As mentioned in the previous post, stuffing is a big part of the reason we do faux Thanksgiving. Shawn loves it. Turns out I love it, too. As a vegetarian, I was not raised on stuffing — there just weren’t many opportunities to include it in our meals, and I never missed it. When it came time to host our own Thanksgiving a few years ago, Shawn shyly asked if we could have some. I said that of course we could, and then realized that I didn’t even know what was in stuffing. Bread for sure, some veggies, some broth. But how much bread, and were there eggs in it? Was it like a big, flat strata? I turned to the internet for guidance.
Various online forums informed me that some people use eggs, others do not. Some people add sausage, some just veggies. Some people use stale bread, others use toast. Basically, I learned that anything goes. I decided not to use eggs, because I wanted to make something more dense than fluffy. The basic rules for stuffing that I discerned were these:
- Use dry bread — either stale or toasted — so that it can better absorb surrounding flavors
- Make sure you have tasty flavors for said dry bread to absorb
- Use enough broth to bind it together
Very, very basic, right? Shawn loves sage, and I loved the idea of cornbread stuffing, so I used those ingredients as a starting point. I wanted more structure to the stuffing than cornbread alone would provide, so I decided to use white bread as the base with cornbread to complement. I added some other Thanksgiving-appropriate ingredients, and I came up with the best stuffing I have ever had. A small feat, really, as I had never actually had good stuffing, but it was delicious, and it has been popular with everyone who’s had it, the first thing in the faux Thanksgiving spread to vanish. Make some for your next feast, and let me know how it holds up to other recipes.
Leek and Cornbread Stuffing Recipe
What Goes In:
- 1 loaf unsliced white bread (I’ve used both baguette and Italian, and I’ve added a little wheat bread on occasion — just make sure it’s real bread with a solid crust, as opposed to smushy packaged sandwich bread)
- 2 big chunks of cornbread — enough to make about 3 cups when crumbled (I bought mine for the sake of simplicity)
- Fresh sage
- 4 Tbsp butter
- 3 small or 2 large leeks, quartered lengthwise and chopped into 1/2 inch or so pieces
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 3 stalks celery, finely diced
- 2-3 big handfuls of pecans, toasted and chopped
- 2-3 big handfuls dried cranberries
- veggie broth — 4 cups or so? Depends on your bread
- salt ‘n pepper
What to Do:
- A day or two before stuffing time, cut your bread into 1 inch cubes. Crumble cornbread. Toss it all in a bowl with some sage and let it sit, exposed to the air, for a day or two. The sage flavor will seep into the bread, and the bread will dry out enough for your stuffing.
- Sauté leeks in 3 Tbsp. butter until soft. Add garlic and celery and cook for a minute more — you still want some crunch in the celery.
- Add leeks to bread cubes. In the same pan that you used for leeks, melt remaining Tbsp. of butter and add lots of chopped sage. Get a little sizzle going while you toast your pecans.
- Swirl toasted pecans in the butter for a quick moment, and then add it all to the bread and leeks.
- Toss in some dried cranberries, enough to get a pleasing mix of colors.
- Add enough broth to make it sticky. Most of your crumbled cornbread will melt into kind of a sauce for the other cubes. Keep adding broth until everything is moist.
- Press into a 9×13 cake pan, or whatever you have that is comparable, cover with foil, and bake at 375° for half an hour or so. Realistically, if you’re doing Thanksgiving, you may need to have to oven on a different temperature for another recipe. This stuffing is very versatile — just check it earlier if the temperature is higher, and let it go a little longer if the temperature is lower. Take the foil off when the stuffing seems set in the middle, and let it cook another 10 minutes or so to crisp up.
Here’s my stuffing, all mixed up, before baking:
There are no “after” photos as the afternoon light turned into evening light, and people showed up, and eating started. But it was not bad to look at, and it was pretty good to eat.