This started off as a Thanksgiving “stuffing” recipe but then, several years ago, I decided that actually stuffing a turkey is a losing battle. It makes the turkey take longer to cook so the white meat will definitely dry out and all the delicious drippings that I want to go into the gravy get soaked up by the bread which just becomes soggy.
Technically I guess this is a “dressing” (stuffing cooked on the side), but I’ve found that many dressing recipes end up kind of dry and don’t have the lovely, soft texture with crispy edges that make stuffing so irresistible.
So what’s soft and custardy on the inside and crunchy on top? Don’t freak out, I’m not testing you! *Writes a note in a little book while smiling and nodding at you*. That’s right, bread pudding! Why not use the same technique and make it savory instead of sweet? Let me tell you, it works.
While this is definitely great for Thanksgiving, it would actually be a really nice side dish with roast beef or pork as a Christmas dinner. In fact, it’s so simple to make, it really doesn’t need to be for a holiday at all.
Like just about everything I make for a dinner party, most of it can be made ahead and then assembled and baked just before you need it. I find it so much less stressful to not have to start every dish from scratch on one day.
In fact, my absolute favorite part of holiday cooking is when Matt and I sit at our coffee table, chopping and prepping all our vegetables while watching a marathon of something or other (usually Doctor Who or Game of Thrones) and drinking endless cups of tea. Nerd with knife heaven.
- 2 lbs. packaged breakfast sausage
- 1 cup fennel, finely chopped
- 1½ cup leeks, finely sliced (3 large leeks white and pale green parts only)
- ½ cup carrots, finely chopped (3 medium carrots)
- ½ cup celery, finely chopped
- 2 cups onion, finely chopped (2 large onions)
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and chopped
- 1 lb. crusty French, Brioche or Challah bread (not sourdough)
- 2 teaspoons thyme, leaves removed
- 10 large sage leaves, chopped
- 6 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 cup cream or half and half
- 2 + cups chicken or turkey stock
- 2 tablespoons drippings from roast or use unsalted butter
- Salt and black pepper
- Up to 2 days ahead, cut bread into 1” cubes and place on a baking tray in a single layer to dry. Or place bread in a 200° oven for 15-20 minutes (don’t brown bread).
- Preheat oven to 350°.
- In a large sauté pan, cook the sausage over medium heat until browned. Remove the sausage with a slotted spoon, cut into ¼-inch pieces, and set aside.
- Place the pan of sausage fat over medium heat and add the onions and leeks. Cook for 7-10 minutes until just translucent. Add fennel, carrots, celery, and sauté for another 10 minutes. Add garlic, thyme, sage and apples and sauté 7 minutes more. Season to taste with salt and pepper. ***NOTE: This step can be done up to 2 days ahead and refrigerated.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the sausage, sautéed vegetables and bread cubes. Stir in the eggs until mixed. Slowly add chicken stock and cream until the mixture is very moist. It may take awhile for the bread to soak up the liquid so let it sit for 10 or 15 minutes and check to see if you need to add more stock. The bread should be very saturated but not swimming in liquid. ***NOTE: You can mix it all together and set aside in the refrigerator for a few hours until ready to bake.
- Transfer to a large gratin dish, and if you have a roast in the oven with drippings, drizzle a couple of tablespoons of the fat over the top. If not, dot top with butter. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake until the top is browned (about 15 minutes more).