This Christmas my aunt and I decided to make two bread stuffings to go with our roast turkey. My aunt made our traditional bread stuffing that we do every year (with little tweaks now and again) and I had complete creative control over the second stuffing. I gave it a lot of thought, and I ended up going with an Italian bread stuffing. Traditional Italian cuisine doesn't have a whole lot of roast turkey in it. At Christmas time, for example, many Italians eat seafood, fish, or lasagne. I developed a bread stuffing for turkey using all Italian flavours. I improvised a recipe that I made up along as I went, and it turned out fantastic. There isn't a single thing I would change about it (and that rarely happens on the first try). The family loved it. If you are looking to try something new with your own turkey stuffing, I bet you will love it too.
This is kind of an Italian version of the traditional stuffing we grew up with: white bread, pork sausage, aromatic veggies, herbs and spices. Sometimes my mom adds nuts and dried cranberries to hers (I loved that, but our family could never agree on it). In my version, I used crusty Italian bread, spicy Italian sausage, onion, garlic, sundried tomatoes, black olives, toasted pine nuts and Parmigiano Reggiano. For the herbs I added dried oregano, thyme, basil and rosemary (classic Italian ingredients) with a little dried sage to give it that comforting turkey dinner flavour. For spices I added a few fennel seeds to bring out the flavour of the Italian sausage and some chili flakes for kick. It came together so well. If this sounds like a flavour profile you and your family would enjoy, I whole heartedly recommend this.
My last post was about the roasting of the turkey that we served with this. We brined our turkey this year, which is a fantastic way to prepare it, but due to the salt content, stuffing a brined turkey is not entirely recommended. We cooked the stuffing separately. If you like, you can absolutely use this recipe to stuff your turkey with. All you need to do is tightly wrap your stuffing in cheesecloth and stuff it in the cavity of the turkey. It will cook for as long as the turkey does. Now I can already tell a few of you are concerned about ever stuffing turkey due to salmonella risks. Whenever you stuff a chicken or turkey you always run this risk and need to be cautious. I will say this though, growing up my family and I ate stuffed turkey every Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas and never encountered a problem.
2 medium-sized loaves crusty Italian bread (about 1200 grams)
4500 grams, spicy or mild Italian sausage meat (4-5 sausages)
2 onions, finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
8 sun dried tomatoes, finely chopped
12 black olives, pitted and finely chopped
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/4 cup Parmigiano Reggiano, freshly grated
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried rosemary
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried sage
1/4 tsp fennel seeds
1/4 tsp dried chili flakes
About 2 cups of chicken stock
2 tbsp butter or olive oil
If cooking separate from your turkey, preheat oven to 350 F/177 C.
Take your crusty, Italian bread and cut into 1-inch squares. Lay them out in a large bowl or tray so they get plenty amount of air. Leave to dry at room temperature for at least a day. This step will ensure maximum absorption of moisture and flavour when we make our stuffing.
In a pan, heat 2 tbsp of either butter or olive oil. Olive oil would be the wiser choice in keeping with the Italian flavours, but we always use butter for this step when making a bread stuffing. It's up to you. Add the onion to the pan with a pinch of salt and pepper and sweat.
After a few minutes of sautéeing your onions should be nice and soft. Then add the Italian sausage. Cook until the pork is just cooked through.
Let's talk a bit about the garlic, sundried tomatoes and olives for a second. I wait until now to add the garlic. Many people add onion and garlic in a pan at the same time when making something like this. I like to get a good cook on my onions because I love the flavour and garlic burns too easy to cook for the same amount of time. This is a garlic lover's stuffing, so feel free to adjust to your taste.
You also want to get an even sized chop on your sundried tomatoes and olives. Look for decent sized sundried tomatoes. In the end, the amount of chopped tomatoes and chopped olives should be about the same amount. I always find that olives with the pits in them taste better than olives you can buy already pitted. To pit them, all you need to do is squish them slightly with your thumb. The pit will pop right out and the remaining meat can be chopped.
Add the garlic, sundried tomatoes and olives to the pan. Sautée for a few minutes to really permeate the onions and sausage with the flavours. During this time, add the dried herbs, fennel seeds and chili flakes. Once the garlic is just cooked enough, remove it from the heat. Taste for seasoning and adjust.
Add the sausage mixture to your cubes of dried Italian bread. Include all of the pan drippings.
Toss until well combined.
Add the toasted pine nuts and Parmigiano Reggiano. This recipe calls for 1/4 cup but be as generous as you like with the Parm.
Then toss again to combine. The cheese will melt slightly and disappear into the stuffing but the flavour will be there. Then it's time to add the chicken stock. Add the chicken stock about 1/2 a cup at a time and gauge how moist you like your stuffing. The amount of bread you use and the climate of your kitchen will all play a factor in how much stock you need. Play it by ear (or eye, rather). Give the stuffing a final taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
Put your stuffing in a baking tray in an even layer.
Cover the stuffing with aluminum foil and seal it. This will trap the steam as it bakes and keep it from drying out.
Place the stuffing in the middle of your preheated oven and let it cook for 35-40 minutes. Even thought the stuffing is already cooked, this will improve the flavour and make the bread nice and moist.
Presto! Turkey Stuffing Italiano! This stuff is delicious. It's definitely not for dieters, but for something you have once or twice a year it's very fair. If you cook this separately from your turkey, prepare it before your turkey goes in the oven and set it aside, covered. When your turkey is done, take it out of the oven and put the covered stuffing in to warm up while the turkey rests and gets carved. It has a complex but very rounded flavour profile. Italian food is among the most popular cuisines in the world so this is bound to be a people pleaser.
Keep this in mind next time you make a turkey dinner and want to wow your family and guests.
Well everyone, this post about wraps it up for the year. Don't worry, I have plenty of amazing dishes and techniques to share with you in 2015. Thanks for all of your interest, feedback and support. You've made it a great year. In the meantime, have a wonderful, safe and delicious New Year. All the best!