent 7 weeks in hospital as a result. Nine months, almost to the day, since I got out of hospital, I still haven’t fully recovered.

I fry the sausages, not to cook them, but just enough to set them so they’re firm and not floppy, and Toulouse sos, which contain red wine, always leak a little liquid. These leaked a vast amount of beige gunge which, as soon as it hit the hot oil, congealed into beige lumps. God knows what it was, but there was way too much of it and the sausages were visibly depleted.

Still, I was committed, and went ahead with the recipe anyway. A day or two later, eating a portion (very good it was, too despite my initial reservations about the sausages), I occurred to me that I could make a good vegetarian version using Quorn Cumberland sausages.

During my veggie years, I found that Quorn sausages were much better poached than fried or grilled which, in the recipe that follows, enabled me to omit the frying stage and just plonk them into the vegetable-laden stock, with a splash of sherry and a little cherry brandy – the closest I can get to red wine.

Creating a vegetable stock – I was a veggie for over 20 years but got bored –   that doesn’t taste like every other vegetable stock is always a challenge. The booze will help here, as will a healthy dose of fresh  rosemary, which goes well with the relatively bland Quorn. In addition to Kallo organic vegetable stock cubes, I also have a selection of Bisto vegetarian gravy granules – Caramelised Onion, Roasted Winter Vegetable, and ordinary Vegetable Gravy, plus Marmite, soy sauce, Tamari, Marigold Bouillon Powder, Mushroom Ketchup, and tomato, of course, as well as HP and HP Fruity sauces, along with a cupboard stuffed with herbs and spices, all in prime condition (the turnover is fast), with orange and lemon peel in the freezer and fresh rosemary frozen in olive oil, to protect it.

If I can’t cobble up something tasty and, above all, different, from that lot, then I’m not really trying hard enough and, frankly, cooking always gets my best shot (cooking is like sex – if you’re going to do it, commit to being the best you possibly can, or don’t bother!).

A tip: If you use Bisto granules in stock, don’t add flour first, or they won’t mix in. Don’t season, either, for obvious reasons.

The granules tend to go lumpy no matter what you do, so the best thing to do is not add them directly but remove a portion of the stock, put it in a small pan over a low heat, and whisk in whatever granules you’re using, then pass through a sieve back into the casserole and stir it in gently but thoroughly. Wash the sieve immediately, or at least drop it in a bowl of hot water, or you will regret it later. Trust me on this!

When I make this with Toulouse-style sausages I use a dozen (2 packs), which gives me four meals. Quorn sausages, though, are smaller, so I’ve bought three packs (18 sos), which will be sliced once cooked through, and returned to the pot. Again, 4 meals should result, more if served with spuds,  but the intention is that a bowlful is a meal in itself and needs no additions beyond, perhaps, a hunk of good bread which, with the beans, will ramp up the protein content.

By the way, if you’re a new veggie, forget all the faddy books, and get yourself a copy of France Moore Lappé’s Diet for a Small Planet and learn the basics from the ground up. It’s as relevant today as it ever was. Older versions will tell you that you must eat grains and pulses in the same meal to get a proper protein balance. This was untrue and Lappé eventually recanted. Basically, just shovel in whatever combination you like, your body will shuffle the amino acids into complete proteins as long as your give it the material to work with. It still needs grains and pulses, they just don’t have to be in the same meal. And yes, grains and pulses might be sniffily dismissed as wholefood vegetarianism, but it’s still the easiest route to good protein nutrition. Cheap, too.

So, then, on to the recipe:-

3 packs of Quorn Cumberland Sausages (maybe one day they’ll do a Toulouse flavour – no reason why not)

3 centimetre-thick slices from half a celeriac, trimmed and diced (which is how they’re normally sold, shrink-wrapped in halves) See note below.

4 or 5 good carrots, Sweet Spear (Sainsbury’s), for preference, topped and tailed, peeled and sliced. Sweet Spear are quite skinny, if using fatter carrots, use fewer, 3 perhaps.

3 Echalion shallots, widely available now, but best are from Sainsbury’s, chopped

2 strong cooking onions, ditto (or add 2 more shallots)

A splash of sherry, dry or sweet, whatever you have, about 30ml

The same of cherry brandy. Omit both if you don’t have them.

