When I spent a few days with my sister, Linda, last week we were talking about Thanksgiving recipes. We’re gathering at our other sister’s house this year where we all bring foods for the buffet. I suggested a new stuffing recipe I’d found by Ina Garten. Linda was all for doing a practice run so we headed for the grocery store.
I have to mention the incident in a grocery store when a man growled at me and barked “Don’t touch me!” My sweater sleeve had oh so very slightly brushed his parka sleeve when I reached for that stick thingy you put between grocery orders at the check out counter. I thought he was going to bite me! He looked so mad! Apparently I found the one person in Fargo that has touch issues and invaded his space in the checkout line. We giggled guiltily about it for a couple of hours afterwards. We were having a few days of girls time out while the men were away hunting and we didn’t let the episode ruin our fun for long.
My theory on this recipe was simple: Ina Garten used milk and called it a bread pudding. I liked the mix of ingredients and thought it would make an excellent stuffing. Reducing the amount of milk and increasing the amount of broth would probably be all we’d need to do. I’ll throw in a spoiler: it worked! It was totally worth the work, too!
The grocery didn’t have any crusty, rustic bread besides a loaf we had to finish baking ourselves. We finished the baking, crisping it up, then went ahead and threw the large bone-in turkey breast into the oven and roasted it. After removing all of the meat, we put the carcass into a big soup pot and let it simmer for several hours to make some stock. As a final step I let it boil to reduce down a bit and concentrate the flavors, then refrigerated the stock as well.
I had forgotten to bring along my trusty camera so Linda acted as cook as well as photographer on most of the foods we made the four days I spent in Fargo. She’s a much better photographer than me, even though I do usually have to drag her into the kitchen to cook. She doesn’t come to cooking naturally; I will never learn what most of the buttons are for on my camera. We’re maybe a good pair!
The next day we cubed the bread and toasted it on a sheet in the oven, per directions. Then we put it into a large bowl and set it aside.
As we discussed dicing and shredding, Linda realized she had left her shredder at a friends’ house when they made soap a few weeks earlier so she dashed off in the car to retrieve it. Our block of Gruyère wasn’t going to shred itself without having a shredder. While she was gone I diced the leek she’d cleaned and put it into a heated nonstick skillet with a little olive oil. I let it sauté for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
We’d decided against using the pancetta the recipe called for, as Linda had a container of bacon she’d fried for another use then had a lot left over. I diced up about 6 strips worth of the bacon and added it to the skillet.
I let the leek and bacon fry for about 5 more minutes, then added the mushrooms, butter, tarragon, salt and pepper. I measured in ¼ cup red wine vinegar instead of using sherry and let it simmer for about 10 minutes, when the liquid had all disappeared. By then Linda had returned so I shredded the cheese and she took over following the rest of the stuffing directions. It was her practice run, after all. She would be making it again for Thanksgiving.
As I shredded the stinky cheese with her lame shredder (note to self: buy her a decent shredder and grater for Christmas), Linda emptied the skillet into the large bowl with the bread cubes, then mixed up the wet ingredients in a separate bowl. She whisked together the eggs, cream (we used the last cup of half and half we’d bought for another recipe) and turkey broth and poured them over the contents of the large bowl.
She chopped a handful of fresh parsley, added it to the large bowl, added a cup of the shredded cheese, then stirred it all together. We set it aside for the 30 minute wait the directions advised.
Spraying a glass 9×13 baking dish with a little cooking oil, Linda spread the stuffing out evenly then covered the top with the last half cup of shredded Gruyère. She popped it into the preheated oven and we set the timer for 45 minutes. Then squealed. We’d forgotten the turkey!
We had decided to make the stuffing more of a complete meal this first time, and eat it for dinner. Adding turkey to the stuffing would make it more of a stuffing casserole, we’d decided. So as Linda pulled the baking dish back out of the oven, I roughly chopped a pile of turkey breast, then tucked it into the stuffing here and there without having to disturb the cheese layer on top of the pan. The pan was slid back into the oven and we put our feet up, drank iced coffee and started another rom-com while we waited for dinner to be ready.
We loved it! Such a different blending of tastes in a stuffing! The flavorful Gruyère really was a nice mild surprise. And using tarragon instead of the sage I usually put in stuffing was a smart move. I can’t imagine what it would have been like as a bread pudding, but then I’m not a big fan of bread pudding so I won’t think twice about that.
I will say I think we had a little more bread than the 6 cups the recipe called for, which would explain why the stuffing was a little dry. After the dish sets for the required 30 minutes, if it seems pretty dry, you might want to add another cup of broth before sliding it into the oven.
Or maybe our stuffing dish was dry because the turkey absorbed some of the broth? I don’t think so; I think it needed more liquid anyway. Linda said she would add another cup when she makes it for Thanksgiving. We don’t like our stuffing super dry. It needs a little more moisture. Otherwise, it is such a tasty stuffing I can’t wait to make it for other holidays myself! Gruyere and tarragon is definitely the new way to go!
Mushroom Leek Stuffing
1 cup sliced leeks
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 strips bacon
1 lb sliced mushrooms
2 tablespoon butter
6 cups cubed rustic bread
1 teaspoon tarragon
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup cream
1 1/2 cups turkey stock (I suggest 2 1/2 cups)
1/3 cup minced fresh parsley
1 1/2 cups shredded Gruyère; divided
2 cups diced roast turkey breast (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Spread the bread cubes on a sheet pan and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until lightly browned. Set aside.
Heat the oil in a large, nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook for 5 minutes, until starting to brown. Stir in the leeks and cook over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, until the leeks are tender.
Stir in the mushrooms, tarragon, sherry or red wine vinegar, a teaspoon each of salt and pepper, and one of tarragon. Cook for 10 to 12 minutes, until most of the liquid evaporates, stirring occasionally. Off the heat, stir in the parsley.
In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream and chicken stock. Pour over the bread cubes and mushroom mixture. Add the chopped fresh parsley and one cup of the shredded Gruyère, stirring well to combine.
Set aside at room temperature for 30 minutes to allow the bread to absorb the liquid.
Stir well and pour into a 2 1/2-to-3-quart gratin dish (13″x 9″). Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup Gruyère and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until the top is browned. Serve hot.
Adapted from Ina Garten