Vegetarians claim Wellington – and vegans too, with a couple of straightforward swaps. Mushrooms, spinach, roasted celeriac and the secret trick: nori sheets to help roll up the layers.
Wellington is really just a glorified beef sandwich. Pastry instead of bread, spread with pate and filled with a whole fillet of beef. Ooof – just thinking about it makes me feel bloated.
But I should stop being a hypocrite as I love a good beef Wellington. And it’s a perfect dish to prepare for Valentine’s Day dinner! Slog all day, trying to get your beef seared perfectly, making mushroom duxelles which even sounds ridiculous, then overbaking it by a fraction of a second and bursting into tears because it’s grey and miserable instead of juicy and pink. Thank heavens for the pink champagne.
Joking aside, it is hard work. But what if your Valentine is a vegetarian? Or you are? Or both? Well, then nothing doing but create and construct a vegetarian version of the Wellington.
Be warned: it is quite a slog too. There is less stress though as overcooking celeriac isn’t in the register of chef’s demons. On the other hand it doesn’t mean you should try to get it medium rare.
I picked celeriac for the centre. There isn’t much you can do to make it taste other than like celeriac but it’s a pleasant earthy flavour. And it’s firm – and if you’re making a veggie approximation of Wellington beef, don’t turn it into a Wellington meatloaf by mincing nuts and the usual veggie suspects.
It doesn’t look like meat but then it’s not supposed to. It’s not about aesthetics but textures: firm, soft, pastry. And about flavours: sweet, umami, pastry. Didn’t you know ‘pastry’ was a flavour?
Precook the celeriac
It obviously has to be pre-cooked before going into the pastry parcel as the beast takes its time to soften. Wrap it in foil and bake for up to an hour and a half while you prepare the lovely mushroom and spinach fillings.
Fresh or frozen spinach?
It’s rather a wintry dish in my view so I’d always use frozen spinach out of season. But of course fresh spinach will make lovely filling: I’d wash it, chop it roughly and then subject to the same treatment as frozen in my recipe; it will take a fraction of the time.
As it happens, duxelles is always made from mushrooms so my heading above is a bit like ‘liquid soup’ or ‘egg white meringue’. But just writing these words makes me itch for a nouvelle approach to old duxelles: perhaps fennel duxelles? Ha! Next time for sure!
I also streamline the method: instead of finely chopping the ‘shrooms, I blitz them roughly with a stick blender when cooked.
Wrapping the celeriac Wellington
It’s easy, and you can cut it even shorter if you don’t mind the two fillings mixing a little. I wanted to keep them separate and so a couple of sheets of nori found their way into a dish which is not sushi. They work perfectly too.
But the filling, spinach or mushroom, whichever first, can be spread directly onto the pastry sheet. You can then dollop the other filling on and rest the celeriac cylinder in the middle. That makes it somewhat easier to roll tightly and to seal.
Don’t skip the chilling before baking stage though: puff pastry must go to the oven cold, otherwise it will leak butter and generally misbehave.