2 Kallo organic veg stock cubes

A knob of clarified butter if you have it, ordinary butter if not (see note below)

A splash of e-v olive oil (some say don’t cook with extra virgin olive oil – I disagree)

A generous stalk of rosemary, or 2 less so, leaves stripped and finely chopped  (you might read some horror stories about rosemary (I blame Elizabeth David, who seemed positively afraid of it), ignore them all!

1 tablespoon Mushroom Ketchup (good but optional)

1 tablespoon soy sauce. You won’t taste it, but it will add depth to the flavour

1 scant tablespoon HP Sauce (trust me!)

About 15 smallish Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved or quartered, depending on size, lengthways through the stalk so they don’t fall apart

Or, if it’s summer (they’re rubbish in winter), 2 pak choi, the white thickly sliced and well washed, the green leaves shredded.

1 level tablespoon Bisto Roasted Winter Vegetable Gravy Granules, prepared as above

3 cans of Napolina Cannellini beans, drained and rinsed – not cheap, but the best in my view

Black pepper and Maldon Sea Salt (for preference, but any sea salt is infinitely better than table salt)

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A note about celeriac:

The outside needs trimming quite thickly, as you’ll see. The brown marks throughout it are perfectly normal, just as they are in aubergines, and can be ignored. Indeed, if you tried to cut them out, there’d be nothing left! Cut surfaces will turn brown quickly. When storing the root in the fridge, wrap the cut surfaces in kitchen towel soaked in cider or wine vinegar, and tightly wrap it in a plastic bag, to minimise browning.

If you can’t get celeriac, use 2 or 3 stalks of celery, chopped, but be sure to de-string it, for which a potato peeler is by far the best tool.

A note about clarified butter:

Butter contains milk solids, which can burn and ruin a dish. Anchor butter contains rather a lot of actual milk, which tends to splatter when hot, and burn. Clarifying butter removes everything but the fat content, which fries cleanly without burning or spitting. The olive oil helps prevents unclarified butter  from burning and adds flavour; I put it in with clarified butter purely for the flavour.

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Method:

Pretty simple, actually, as most of the work is in the prep – that’s usually what does for me!

Defrost the sausages the day before, then bring up to room temperature on the day. Do not forget!

Heat the butter and oil, and gently sweat the shallots, onions, and celeriac, until the alliums are soft and golden, add the Kallo cubes, dissolved in a little hot water, plus everything down to and including the HP Sauce, cover with boiling water, stir well, bring back to the boil, cover, reduce the heat and simmer gently until the carrots are almost soft BUT, after 15 minutes remove the Quorn sausages to a plate, cover with clingfilm, and set aside.

At some point while the veg are cooking, slice the sausages up, a little thicker than a pound coin, or to your taste. Re-cover.

When the carrots are softening but are still a little firm, add the sprouts or pak choi, bring back to the simmer, and cook until tender (the pak choi always takes longer than you expect). By then, the carrots will be cooked too.

Prepare the Bisto granules as directed, and stir into the pot.

Return the sliced sausages to the pot, add the beans, add enough boiling water to the stock to just cover everything (that’s why I haven’t had you taste the stock – it would have seemed far too strong until now), and stir gently with a wooden spoon to avoid breaking up the sausage slices or the beans (I prefer a rice paddle – see spoon symbol).

When both beans and sos are heated through, remove from the heat, cool, and when cold, refrigerate until the next day, giving the flavours time to snuggle up in the dark, and get to know each other really well.

Reheat gently the next day and adjust the seasoning as necessary.

I use Schwartz  black pepper – purists will scream Blasphemy! but I can discern no difference between that and freshly ground (I was using a pepper mill decades before they became trendy), and I believe the average person can’t either, they just get sucked into the snobbery of freshly ground pepper.

Serve in bowls as a complete meal. Add a hunk of good bread too, if you like (boosts the protein content).

Enjoy!

And remember – this is still provisional, so if you like it, do check back in a day or two, no longer. The reason for this is that I cook entirely by instinct, always have, even as a kid, and normally measure nothing – if it looks/feels right, it is right. I only measure when, as now, I have to write it up and, you know, it takes some of the pleasure out of it

3 spoons – doable with rest breaks.

spoonie spoon spoonie spoon spoonie spoon

This is the rice paddle I mentioned – a far more ergonomic shape than a wooden spoon, and better for, er, spoonies and those with dodgy hands, like me.

And I have to stress for the snoops, I CANNOT do this every day – if I can cook once a week I’m doing well. I mostly live on stuff like this, where one session provides multiple meals for little more effort than making one meal.

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