When it comes to carrying on stuffing traditions, I head for bread cubes and chunky vegetables. (Though I do love cornbread stuffing balls from my friend Lafe’s recipe, I grew up with stuffing that began with a Pepperidge Farm mix.) This version is my idea of Thanksgiving bliss. It’s simply the best bread cube stuffing you’ll ever find. With gravy, nestled next to a few slices of meat and with homemade cranberry sauce on the side, I’m in heaven.
Baking the stuffing in a pan rather than cooking it inside the turkey (see my 5 Essential Stuffing Tips) keeps the stuffing crunchy. Each person can moisten it as much – or as little – as they wish, with gravy.
I sometimes refer to it as my Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme Stuffing, after the Simon & Garfunkel song. I always use that combination of herbs and sometimes even play the song (or others from the album of the same name) as I prepare it. OK, maybe it’s not quite “from the album” when you’re using Pandora or Spotify, but you get the picture. Hint – music turns what might otherwise be tedious chores into a major good time. A few dance steps between the stovetop and the counter work wonders too.
Inspired by an Epicurious stuffing, I never make this stuffing exactly the same way twice. This time, I used leftover fresh fennel from my Fennel, Orange, and Olive Pickles as part of my vegetable component and pulled out mix-and-match sausages from the freezer. The proportions and variety of ingredients are what counts. It’s easy to turn this recipe vegetarian, using mushrooms and extra herbs in place of sausage, and vegetable broth instead of turkey or chicken broth.
The Best Bread Cube Stuffing
Servings – 8-10 (with no leftovers) Cost – $12-14
- 6-7 cups bread cubes (½ pound). You can use homemade or buy them prepared. I like cubes that mix various types of bread – the more variety the better. (Stuffing tip #5)
- ½ pound sausage (I used ¼ pound hot, Italian and ¼ pound poke breakfast sausage)
- ¾ cup of nuts, toasted and roughly chopped
- ¼ cup (4 tablespoons total) olive oil
- 6 cups “hard” vegetables diced in pieces approximately thumbnail-size or slightly larger, including 2 cups of chopped onions and at least 1 cup of chopped celery. (This time I used onion, celery, fennel, red and yellow peppers.)
- 2 cups peeled and roughly chopped tart apple, such as Granny Smiths (about 1 pound or 2 medium-large apples)
- ⅓ cup minced dried herbs (I use sage, rosemary and thyme)
- ⅓ cup minced parsley
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- ½ – ¾ cup chicken or turkey broth (I used broth cubes, frozen in ice cube trays from leftover homemade chicken soup.)
- 4 or more tablespoons of butter
- 2 cutting boards, 1 small one for sausage (or use waxed paper) and 1 for apples and vegetables (Don’t chop vegetables on one you just used for raw meat.)
- 2 knives, 1 for cutting, 1 small (for butter)
- Small pan or toaster oven tray (for toasting nuts)
- Chopping bowl and blade for nuts (optional – can use cutting board and knife)
- Large pan
- Large bowl
- Large spoon, preferably slotted to leave oil in pan when removing ingredients after cooking
- Measuring cups (for liquids and solids)
- 2 pans for baking, one 9-inches by 13-inches and the other smaller, e.g. 8-inches by 10-inches with aluminum foil to cover each of them
- Butter the pans and set aside. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees if cooking stuffing just after making it. In the alternative (my preferred method), put the stuffing together in the pans on Thanksgiving morning or even the day before, cover the pans with foil, and refrigerate. Take them out about 2½ hours before serving, pre-heat the oven an hour later (about 90 minutes before the meal) and put the stuffing in to bake once the oven temperature has reached 350 degrees.
- Roast the nuts, chop them, and dice the vegetables and mince the herbs. Set them all aside. (Remember mise en place? If you get all the ingredients prepped and ready, this recipe goes quickly. But if you’re scrambling ….)
- Pre-heat the pan. Slit the sausage casing and remove it. (If you can’t get all of it off easily, don’t be concerned – it’s edible.) Crumble the sausage as it cooks. Once the sausage is completely cooked – no raw part showing – remove it to the large bowl with the slotted spoon.
- Heat about 1½ tablespoons of oil in the pan. Add half of the chopped vegetables and cook for 5-8 minutes, until they are softened and beginning to brown. Remove the vegetables to the bowl with the slotted spoon. Repeat with another 1½ tablespoons of the oil and the second half of the batch. Don’t crowd the vegetables or they will steam instead of sauté. If you have to do 3 batches instead of 2, that’s better than ending up with soggy vegetables.
- Add the final tablespoon of oil, then the chopped apple, herbs, and parsley. Cook the mixture for about 2-3 minutes and remove to the bowl.
- Add the apples and herbs, bread cubes, and toasted nuts to the mixture in the bowl. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and mix all the ingredients well.
- Pour the mixture into the pans, add broth lightly poured over the top and dot with butter. Bake for 50-60 minutes covered with foil, then remove foil and bake for another 10-15 minutes until the bread cubes on top are slightly crispy and browned.
To reheat leftover stuffing, preheat the oven to 350-375 degrees, add more broth (how much depends, of course, on how much stuffing you are reheating) and bake, covered for about 20-30 minutes.