Stuffing traditions can be made a new

November 20, 1994|By Cathy Thomas | Cathy Thomas,Orange County Register

Childhood memories of Mom's holiday stuffing make my palate tingle and my stomach roar with hunger. The generous amounts of fresh sage from her garden, the celery and mushrooms sauteed in puddles of hot butter, and the perfect amount of liquid -- a mixture of milk and turkey broth -- produced a dressing that was moist but not soggy; the flavors were divine.

ABut even though I am a professional cook, trying to recapture the flavor and texture of my dear mother's stuffing has been a source of frustration -- until three years ago, when I decided to start creating new family traditions in stuffing. These stuffings are quite different from the basic stuffings of my youth but have been greeted enthusiastically by family and holiday guests.

Italian Sausage and Green Apple Stuffing

Makes about 14 cups

3/4 pounds Italian sausage, cooked (see cook's notes)

12 cups firm-textured white bread, cut into 1-by- 1/2 -inch pieces

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine

2 medium onions, peeled and chopped

1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced

1 large bulb of fresh fennel, trimmed and roughly chopped

2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary (or 2 teaspoons dried, crumbled)

freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 cups chopped celery

1 large tart green apple, such as Granny Smith, peeled, cored and chopped

1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley

2 teaspoons dried sage, crumbled

2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme (or 3/4 teaspoon dried)

salt to taste

1/2 cup chicken broth

Cook's notes: I like to use half hot and half sweet Italian sausage, but if you're serving a lot of children, you may prefer to use all sweet sausage. You can use turkey or pork Italian sausage. One easy way to cook it is to microwave it. Place no more than 4 sausages on a microwave-safe plate (or a sturdy paper plate) lined with several layers of paper towels. Poke holes on both sides of the sausage with the tines of a fork. Cover with paper towel and microwave on high for 4 minutes. Set aside.

Preliminaries: Heat oven to 250 degrees.

Procedure: Cut cooked sausage into 2-inch pieces and either chop by hand until finely diced or place in the food processor fitted with the metal blade; pulse until finely chopped. When chopped finely in the food processor, you do not need to remove the casings.

Place bread in a single layer on 2 baking sheets. Place in a 250-degree oven, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes.

Place in a large bowl.

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook until tender, about 6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add mushrooms, fennel, rosemary and pepper; cook until mushrooms are softened, about 5 minutes. Add celery, apple and parsley; cook for 2 minutes. Add sage, thyme and sausage; stir to combine. Combine with bread and toss in large bowl. Add salt if necessary (it will depend on the saltiness of the sausage) to taste. Drizzle on broth and toss.

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Here's a stuffing that pairs exceptionally well with lamb and poultry.

Raisin Bread and Cranberry Stuffing

Makes about 9 cups

14 to 16 slices raisin bread (1 pound loaf), cut into 1-by- 1/2 -inch pieces

1 stick ( 1/2 cup) butter or margarine

2 large onions, peeled and chopped

1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries

2 tablespoons firmly packed light brown sugar

2 teaspoons crumbled dry rosemary or 2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary

3/4 teaspoon dried ground sage

salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup orange juice

1/2 cup chicken broth (if cooking separately)

another 2 tablespoons butter or margarine (if cooking separately)

Preliminaries: Heat oven to 250 degrees.

Procedure: Place bread in a single layer on 2 baking sheets. Place in a 250-degree oven, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes. Place in a large bowl. In a large skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion and cook until onion is softened, about 6 minutes. Add cranberries, brown sugar, rosemary and sage. Stir to combine; add salt and pepper to taste and cook for 3 minutes. Transfer mixture to large bowl. Add bread and drizzle on orange juice; gently toss.

The stuffing can be baked separately; place in buttered baking dish. Drizzle with broth and dot with 2 tablespoons butter. Bake, covered, in a 325-degree oven for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 30 minutes.

*

Add minced fresh thyme and chopped tart green apples if you like:

Rice and Pecan Stuffing

Makes about 9 cups of stuffing

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine, divided use

3 cups chopped onion

2 cups chopped celery

3 large garlic cloves, minced

salt and pepper to taste

1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced

5 cups cooked rice (basmati preferred)

1 1/2 cups toasted pecans, coarsely chopped (see cook's notes)

1/2 cup minced fresh parsley

1 tablespoon dried sage, crumbled

1/4 teaspoon ground mace

1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg

Cook's notes: To toast pecans, place on a baking sheet in a single layer. Toast in a 350-degree oven for about 5 minutes or until lightly toasted. Watch nuts carefully.

Procedure: In a large skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion, celery, garlic and salt and pepper; cook until onion is softened, about 6 minutes. Transfer to large bowl.

In skillet melt 2 tablespoons butter. Add mushrooms and cook on medium heat until mushrooms are softened, about 2 minutes. Add mushrooms to vegetables; add remaining ingredients and toss. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed.

(Adapted from "Gourmet's Holidays and Celebrations," Conde Nast Books, 1992.)

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