Who doesn't love a baked stuffed vegetable? It's such a versatile concept and can be really healthy too. I say "can be" because there are many stuffed vegetable recipes that use a lot of cheese. I don't have anything against cheese but with two young children it is too easy to acquiesce to their inclination for cream cheese, grilled cheese sandwiches, pizza, cheese strings, those tangy salty cheese circles in red wax etc., all the time. Yes it is high in calcium but it is also high in calories, saturated fats and potentially sodium so I try to use it with prudence and intention -- as in, with total abandon in a bubbly lasagna yaaas :) In this recipe however, I use just a wee bit of cheese for the umami factor and it is all that it needs to be delicious. This is a meatless dish and can be vegan too if you omit the cheese altogether and use vegetable broth instead. The walnut topping is super easy to put together and adds so much in terms of flavor and texture, so don't skip it! For gluten-free folks, sub in a gf crumb or, replace with more chopped walnut you will still get texture albeit a little less light and crunchy. I most frequently make this with sweet potatoes and portobello mushrooms because they are my family's favorites, and that is how I wrote this recipe. However it is also wonderful with acorn squash, baking potato, eggplant, sweet pepper, heck hot pepper even. Once you make the stuffing and walnut breadcrumb topping, you can personalize the meal by putting it into everyone's respective favorite veggie vessel, adjusting time in the oven based on it.
Stuffed Sweet Potatoes + Portobellos with Crunchy Walnut Breadcrumb Topping
For the Stuffed Sweet Potatoes + Portobello Mushrooms:
4 large sweet potatoes (or more if they are smaller, aim for just under 3lbs)
4 large portobello mushrooms (about 1 lb)
3 tbsp coconut oil or extra virgin olive oil
1/3 onion (2 oz), diced small (white, yellow, spanish or even red onion whatever you happen to have)
2 1/2 C cooked brown rice (leftover refridgerated or fresh cooked)
1 C chicken broth, homemade or store bought no/low sodium (see my recipe for homemade bone broth)
2 tbsp grated pecorino romano (can sub parmigianno reggiano)
salt & pepper to taste, depending on sodium content of your broth
For the Walnut Breadcrumb Topping:
2 heaping tbsp chopped parsley
2 tbsp chopped walnuts
2 tbsp bread crumbs (I use organic spelt crumbs but any coarse crumb works)
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1. Preheat oven to 375f.
2. Prepare your veggies. For sweet potatoes, scrub skin clean with potato brush and water. Cut lengthwise into halves. Place the sweet potato halves on a parchment lined baking sheet or oven-safe pan. Drizzle 1 tbsp of the oil all over and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Loosely cover with a piece of parchment paper and bake in the oven for about 1 hour. To test doneness, prick one with a fork - the flesh should be soft enough to scoop out but not so overly cooked that the skin has disintegrated as you want to be able to stuff them and finish them off in the oven again just before serving. Since ovens vary so much, give them a check at the 45 min mark, and use your judgment from there. For the portobellos, wipe caps clean with a damp paper towel, remove the stems (you can chop them up to include in the stuffing too) and remove the gills by scraping it gently with a metal spoon. Set the mushrooms aside.
3. Meanwhile, prepare the stuffing. Heat a pan over medium to medium-high heat, add 2 tbsp of the oil and add the chopped onions along with 1/4 tsp of salt. When cooking onions, adding the salt right away helps it caramelize which means a richer flavor. Saute until just translucent, about 3-4 minutes.
4. Add the cooked rice, using a wooden spoon to take out any lumps if it came from the fridge. Add the chicken broth and season with salt. My homemade broth is completely unsalted so I add 1/2 tsp salt. If your broth is already salted, start with less, taste and season accordingly. Let it simmer a minute or two to come together but don't evaporate all the broth, I like to keep it pretty moist almost a risotto consistency. Remove from the heat and set aside. The liquid will continue to absorb off-heat.
5. Prepare the topping by mixing the parsley, walnuts, bread crumbs, oil and salt together in a small bowl. Set aside.
6. Once the sweet potatoes are done, remove from the oven and turn it down to 350f. Gently scoop out most of the flesh with a metal spoon, being careful to leave a 1 cm edge all around and some flesh on the bottom too.
7. Add the scooped out sweet potato as well as the grated pecorino romano to the rice mixture. Mash it in to remove large lumps. Taste again and season with salt and pepper as needed.
8. Evenly divide the stuffing among the sweet potatos and portobello mushrooms and sprinkle the walnut breadcrumb mixture over the top.
9. Return to bake in the oven, uncovered, for about 20 minutes, or until everything is hot and the topping is toasty.
[Added May 2016]: I really enjoyed this same recipe stuffed into mini sweet peppers so I thought to include a picture of it. I simply swapped out 2 out of the 4 portobellos per the recipe and stuffed 6 of these baby peppers cut lengthwise into 12 halves. They go on the sheetpan baked for 20 minutes along with the stuffed portobellos. Aren't they cute?