The truth is I don’t remember seeing stuffing on the Thanksgiving table. We had turkey every year, and I know there was cranberry sauce. Potatoes, always. Mashed or scalloped and afloat between thick layers of butter and cheese. But stuffing? I can’t picture it and if it was on the table I’m not sure who in our family would’ve cooked it.
You may think, what the heck does this girl from Miami know? A girl from a city where they call it ‘Sangiving’ and the traditional American staples of this holiday might share a table with gallopinto, taquitos, and tres leches.
But I have my sources. A boy from Iowa and a copy of the classic Joy of Cooking, which was a high school graduation gift from his Michigan-born father. This well-known tome dedicates a couple pages to the topic of stuffing and offers a basic recipe with many variations. This Thanksgiving we’re heading to Iowa, which feels very much like the center of America, so I’m bringing a fairly traditional stuffing recipe with me.
Apples are in season and we can’t stop eating them so I put a ton of them in this version. There’s also a good amount of sausage because we once spent a weekend in Chicago and on our way to the airport, Danny’s dad took us on a last-minute mission to find a Polish grocery store. It was kielbasa or bust. The car was split over this moment of spontaneity, but we ended up making the flight on time and the detour was worth it in the end.
My first go with this stuffing had good flavor but turned out too dry. The texture reminded my Midwestern taste tester more of panzanella. So I doubled the amount of stock and increased the amount of sausage and apple quite a bit. The result is a much more cohesive stuffing with a crisp top layer.
Pay attention to the size of the bread cubes and try to get them as close to 1/2-inch pieces as you can. I used fennel here instead of celery for a more nuanced flavor. Oh, and as you probably know, this is the kind of the thing that reheats very well. Any leftovers should be warmed up the morning after and topped off with a runny egg. A solid breakfast before the lunch of leftover turkey sandwich, I bet.
sausage and apple stuffing with fennel
Stuffing can be made up to 2 days ahead. Store in the fridge and reheat in a low oven.
2 pounds or 6 links kielbasa or mild sausage, casing removed
6 apples, chopped
1 pound firm white French or Italian bread, sliced into 1/2-inch cubes (or about 10 cups lightly packed with bread cubes)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, plus more for greasing the pan
1 large onion, chopped
1 fennel bulb, chopped
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme or 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups chicken stock or dry white wine
Heat oven to 350°F.
Cook sausage in a large skillet over medium-high heat, breaking up the links with a wooden spoon to crumble the sausage. This should take 20 to 25 minutes, until the pieces of sausage are slightly browned and cooked through. The sausage needs space to brown; cook in two batches for about 10 minutes if necessary. Remove the cooked sausage with a slotted spoon and transfer to a plate lined with paper towels. Toss the chopped apples into same skillet and cook until tender, 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat.
Meanwhile, place the cubed bread on a large baking sheet and toast until just golden brown as you work on everything else. About 15 minutes or so should do it.
In a Dutch oven or large skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Stir in the onions and fennel, turn up the heat to medium-high, and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in parsley, thyme, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add the bread cubes and toss to coat. Pour in up to 2 cups stock so the stuffing is lightly moistened. Stir in the sausage and apples and toss again to combine.
Transfer the stuffing to a large, shallow baking dish greased with butter (a 13 x 9 x 2 dish would do it). Bake until the top is crisp and the stuffing is cooked through, about 25 minutes. Serve.
Serves 12. Adapted from Joy of Cooking.