Friday, November 21, 2014

{Recipe Redux} Sausage & Fennel Dressing for Thanksgiving

Food memories.  That is The Recipe Redux challenge for this month. 

Goodness gracious, where do I start?

When I was growing up, Mom’s homemade bread, hot out of the oven and spread with salted butter.  Or her apple pie.  Feeling very grown up eating Dad’s caviar pie at Christmas.  Granny’s sausage balls—basically a sausage and cheese biscuit. I could eat one after the other (even now). Fishing with Pappy, followed by a lesson in filleting and a fish fry.  Making Chicken Cordon Bleu for my entire high school French Club. Sitting cross-legged on the floor to eat my first sushi.  Lobster rolls eaten on the deck of a sailboat. 

More recently, a grilled egg sandwich with crispy prosciutto, melty cheese and fig jam—the first thing I ever made for my husband.      

But, it’s the beginning of the holiday season, and that makes me think of dressing, my favorite turkey side dish. When I was growing up, we would go to Granny's and Pappy’s for Thanksgiving.  Granny used to make the dressing with lots of onion, celery and sage and then pressed it thin in the pan, so it would have lots of crispy edges.  It was my favorite.  The smell of dressing baking always makes me feel like a kid.  

I’ve kept Granny's general formula but added sausage and fennel, for lots of savory flavor.  I make my dressing with whole wheat bread, and I love the rich, toasty flavor it adds to the dressing (and the added fiber).  I think the biggest secret to a good dressing is this:  add enough liquid (like chicken broth) to completely saturate the bread crumbs, and then let it sit overnight to soak up all of that liquid.  After the turkey is done, put the dressing in the oven and bake until the edges are crispy but the center is still moist.  Everyone will be happy.

I hope you enjoy this recipe, preferably surrounded by all the people you love.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Fennel & Sausage Dressing

One loaf of whole wheat bread, cut into cubes
1 ½ pounds mild breakfast sausage, or turkey sausage
1 onion, cut into ¼-inch dice
2 celery stalks, cut into ¼-inch dice
1 fennel bulb, cored and cut into ¼-inch dice*
1 ½ teaspoons sea salt
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped (about 3 sprigs of thyme)
Pinch of red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth, preferably homemade
2 eggs
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

Place the bread cubes on a large rimmed baking sheet and toast for about 15 - 20 minutes until golden and crispy. Transfer the bread to a very large bowl and allow to cool.

Heat a large heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat.  Add the sausage and cook, breaking up the sausage with the back of a spoon, until the sausage is very brown.  Remove the sausage from the pan and place it in the bowl with the bread crumbs, leaving the fat in the pan. 

If you have a lot of excess fat, pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the pork fat.  Add the onion, celery, fennel and sea salt to the pan and cook until the onions are translucent and the vegetables are soft.  Scrape up any of the sausage that has stuck to the bottom of the pan. Scrape the vegetables into the bowl with the bread.  Add the sage, thyme, red pepper flakes and black pepper.  Stir everything together to combine.

Whisk the eggs into a little bit of the chicken stock.  Pour the eggs and all of the chicken stock over the bread mixture and toss until the bread soaks up the liquid. Scrape the mixture into the prepared baking dish and cover with foil.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Dot the top of the stuffing with the butter.  Bake for about an hour, or until it is cooked through and the edges are browned.  If it starts to brown too quickly, cover with aluminum foil. 

*Save your fennel tops! Freeze them and use them when making chicken or vegetable stock. 

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