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Stuffing Nonsense

Of all the foods we’ve come to associate with the holidays, certainly none is more misunderstood and abused than the stuffing served with the traditional Thanksgiving turkey.

--Food Writer James Villas, “American Taste”

What’s Villas’ problem with the way most of us make stuffing? “Far too many people,” he writes, “confronted with the necessity of stuffing a large fowl, do no more than haphazardly mix a mound of white sandwich bread with onions, celery, a bit of seasoning and water, the inevitable result being a soggy, bland dressing that would be virtually inedible without the camouflaging benefits of giblet gravy.”

What’s more, growing numbers of us aren’t even bothering to make our own soggy, bland dressings--we’re relying on the stuff in the cardboard box instead.

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Our behavior is all the more curious when you consider that stuffing is among the simplest foods you can make. It’s mostly a matter of sauteing a few vegetables and mixing them with crumbled bread.

Like so much in cooking, if you start with good ingredients you’ll end up with a good dish. Villas, for instance, always adds crumbled corn bread along with the crumbs of toasted white or wheat bread to his Thanksgiving stuffing. And, he suggests, any basic stuffing recipe can be improved with extras--maybe fresh oysters and sliced mushrooms or roasted chestnuts and cooked whole cranberries. Black olives or clams or even a half-cup of Bourbon are other additions Villas approves of. He also endorses the idea of making two different stuffings for every turkey--such as a sausage-and-herb stuffing for the neck cavity and a corn-bread stuffing for the body cavity.

Dried fruit--apricots, for instance--and rice make a good stuffing. So do the basic ingredients of pesto, added to rice and bread.

You might also consider making a separate vegetarian “stuffing.” Use a vegetable stock or water to moisten the bread mix; then, in addition to the usual celery and onions, add carrots, parsnips and other winter vegetables. Bake the stuffing at 325 degrees 45 minutes to an hour, just as you’d bake any other stuffing that’s leftover after you fill the turkey.

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What follows are several stuffing ideas, including one from Villas, which he got by watching his mother on Thanksgiving.

BASIC BREAD STUFFING

1/2 cup butter or margarine

1 large onion, diced

1 to 2 cups diced celery with leaves

15 cups toasted 1/2-inch bread cubes

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

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1 tablespoon dried sage or 1/4 cup minced fresh sage

1/2 cup chopped parsley

1 cup turkey stock, water or milk

Melt butter in large stockpot. Add onion and celery and cook until vegetables are tender but not browned. Add to bread cubes in large bowl. Add salt, pepper, sage and parsley and toss until well mixed. Add turkey stock and blend well. Use to stuff 12- to 14-pound turkey. Bake leftover stuffing in lightly greased casserole at 325 degrees 45 minutes to 1 hour or until heated through. Makes 12 servings.

Each serving contains about:

181 calories; 635 mg sodium; 22 grams cholesterol; 9 grams fat; 20 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams protein; .3 gram fiber; 46% calories from fat.

JAMES VILLA’S BASIC CORN BREAD STUFFING

4 cups chopped celery

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2 cups minced onions

1/2 cup butter

Chicken or turkey stock (fresh or canned)

7 cups toasted and crumbled bread

7 cups crumbled fresh corn bread

1 tablespoon salt

2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper

2 teaspoons dried sage

1 cup finely chopped parsley

5 eggs, beaten

Place celery and onions in large saucepan. Add butter and chicken stock to cover and simmer very slowly, about 1 1/2 hours. Let cool.

In large bowl, combine crumbled bread and corn bread. Add simmered vegetables and liquid, salt, pepper, sage, parsley and eggs. With hands, mix thoroughly until smooth-textured. Add more stock, if desired, for greater moisture. Use to stuff 12- to 15-pound turkey. Bake leftover stuffing in lightly greased casserole at 325 degrees 45 minutes to 1 hour or until heated through. Makes 12 servings.

Each serving contains about:

228 calories; 1153 mg sodium; 55 grams cholesterol; 12 grams fat; 24 grams carbohydrates; 7 grams protein; 1 gram fiber; 46% calories from fat.

PESTO STUFFING

1/3 cup olive oil

2 cups brown rice

1 cup chopped onions

2 cloves garlic, minced

5 cups chicken broth

1 cup sliced celery

1 cup pine nuts

3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or 1 tablespoon dried

1/2 cup chopped parsley

Heat 1/4 cup oil in skillet over medium heat. Add rice and saute until browning begins. Add onions and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are transparent. Stir in chicken broth and celery. Bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 30 to 40 minutes or until rice is tender.

