I started planning the Thanksgiving menu on Labor Day weekend. The family was together and I made a list of everyone’s favorite dishes and favorite pies. Much to my surprise the kids did not want stuffing. I couldn’t believe it because the stuffing, (the dark meat and the homemade rolls too) are my favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal. We are having stuffing even if the kids don’t take any because the adults love it. This recipe comes from my cousin Rita in New Jersey and it is my favorite stuffing recipe. You see variations of it on many Italian American tables. I like to keep it fairly simple allowing the sausage with fennel and mushroom flavor to dominate, but you can add bolder flavors such as Parmesan cheese, pine nuts, olives, red peppers, apple, chestnuts, chard, and fresh herbs. One of the nicest things about this stuffing is that it is cooked on the stove so you do not need to worry about freeing up the oven to make it.
2 lbs. sweet Italian sausage with fennel seeds, out of casing (roughly 5 links per pound)
5 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 c. finely chopped onions
1 c. chopped celery
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 (8 oz.) pkg. button or portabello mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1-1/3 (12 oz.) pkgs. Pepperidge Farm stuffing cubes (or 1 lb.)
2-3 c. chicken stock
1/2-1 tsp. poultry seasoning
salt and pepper to taste
1/2-1 c. turkey drippings
In a large frying pan heat 2 Tbsp. of the olive oil on medium heat, when hot add crumbled Italian sausage and cook until browned, about 10 minutes. Drain fat, remove sausage and set aside. In the same frying pan heat 3 remaining Tbsp. olive oil. When hot add onions and cook for 2-3 minutes until onions begin to look transparent. Add celery and garlic and cook 5-7 minutes until vegetables soften and are fork tender. While the onion mixture is cooking heat butter in a frying pan and add mushroom. Cook mushrooms on medium heat until they are tender. This should take 5-10 minutes depending on the kind of mushroom you use. Drain the liquid from the mushrooms. Transfer sausage, onion mixture and mushrooms to a 5 quart stockpot. Add stuffing cubes and 2 cups chicken stock and stir. Season with poultry seasoning, salt and pepper to taste. Add more stock if it seems too dry. When the turkey is ready, take 1/2 cup of drippings and pour into the stuffing mixture. Taste and see if you want a stronger flavor. Add more if needed. I like the stuffing to be quite wet. If that is the case add more drippings and/or stock. Serves 8-10.