stuffed

The Pantry Kitchen’s ‘Weeknight Challenge’ yields stuffed squash recipes and many unexpected gems

The goal with the first challenge of Season 2 of the Pantry Kitchen Challenge was to get everyone in an autumnal mood, and to introduce the new “wild card” rule designed to throw a different wrinkle into each round. Wellll …. perhaps we should have been more specific?

Round 1 was “The Weeknight Challenge” with a 30-minute prep time limit, and squash, apples, nutmeg and soda as the ingredients. We didn’t foresee that folks would interpret the 30-minute limit in two different ways: 30 minutes to prep the dish and get it ready for cooking or 30 minutes from prep to plating.

Oops.

So to be fair, we selected the top three finishers in both categories. (And props to those of you who saw “30-minute prep” and decided this meant 30 minutes total!) You hustled and came up with some pretty impressive stuff. This challenge garnered 45 entries! Many of you saw the ingredients list and thought stuffed squash or butternut squash soup. So bonus points for those who went above and beyond those two staples.

In the “30-minutes from prep to plating” category, Paul Shapiro wins for butternutchos, turning butternut squash into tortilla chips for a unique plate of nachos. Runners-up: Darci Rogojin, whose autumn doughnut holes with nutmeg cream soda icing looked delectable, and Beth Cavalli, who combined Western ingredients with Mexican and Asian flavors — tamarind soda! — to create a tamarind stir-fry!

In the “30-minutes prep, then cook to your heart’s content” category, the mother-daughter tandem of Joan and Keri Segna wowed us with this gorgeous stuffed pumpkin dinner called Filled with Goodness. Runners-up: Thomas Finnegan transformed the ingredients into an interesting chicken curry with squash and apples, while Jeff Abrams also stuffed a pumpkin in spectacular fashion to produce pumpkin and apple English

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A stuffed portobello recipe only food writer Nigel Slater could design

Overview

Nigel Slater is a food writer’s food writer. The prolific British author’s famously brief recipe introductions read like haikus: “Roasted pumpkin. Smooth, silky mash.” “Autumn mushrooms, ribbons of pasta, a breath of aniseed.” “Crisp pastry. Warm banana. The scent of maple syrup.” They remind me of Ruth Reichl’s much-satirized tweets.

He’s a cook’s cook, too, long advocating a seasonal, breezy approach in the kitchen that has endeared him to readers for decades. In Slater’s hands, few recipes seem daunting — and so many seem enticing.

Slater’s latest book is “Greenfeast: Autumn, Winter,” a celebration of simple vegetarian cooking for colder weather — or, as he writes so beautifully, when “our appetite is pricked by the sudden drop in temperature.” This time of year, “more food will come to the table in deep casseroles and pie dishes,” he writes. “I dig out my capacious ladle for a creamed celery root soup as soft as velvet. The temperature of the plates and bowls will change. We want to hold things that warm our hands, a sign of the happiness to come.”

I’ve stuffed plenty of portobello mushrooms in my time and wasn’t necessarily looking for another such recipe, but Slater’s drew me in anyhow. It’s not complicated: You mash chickpeas into a garlicky, lemony, hummus-esque paste, spread it on two upturned mushroom caps, press in more whole chickpeas (and a sprinkling of black and white sesame seeds) and bake. The puree turns silky, and the mushrooms get pleasantly tender, while staying steak-like enough that you need a knife and fork.

The chickpeas fit neatly inside, making this quite possibly the only stuffed portobello mushroom dish I’ve ever had, let alone made, that I’d classify

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