Apple, Sausage, and Apricot Stuffing

Even though Christmas is over a month away, Italians are in full on Christmas mode – lights are hanging, stores are selling decorations, and panettone is on display in the supermarkets. This is not so surprising – Italians after all do not celebrate Thanksgiving, the defining event of the month of November in the U.S, the precursor to Christmas. Seeing as how we are both an Italian and American food blog, I couldn’t not dedicate a post to this holiday, which is of course all about food. I hope our American readers can get some ideas for recipes they can make next week, and explain a little about the holiday to our readers from other parts of the world.

Thanksgiving is traditionally a holiday celebrated where families get together, to, as the name suggests “give thanks” for what they have and share a meal together – this holiday is all about the food. Turkey is always the main star of the meal, and is served accompanied by various side dishes (mashed potatoes! cranberry sauce! stuffing! vegetables!) and pumpkin, pecan, and apple pie is traditionally eaten for dessert. That being said, the nice thing about Thanksgiving is that every family has their own traditions – no menu is the same. My colleague, who is from the South, makes macaroni and cheese and candied yams; a vegetarian friend of mine skips the turkey all together and loads up on the sides; and my Nonno always made lasagna alla Bolognese for my family along with the typical Thanksgiving fare.

Growing up, we always went to my grandparents’ house for Thanksgiving. It was always an exciting day – a Thursday without school, where I got to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV in the morning. It was wonderful to see my extended family all in the same place for a day, and of course there was so much delicious food. My favorite part, not surprisingly, was dessert – in addition to making the usual pumpkin and pecan pie, I liked to try out new desserts like chocolate caramel cheesecake or apple crumble, or make my Nonno’s favorite, coconut cake.

Since I've been living in Italy my Thanksgiving are a bit different – I celebrate with friends instead of family, and the dishes I make have to be adapted. For example, my tiny oven couldn’t hold a whole huge turkey, so we make a roast turkey breast instead; there is no pecan pie because pecans are hard to come by here, so I make opt for another type of dessert. Whatever the menu I find it’s always interesting to see what non-Americans think of the typical Thanksgiving fare, which is, when you think about it, a bit particular -- cranberry sauce on turkey? A pie made with pumpkin? Sweet potatoes with – gasp – marshmallows?

This year my menu is the following:

Roast Turkey Breast with gravy
Apple, Sausage, and Apricot Stuffing (today's post)
Orange Cranberry Sauce
Peas and pancetta (because a little pancetta makes every green vegetable better)
Mashed potatoes with chives
Pear Chocolate cake (recipe forthcoming)
Pumpkin Pie

Unfortunately I won’t have time to photograph and write about every recipe before Thanksgiving, so I’ll be sharing two of the recipes on the blog today, for stuffing and for the pear cake. If however you want my recipe for any of the dishes on the menu, just leave a comment here or send an email to pancakesebiscotti@gmail.com – I would be happy to share!

But let’s get to today’s post. Stuffing is a classic Thanksgiving side dish – no Thanksgiving menu is complete without it. For those of you who are unfamiliar, stuffing is a side dish that can be kind of described like a savory bread pudding. It can be baked in a dish or in the cavity of the turkey itself (hence “stuffing”) or stuffed and baked in a turkey breast, if you're having a smaller group (see photo above). There are countless different recipes and variations of stuffing; some recipes are bread based, some have chestnuts instead of bread, some are made with cornbread, some with nuts, some with dried fruit, some with meat, some without…you get the idea. The nice thing is that every family as their own way of making this dish. My favorite recipe that I make here in Italy is courtesy of Food Network’s Ina Garten. The Italians I’ve made this for always seem skeptical at first – after all, it is a pretty strange combination – but it always ends up being the most popular dish of the night. The tartness of the apple, and the sweetness of the dried fruit, and the saltiness of the sausage make every bite different and full of flavor, and it is perfect alongside turkey. Enjoy everyone!


APPLE, SAUSAGE, AND APRICOT STUFFING

Ingredients: 
16 cups 1-inch bread cubes from a 1 ½ lb loaf (white bread is fine)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter  
2 cups medium-diced yellow onion (2 onions)  
1 cup medium-diced celery (2 stalks)  
2 Granny Smith apples, unpeeled, cored and large-diced  
1 tablespoon salt  
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper  
3/4 pound sweet or spicy Italian sausage, casings removed  
1 to 1 ½ cups chicken stock  
1 cup dried apricots, diced 

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Place the bread cubes in a single layer on a sheet pan and bake for 7 minutes if the bread is very fresh (you don’t want the bread to be too soft). Raise the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Remove the bread cubes to a very large bowl. 

Meanwhile, in a large sauté pan, melt the butter and add the onions, celery, apples, parsley, salt and pepper. Sauté over medium heat for 10 minutes, until the vegetables are softened. Add to the bread cubes.

In the same sauté pan, cook the sausage over medium heat for about 10 minutes, until browned and cooked through, breaking up the sausage with a fork while cooking. Add to the bread cubes and vegetables. Add the chicken stock and apricots to the mixture, mix well, and pour into a 9 by 12-inch baking dish. Bake for 30 minutes, until browned on top and hot in the middle. Serve warm. Note that this can also be prepared the night before and then baked for 45 or so minutes, or until completely heated. Serves 8-10.

Reciped adapted from Ina Garten, 2008. 









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