Photo by Ben Pieper
Cornbread and sausage stuffing can make a refreshing — and not too radical — change to your Thanksgiving menu. The photo and recipe are from “Choosing Sides” by Tara Mataraza Desmond.
With Thanksgiving around the corner, remember this: Thanksgiving is nothing if not tradition. Mess with tradition at your peril.
As the late Nora Ephron once said, describing this “most amazing holiday”:
“It’s a miracle that once a year so many millions of Americans sit down to exactly the same meal as one another, exactly the same meal they grew up eating, and exactly the same meal they ate a year earlier. The turkey. The sweet potatoes. The stuffing. The pumpkin pie. Is there anything else we all can agree so vehemently about? I don’t think so. This meal, with its glorious standards, is the thing that reassures us that we’re home (even if we’re not), that we’re a family (even if we don’t meet the standard definition), and that we’re Americans.”
This makes things difficult for the adventuresome home cook. Admit it, you so want to try something new. Ephron was such a cook, and her idea was to introduce a new dish along with the “traditional” version. Say your family is wedded to that green bean casserole. Why not also offer green beans tossed with the spicy Argentine condiment chimichurri? Or serve Hot Pepper Broccoli Rabe along with the plain broccoli everyone expects? Both these dishes come from the couldn’t-be-more-timely book “Choosing Sides,” by Tara Mataraza Desmond.
If your family is adamant (as mine is, and Ephron’s was) about traditional plain bread stuffing (the one she described as “using the Pepperidge Farm packaged stuffing and lots of celery and onions and mushrooms and twice as much butter as you’re supposed to”), try the Legacy Cornbread Dressing in Desmond’s book. The name indicates that it was the traditional stuffing of someone’s childhood. And it’s different enough from the plain kind to make everyone sit up and take notice.
Change is hard — but it can be delicious.
Legacy Cornbread Dressing
Yield: 8 to 10 servings
For the cornbread:
2 cups stone-ground yellow or white cornmeal
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 large egg
1½ cups buttermilk (whole fat if you can find it)
4 tablespoons melted bacon grease or butter
For the dressing:
½ pound pork breakfast sausage, removed from casings
½ medium Vidalia or 1 large yellow onion, cut into ¼-inch pieces
2 large stalks celery, cut into ¼-inch pieces
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage leaves
1 teaspoon chopped fresh marjoram
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 cups chicken stock (homemade or low-sodium store-bought)
2 medium tart apples, cored but not peeled, cut into ¼-inch cubes
1 teaspoon bacon grease, butter or oil
Up to two days ahead, make the bread: Place a 10- or 12-inch cast-iron skillet or cake pan in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, sugar, salt and baking powder.
In a medium bowl, beat the egg lightly and then whisk in the buttermilk.
Dig a little well in the center of the cornmeal and pour in the egg mixture. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients just until combined. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of the bacon grease or butter into the batter and gently fold it in.
Remove the skillet from the oven, add the remaining 2 tablespoons fat, and carefully brush the inside of the pan to coat. Pour the batter into the pan and bake 25 to 35 minutes, until the bread feels completely set when lightly tapped and the top is just starting to speckle brown. Cool. Cut into 1-inch cubes and let sit at room temperature overnight (or longer) to get stale. Set aside.
Make the dressing: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Heat a large saute pan or skillet over medium heat. Break the sausage into bits and add to the pan. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring, breaking into smaller bits.
Add the onion and celery. Stir to coat with rendered fat. Scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook for 5 minutes. Add the garlic, decrease heat to medium-low, and cook until vegetables are softened and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat. Add the herbs, salt and cayenne; stir.
Transfer to a mixing bowl. Gently stir in the stale cornbread. Drizzle the stock over everything, stirring halfway through for even distribution. The cornbread should be moistened, not drenched. Add the apple chunks and fold in.
Brush the insides of a 2½-quart casserole dish with the fat and fill with dressing. Cover with foil and bake until hot all the way through, 30 to 40 minutes.
(Recipe from “Choosing Sides” by Tara Mataraza Desmond; Andrews McMeel, 2013)
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