I grew up hating stuffing. Stuffing was smooshy, mushy, soggy and disgusting, like a kleenex you find in the laundry. It used to be you served the stuffing you cooked inside the turkey, but Alton Brown has taught me that isn’t safe, thank God, because actual stuffing, cooked outside the turkey, turns out to be delicious. I’ve actually only made stuffing twice, but I’ve made savory bread puddings before, which is essentially what stuffing is. In fact, when I lived in Los Angeles, Sue and I went to a very fancy restaurant in Santa Monica called the Lobster and had one of the most expensive dinners I’ve ever paid for myself. We had a great number of fantastic things (including Sue introducing me to shots of limoncello after dinner, I’ve since made my own limoncello and now I keep some in my freezer in a mason jar – and I believe Sue had a 3 lb lobster), but I think my favorite thing was a savory bread pudding, lightly sweet, like it had cornbread in it, with some delicious melty cheese like Gruyere, and whole, fried, crispy sage leaves on top. We talked about it for days. Anyway, that bread pudding has been the inspiration (along with my mom’s traditional stuffing recipe) for all stuffings I’ve ever made, and will ever make. The apples were my idea, because I had one apple leftover from the pie I made. The pecans are my mom’s idea, they are delicious in stuffing. She also puts mushrooms in hers instead of carrots, but Dom hates mushrooms so I left them out. I’m working on him though, he’ll come around on mushrooms one of these days.
Apple and Pecan Stuffing
2 tsp bacon fat (I told you, I keep it in a jar in my fridge, and I suggest you do the same.)
1 big onion, chopped
4 ribs celery, chopped
2-3 big carrots, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 green apple, peeled and chopped
a big loaf of white peasant bread (enough to fill a 9X13 baking pan), roughly chopped or torn into more or less bite sized pieces (Alright, my mother and I part ways on this. She uses some hearty nut bread in her stuffing along with the white, and I’ve made it that way as well, and it is delicious, but the white peasant bread absorbs the liquid SO WELL, and it crisps up on top SO WELL, and so I didn’t put any wheat bread in this time. Sorry Mom.)
1 quart chicken stock
3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 1/2 tsp poultry seasoning
1/2 cup toasted, chopped pecans
salt and pepper
In a big sauce pan on medium heat, cook together the bacon fat, onion, carrot, garlic, celery and apple until softened and the onions are translucent. While those things are cooking, tear up the bread and put it in the 9×13 baking pan I mentioned, or in a big bowl. Sprinkle 3/4 tsp poultry seasoning and some salt and pepper on the veggies in the pan, and the other 3/4 tsp poultry seasoning and some more salt and pepper on the bread and mix it around. When the veggies are soft, toss the bread and veggies and most of the cheese together, and mix well, everything should be evenly incorporated. Then, pack it all into the 9×13 pan, pour the chicken stock over the whole lot and mash it around some more. Finally, sprinkle the top with a little more cheese and the toasted pecans, and you’re ready to bake it. I make this ahead of time, ALWAYS, because it’s the easiest thing in the world to make ahead of time. When you’re ready to cook it, bake it on 400 degrees for about 40 minutes, or until the top is nice and brown. Serve it up with plenty of gravy from whatever bird you cooked.