The food story that is virtually impossible to ignore throughout the month of November is, of course, Thanksgiving. In light of that, I thought I’d share some recipes with you that may help you get through the terrors of hosting Thanksgiving dinner. I can’t help you with the interpersonal family stuff. You’ll have to go that road alone. But I can help with the sides. As we all know, it’s all about the sides. The turkey is nothing without the window dressing around it.
Speaking of dressing: this recipe is technically a dressing, not a stuffing. It is not, in fact, stuffed into anything (except maybe a casserole dish but that’s stretching the definition I think). Although these terms are used interchangeably these days, dressing is actually the side that is baked in a dish and stuffing is the one packed into a bird’s cavity. But since dressing seems a little old fashioned, I chose to go with the more modern terminology. So there you go.
This recipe is based on the simple yet divine recipe that my own mother prepared each Thanksgiving. I’ve added a few bells and whistles (because I can’t help myself) but at its heart, this is my mom’s recipe. As a child, I knew Thanksgiving was just around the corner when the bread came out on trays to dry out. This usually happened about 3 days or so before the big day and that’s when I really started getting excited for the feast ahead. Don’t worry if you don’t remember (or have time) to complete this step, though. You can quickly dry the bread cubes in the oven at 300°F for about 10 minutes.
I’ve added brandy, figs, and sweet Italian sausage to my mother’s recipe, giving it a bit of an Italian twist. I love the mix of sweet and savory elements. The sage and thyme are classic accompanying herbs for poultry and the celery is key to the flavor so don’t skimp on it. I chose to use Italian bread but feel free to substitute another bread that you may favor. Your house will smell beautiful while this is cooking. And if there are leftovers, I dare you not to pick at them every time you open the fridge. Absolutely yum.
Serves 8 to 10
1 cup thinly sliced, stemmed dried mission figs
1/2 cup brandy
14 cups stale cubed Italian bread (from 1 large loaf )*
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 celery stalks, thinly sliced into half moons
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh sage leaves
3/4 pound sweet Italian pork sausage, meat squeezed from casings and casings discarded
2 cups chicken stock (more if your stuffing seems a little dry)
Salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste
- Preheat the oven to 375°F
- In a medium shallow bowl, combine the figs and brandy and macerate (soak) the figs for 30 minutes, or for the time it takes you to get the rest of the recipe together.
- Pour the stale bread cubes into a large bowl.
- In a large frying pan, heat the butter and oil over medium-low heat. When the butter has melted, add the onion and celery and cook, stirring, about 10 minutes, until the onion and celery have softened but not browned. Stir through the thyme and sage. Scrape the vegetables into the bowl with the bread and stir to combine and coat.
- Return the same frying pan to the stove and raise the heat to medium-high. Add the sausage and cook, stirring and breaking up the meat with a fork, until the sausage is no longer pink, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the figs and brandy and cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes, until the alcohol burns off. Scrape the sausage and figs into the bowl with the bread and stir to coat and combine.
- Pour half the stock over the bread mixture and stir to combine. Then pour the other half of the stock over the bread and stir again. Season to taste with salt and pepper, stirring so that the seasoning is evenly distributed. Depending on the bread you use, you may need a little more stock. Take a look at the stuffing mix. It should be evenly moistened but not swimming in liquid. Transfer to a 9 x 13-inch casserole dish and bake for 30 minutes, until browned on top and heated throughout.
Nutritional analysis based on 8 servings (does not include salt and pepper to taste):
Calories 350, Fat 12g, Sodium 605 mg, Carbohydrate 44g, Fiber 4g, Sugar 11g, Protein 13g