Creative canvas

Stuffing is an excellent canvas for creativity. Really good stuffing will be delicious even without the turkey. (Eric Boyd / Los Angeles Times)

 

Total time: 30 minutes plus cooking time, which will depend on whether it's cooked in the turkey or separately

Servings: Enough for a 16-pound turkey (7 cups)

2 pounds chestnuts

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

1 cup chopped onion

2 cups chopped celery, leaves and ribs

2 bay leaves, torn in half

12 cups dried bread cubes

3 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon powdered sage

2 cups turkey or chicken stock

3 eggs, lightly beaten

1. Score the chestnuts with an X on the flat side and roast at 550 degrees for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and cover for a few minutes with a towel soaked in ice water and wrung out. Peel and chop. Set aside.

2. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. When it is nearly melted, add the onion and cook, stirring, until the onion starts to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the celery and the bay leaves and cook, stirring, until the celery softens, about 5 minutes.

3. Place the bread cubes in the biggest work bowl you can find. Remove the bay leaves from the onion mixture and pour the vegetables and butter over the bread cubes. Sprinkle with the salt and sage. Pour the stock over, stirring to moisten all the bread as evenly as possible (as it starts to get wet, it will shrink and be easier to stir). Taste and adjust seasonings, then stir in the eggs until they are completely incorporated.

4. Spoon the stuffing into the cavity of the turkey, being careful not to pack it too tightly as the bread will expand during cooking. If it is over-packed, the stuffing will be dense and heavy. Roast the turkey as you choose. Stuffing that doesn't fit in the turkey can be placed in a casserole, moistened with a little more stock, covered tightly with aluminum foil and baked alongside the turkey. It's even better if you have a second oven; start it in a cold oven set at 350 degrees and bake until the internal temperature is 155 degrees, about 30 minutes. Leave the stuffing tightly covered until ready to serve.

Each half-cup serving: 262 calories; 5 grams protein; 39 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams fiber; 10 grams fat; 5 grams saturated fat; 63 mg. cholesterol; 995 mg. sodium.

Variations

Chestnut-sausage stuffing: Add one-half pound sauteed ground pork sausage.

Cornbread stuffing: Replace all or half of the bread with cubed stale cornbread. Omit the chestnuts.

Oyster stuffing: Use bread or cornbread cubes. Saute 1 chopped green bell pepper with the onion and celery. Add 1 pint drained shucked small oysters and 1 cup chopped pecans. Omit the sage and chestnuts.

Sausage stuffing: Brown 1 pound bulk pork sausage with the onions and celery. Omit the chestnuts and, if the sausage includes sage (most bulk sausages do), omit the sage.

Dried cherry and almond stuffing: Add one-half cup dried cherries, one-half cup toasted slivered almonds and 1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary. Omit the sage and chestnuts.

Smoked sausage and greens stuffing: Saute the onion, celery and 1 diced green bell pepper with 1 pound smoked sausage, sliced and slices quartered. Add three-fourths pound chopped mustard greens; cook until wilted. Omit the sage.