I love my mother. She is an incredible cook.
I love my stuffing, too. And growing up, my mother never made good stuffing.
Her creations used to be closer to a pilau than the stale-bread versions I'm used to these days. My mother would combine bread with basmati rice (a staple in every Iranian household) and add onions and celery, but then she would venture off into the land of the unknown.
At times, she would add pomegranate seeds and persimmons. Other times, turmeric or cinnamon might creep in. It wasn't necessarily bad; it actually tasted quite good most of the time.
I had no idea what Thanksgiving stuffing typically looked and tasted like until I was around 12 or 13, when my uncle told me about his first Thanksgivings in America with an ex-girlfriend. He explained that stuffing should not be sweet or sour or rice-based (though I've had wild rice stuffing and it can be very delicious). Rather, the baking dish (or bird) should be filled a base of stale bread, celery and onions that have sweated in a pan for a bit, a few herbs, some stock to keep everything moist and more than a few knobs of butter. It seemed so...simple. Yet I wanted to try it.
By the age of 14, I was in charge of the stuffing, and of course, I made it with bread. At 16, I was responsible for just about the whole dinner. But I will always give my mother credit for my cooking abilities. She's the adventurous one, after all.
To learn more, read "Spatchcocked and Loaded."
Country Bread Stuffing
Recipe from the Tasting Table Test Kitchen
Yield: 10 to 12 servings
Prep Time: 40 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour and 15 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours and 5 minutes
2 pounds (about 20 cups) country loaf bread
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, finely diced (about 2 cups)
1 medium fennel bulb, cored and finely diced (about 1 cup)
3 celery stalks, finely diced (about 2 cups)
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 fresh bay leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
½ cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons fresh sage, finely chopped
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
¾ cup (1½ sticks) melted unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the baking dish
2 eggs, beaten
3 cups chicken or turkey stock, preferably homemade
1 cup packed fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped
1. Tear the bread into small pieces and divide among 2 parchment-lined sheet trays. Let the bread dry out overnight, or bake it at 300° until dry, about 15 minutes.
2. In a large skillet over medium heat, add the olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the onions, fennel, celery, garlic, bay leaves and salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until all of the vegetables are tender, 15 to 18 minutes. Add the wine and reduce by half, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the pan from heat and discard the bay leaves. Transfer the onion mixture to a large bowl.
3. Add the bread, sage, thyme, butter, eggs, stock and parsley to the bowl and toss. If the stuffing feels dry, add more stock as needed.
4. Preheat the oven to 400°. Transfer the stuffing to a greased 4-quart baking dish. Cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes. Uncover, increase the temperature to 475° and bake until golden brown and crisp on top, another 15 minutes. Serve warm.