It’s almost here, and I can’t wait. Thanksgiving! It’s my absolute favorite holiday. I know, I know, people love Christmas, or can’t get enough of Halloween, and I like them too. However, as someone obsessed with food, you shouldn’t be surprised that the food fest is my favorite. And for me, one of the crown jewels of that Thanksgiving table is the stuffing.
Growing up in an Italian-American household, there was only ever one type of stuffing. There was no chestnut or cornbread, no pecan or, heaven forbid, Stove Top. Instead, it was always sausage stuffing. Amazing, delicious sausage stuffing. I know for some, that may seem strange, however, if you’ve never had it, give it a try. The sausage adds incredible flavor, and the addition of plenty of onions and some green peppers only enhances it. It has ruined plain stuffing for me. It seems so, well, plain without the sausage.
To start, melt 1 stick butter in a large saute pan over medium high heat. Add in 2 medium to large red onions, chopped. Saute for about 5 minutes until they start to soften and have some color.Add to the saute pan 4 stalks celery, chopped, and 1 large green bell pepper, chopped. Stir to combine, and continue cooking for 5 more minutes, until the vegetables are cooked. Pour everything into a large bowl, and return the pan to the heat.Cook 1 lb mild Italian sausage. If you can get loose sausage meat, get that. However, I can never find it at Wegmans, so, instead if just cut the casing and add it to the pan loose. Cook for about 5 minutes, breaking up as you go until thoroughly cooked and no longer pink.
I’ll let you in on a little tip here. When I make this stuffing, I can never seem to break the sausage up small enough while cooking it. You really want small pieces that get incorporated into every bite of the stuffing. Once it’s cooked, I add it to a plate to cool, then I just break it up with my hands into the bowl that has the vegetables. It’s so much easier than trying to break it in the pan. So break it up and add the sausage and any fat or juice from the pan to the bowl.
Next, you want to add the bread. I use bagged cubes of bread for my stuffing. I find it much easier then cutting, and I get the Martin’s potato bread that stands up well to the moisture. If you prefer, you could cut up white bread, or get a loaf of Italian bread or even ciabatta would be nice. Feel free to experiment. In total, you’ll want about 24 oz cubed bread, which is about 22 cups, or two bags of the pre-cut stuff.
I add the bread in stages. As it absorbs the liquid, it will start to shrink and some will even fall apart, so I find it much easier. Add half the bread, then add about 2 cups chicken stock. If you have it, use homemade. On Thanksgiving, we always have holiday soup…or you may know it as Italian Wedding or Escarole…so I always have stock on hand. If you’re buying it, that’s fine, just get a low sodium variety. The Wegmans store brand is great, and it’s lower in sodium than many others. Also add 1 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary, 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.
Stir to combine, then add the remaining bread. You may need a little bit more stock to make sure everything is moist, but you don’t want it too wet. Pour into a greased 13×9 pan, and cram it in to fit. Bake at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes until hot throughout, and brown on top.
One note, for Thanksgiving, I usually make the stuffing the night before and just cook it on Thanksgiving. If you’re doing that, take it out of the refrigerator about 30 minutes before you’re putting it in the oven, and it may take up to an hour to cook through. You want it hot all the way through.
Well, there you have it, my tried and true, favorite Thanksgiving stuffing. Oh, and you’ll notice I didn’t stuff the bird. You certainly can with this stuffing, but I love the crunchy top, and you get much more when you cook it in a pan. However, if you’re a stuffer, go for it!