Saute pine nuts in remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil until lightly browned. Stir into cooked rice along with basil and parsley. Use to stuff 10- to 12-pound turkey. Bake leftover stuffing in lightly greased casserole at 325 degrees 45 minutes to 1 hour or until heated through. Makes about 10 servings.

Each serving contains about:

257 calories; 402 mg sodium; .5 gram cholesterol; 19 grams fat; 16 grams carbohydrates; 9 grams protein; .5 gram fiber; 68% calories from fat.

OYSTER STUFFING

3 pints oysters

3/4 cup butter or margarine

1 1/2 cups chopped celery

1 1/2 cups chopped onions

12 cups dry bread cubes

3 tablespoons chopped parsley

3 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Drain oysters, reserving liquid and chop. Melt butter in skillet, add celery and onions and cook until tender but not browned.

Combine oysters, celery-onion mixture, bread cubes, parsley, salt, poultry seasoning and pepper and mix well. Moisten stuffing with oyster liquid if necessary. Use to stuff 10- to 15-pound turkey. Bake leftover stuffing in lightly greased casserole at 325 degrees 45 minutes to 1 hour or until heated through. Makes 12 servings.

Each serving contains about:

293 calories; 1,005 mg sodium; 88 grams cholesterol; 15 grams fat; 24 grams carbohydrates; 14 grams protein; .3 grams fiber; 46% calories from fat.

APPLE-CHESTNUT STUFFING

1/2 cup chopped celery

1/4 cup chopped onion

1/2 clove garlic, minced

2 tablespoons butter or margarine

2 cups chopped apples

2 cups chopped cooked chestnuts

3 cups bread cubes

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Dash ground cloves

1/2 cup water

Cook celery, onion and garlic in butter until tender. Add apples, chestnuts, bread cubes, salt, brown sugar, cinnamon, pepper, nutmeg and cloves. Add water and mix lightly but thoroughly. Use to stuff 10- to 12-pound turkeys. Bake leftover stuffing in lightly greased casserole at 325 degrees 45 minutes to 1 hour or until heated through. Makes 10 servings.

Each serving contains about:

135 calories; 316 mg sodium; 6 grams cholesterol; 3 grams fat; 24 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams protein; .8 gram fiber; 22% calories from fat.

APRICOT-RICE STUFFING

1 1/2 cups dried apricots

1 1/2 cups finely diced celery

1 cup diced onions

6 tablespoons butter or margarine

1 1/2 cups long-grain rice

2 teaspoons dried thyme

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 cup brandy

3 cups turkey or chicken stock

6 cups whole wheat bread, crusts removed and torn into small pieces

2 cups chopped walnuts, toasted

Soak apricots in boiling water 10 minutes. Drain, chop finely and reserve.

Saute celery and onions in butter until tender. Add rice and saute until rice just begins to color.

Stir in thyme, salt, pepper, nutmeg, brandy and stock. Simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Combine mixture with bread and walnuts. Use to stuff 12- to 15-pound turkey. Bake leftover stuffing in buttered casserole, set in pan of boiling water, at 350 degrees 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Makes 12 servings

Each serving contains about:

313 calories; 564 mg sodium; 16 grams cholesterol; 19 grams fat; 27 grams carbohydrates; 7 grams protein; 2 grams fiber; 54% calories from fat.

SAUSAGE-RAISIN STUFFING

2 pounds pork sausage

2 cups diced celery

1 1/2 cups minced onions

8 cups soft bread cubes

2 cups golden seedless raisins

1/2 cup chopped parsley

3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 eggs, lightly beaten

Brown sausage in large saucepan, stirring often. Remove meat and pour off all but 1/4 cup drippings. Set meat aside.

Add celery and onions to drippings and saute until golden, about 5 minutes. Add meat, bread cubes, raisins, parsley, Worcestershire and salt. Mix well.

Remove from heat and stir in eggs. Use to stuff 10- to 12-pound turkey. Bake leftover stuffing in lightly greased casserole at 325 degrees 45 minutes to 1 hour or until heated through. Makes 11 servings.

Each serving contains about:

443 calories; 1,121 mg sodium; 65 grams cholesterol; 22 grams fat; 40 grams carbohydrates; 21 grams protein; 1 gram fiber; 45% calories from fat.


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