Dressings and stuffings are certainly not the primary focus of the Thanksgiving Day dinner but they play an extremely important role in the success of a fine meal. My Grandma Neve made a stuffing that I remember to this day. It was very moist from having resided inside the cavity of the turkey during its long hours of roasting. As Grandma scooped the steaming accompaniment from deep inside the bird the air in the kitchen was perfumed with the fragrance of sage… what an enticement to dine! I always had to have a huge second helping… it was just that good. Her stuffing was made with staled bread that had been sitting in a large crockery bowl on the counter for a number of days to dry. Her recipe also included the giblets which had been finely minced. When it came to holiday meals she certainly excelled at displaying her talents to the delight of her large family!
We have prepared our dressing in a variety of ways through the years. We’ve used sourdough and we’ve used cornbread… sometimes it has been a combination of both. Two years ago we spent the Thanksgiving holiday in Salem, Oregon, with our friends Katrine and Guy Smith and logged a total of 50 hours of prep time for the bountiful feast. On the Wednesday evening before the big day Dayton baked a focaccia at Katrine’s request to enjoy with that night’s meal as we were winding down our preparations for the day. On Thursday morning as we were anticipating the grand finale, mixing all of the ingredients for a roasted autumn vegetable dressing to accompany the bird, we panicked when we realized we didn’t have enough bread and there was not enough time to find a market that carried what we needed. Contemplating a solution we both eyed, to Katrine’s horror, the remaining focaccia. We nearly had to wrestle it out of her arms… it was if we were attempting to break into Fort Knox and steal the gold! The remaining focaccia did, however, wind up in the dressing and made for an incredibly fine and flavorful addition to our feast. We used focaccia exclusively for this year’s dressing and will probably continue to do so in years to come… it was exquisite!
Herbed Focaccia Dressing with Italian Sausage & Pan Roasted Apples
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
1 half sheetpan focaccia cut into 1-inch cubes, yielding 13 – 14 cups dried
Place cubes on full sheetpan and bake until dry and firm to the touch without browning, 20 – 30 minutes. Set aside to cool on a wire rack and place dried cubes into a large mixing bowl.
1 C Muscat raisins (golden raisins are a fine substitute)
1 C turkey stock
Combine raisins with turkey stock in a Pyrex measuring cup. Microwave on high for 4 minutes. Allow raisins to plump for at least 20 minutes. Drain and set aside, reserving the liquid.
While the raisins are plumping, place in a medium bowl:
2 lb mild Italian pork sausage
To the sausage add:
1 1/2 tsp red chili flakes
1 T fennel seed
Mix until well combined. Over moderately high heat in a heavy 12-inch sauteuse or skillet add:
2 T extra virgin olive oil
When the oil is shimmering add the seasoned pork sausage. Break the sausage apart as it beings to brown (a potato masher works well for this task):
When the sausage is browned transfer to the mixing bowl containing the dried focaccia cubes. If the sausage was lean add to the sauteuse:
2 T extra virgin olive oil (omit if 2 – 3 T of rendered fat remains in the pan)
3 medium onions, chopped
5 stalks celery, chopped
Saute till beginning to brown. To onion and celery mixture microplane:
4 cloves peeled garlic
Saute an additional 2 – 3 minutes. Lower heat to moderate and transfer sauteed mixture to the mixing bowl. To the sauteuse add:
3 T unsalted butter
When the butter is melted add:
3 large Granny Smith apples, unpeeled, cored and cut into 1/2-inch dice
Saute slowly until beginning to brown, approximately 10 minutes:
Transfer apples to the mixing bowl:
Add the reserved Muscat raisins:
To the sauteuse add:
- 3 T unsalted butter
When the butter has melted add:
- 2 T chopped fresh sage
- 1 T thyme leaves
Saute for 30 seconds to release the herbs’ fragrance and add to the mixing bowl.
To the sauteuse add:
- the reserved Muscat raisin soaking liquid
Deglaze the pan and add the liquid and deglazed bits to the mixing bowl. Stir well to combine:
To a 1 quart measuring cup add:
- 3 C turkey stock
- 4 large eggs
Whisk briskly until incorporated.
Slowly add to mixing bowl, stirring all ingredients to combine. Allow to rest for 30 – 40 minutes, allowing the liquids to thoroughly absorb into the bread. Refrigerate overnight or add additional turkey stock as necessary if being baked immediately. If refrigerated allow to come to room temp before baking and add additional stock if required. Place in a 9 X 13-inch baking dish and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for approximately 45 minutes.
Serve piping hot… Bon Appetit!
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