Growing up, this was the great debate in the kitchen around Thanksgiving. Are we making “stuffing” or are we making “dressing”? It’s not really a nail biter when compared to other great culinary debates, but it was always brought up in jest and great fun. These types of American regional culinary discussions become more of a topic for discussion when you run into “transplants”, which is what my parents who were brought up in Michigan and Pennsylvania then settling in East Tennessee were. In the North the dish is referred to as “stuffing” in the South, dressing, traditionally a cornbread based dressing. My whole life I’ve referred to the carbohydrate rich, coma inducing, bready goodness as “stuffing”; primarily, due to the fact we shove it into the cavity of the turkey to be cooked. Oh my heavens, my mouth is watering just thinking about it. When all those yummy turkey juices bake into the bread, making it so flavorful and moist…it’s just drool inducing. My favorite way to eat a forkful of stuffing is with a little piece of dark meat, a little bit of gravy, and dipped into cranberry orange relish. I’m pretty sure if Heaven had a flavor, it would be this.
A couple tips for any stuffing, you don’t need to bake it before you put it in the bird, in fact putting warm stuffing into a cold bird can breed bacteria. Since there are bits of my stuffing (pork) I cook I usually put the stuffing together on Wednesday and allow it to cool completely in the fridge. On Thanksgiving, I stuff the turkey, then bake it immediately. When stuffing the bird, do not overpack it, you want it stuffed not crammed to allow for even baking and juices to permeate the bread. Needless to say, all your stuffing will not fit in your bird, so using a casserole dish to bake the remaining stuffing is completely appropriate and it creates some yummy crusty bits, which some of your guests are sure to love. My go-to stuffing recipe I discovered some 8 years ago from Giada de Laurentiis. A few reasons I love this recipe is that it is savory, there are no fruits added; it has a wonderful balance of traditional flavors; there’s the added richness of parmesan cheese with the added texture bonus of chestnuts (not water chestnuts). If chestnuts are not your jam or you have allergies you can omit them entirely and your stuffing will still turn out soooo yummy. In her recipe, Giada bakes the stuffing in a casserole dish, but I take about 1/3 of it and put it in the bird. I also have a tendency to make a larger batch as my loaf of bread tends to be large and I add in more pancetta or sometimes sausage. If my stuffing looks a little dry I’ll add in some extra broth. It’s very easy to substitute in her recipe as well. Whether you prefer bacon to pancetta, thyme to rosemary, Italian bread to ciabatta you really can’t go wrong. For an online version of her recipe you can visit this link to the Food Network: https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/giada-de-laurentiis/ciabatta-stuffing-with-chestnuts-and-pancetta-recipe-1943378
Ciabatta Stuffing with Chestnuts and Pancetta, Giada de Laurentiis Level: Easy Total: 1 hr 30 min Prep: 20 min Cook: 1 hr 10 min Yield: 8 to 10 servings
Ingredients: 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter 8 ounces pancetta, cut into 1/4-inch dice 2 large onions, finely chopped 2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped 3 celery stalks, finely chopped 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves 3 garlic cloves, chopped 2 (7.4-ounce) jars roasted peeled whole chestnuts, coarsely broken 1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves 1 pound day-old ciabatta bread, cut into 3/4-inch cubes 2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan 1 cup (or more) canned low-salt chicken broth Salt and freshly ground black pepper 2 large eggs, beaten to blend
Directions: 1 Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. 2 Butter a 15 by 10 by 2-inch glass baking dish. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add the pancetta and saute until crisp and golden, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pancetta to a large bowl. Melt the remaining butter in the same skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions, carrots, celery, rosemary, and garlic. Saute until the onions are very tender, about 12 minutes. Gently stir in the chestnuts and parsley. Transfer the onion mixture to the large bowl with the pancetta. Add the bread and Parmesan and toss to coat. Add enough broth to the stuffing mixture to moisten. Season the stuffing, to taste, with salt and pepper. Mix in the eggs. 3 Transfer the stuffing to the prepared dish. Cover with buttered foil, buttered side down, and bake until the stuffing is heated through, about 30 minutes. Uncover and continue baking until the top is crisp and golden, about 15 minutes longer.
Wishing you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving! May your table, your home and your hearts be blessed with an abundance of love and gratitude this season.