Here's a stuffing recipe that really packs a crunch. Pecans and water chestnuts provide flavor as well as a nice texture contrast. I added a fennel bulb for a mild licorice flavor, mushroom salt and a small amount of jalapeño for a bit of heat.
For a fancier stuffing, you can add some crumbled blue cheese to the croutons. I finished the pecan stuffing with a little parmesan for a salty (but not overpowering) note.
This recipe is far more savory than the cranberry apple stuffing I made last week. The differences between the two versions really demonstrate the versatility of stuffing. Whatever your preference, there's a stuffing that you and your family will love.
Servings: 6 servings
1 (22-ounce) loaf whole wheat bread
2 tablespoons blue cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
6 shallots, thinly sliced
2 sprigs rosemary
2 sprigs thyme
10 ounces fresh water-chestnuts
1 small fennel bulb
1 carrot, shredded
1/4 cup pecans, chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, roasted, skinned, seeded and finely chopped
3 cups vegetable broth, (or 2 14-ounce cans)
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon mushroom seasoning salt (or salt), as needed
1 (3-inch) chunk parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped
How to cook water chestnuts:
Wash the chestnuts in cold water and then soak them in lukewarm water for about 30 minutes. With a paring knife, make a small criss-cross cut at the root of each water chestnut. Make sure the incision is not too deep so as not to cut the flesh of the chestnut.
Place the chestnuts in a pot and cover them with water. Bring to a gentle boil and cook for 30 minutes.
Allow to cool. As soon as they are not too hot to handle, shell the water chestnuts, then slice and cut them into small matchsticks.
How to make freshly grated parmesan powder: Cut up a chunk of parmesan and chop the morsels in a mini-food processor until it's a fine powder. Gather 4 tablespoons. Set aside.
Prepping the herbs:
Remove the thyme leaves and rosemary from the stems. Hold the top of the stem with one hand and slide the other hand along the stem, pulling the leaves off. Bruise the leaves a little in a mortar and pestle to release the flavor and make the dish more potent. Finely chop the herbs. Make sure the rosemary is finely chopped; you don't want any long pieces of rosemary because it could be very unpleasant to eat.
For the croutons:
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Slice the loaf of bread 1-inch thick. (No need to remove the crusts.) Cut the slices into about 1-inch cubes. Spread the bread cubes on a non-stick baking sheet. Drizzle with 4 tablespoons of olive oil. Season with 1/2 teaspoon of Kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper. Add the crumbled blue cheese and a tablespoon of rosemary. Toss well.
Bake for 12 minutes, tossing the croutons once half-way through the baking process. All sides should be slightly golden. Remove from the oven. Cool the croutons for at least 15 minutes.
For the vegetables:
Discard the stalk of the fennel bulb (or keep for garnish) and thinly slice the bulb (see tips).
In a large pot, heat about 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the shallots. When the color is translucent, season with 1/4 teaspoon of salt and add the roasted jalapeño pepper. Add the garlic. As the garlic becomes slightly golden, stir-fry the fennel and cook until slightly browned (about 5-7 minutes). Add the herbs. Season with about 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Add the shredded carrots and water chestnuts. Add 1/2 cup of vegetable broth. Stir well until all the liquid is evaporated, about 2-3 minutes. Season with 1/2 teaspoons of mushroom seasoning salt. If the mixture starts sticking to the bottom of the pan, add another 1/4 cup of vegetable stock . Transfer the vegetable mixture to a platter. Set aside.
At the last minute, add the remaining oil to the pot. Add the croutons. Season with the remaining mushroom seasoning salt. Add the remaining vegetable stock. Stir well. The entire mixture should be moist, but not mushy. Add the vegetable mixture and the finely chopped pecans. Adjust the seasoning. Add more salt (if necessary) and black pepper. Finish with parsley and the parmesan powder. Stir well. Cook for another minute.
Serve warm. Garnish with the fennel stalks, more pecans or parsley.
Check out my other recipes, such as croutons, that recycle stale bread. You can also make bread crumbs for mac & cheese or garlic bread for soups and salads.
Mushroom seasoning salt brings a very distinct, earthy flavor to the sauce. You can find it at gourmet specialty stores or in most Korean stores. I buy mine at Marina Foods -10122 Bandley Drive -Cupertino, CA 95014.
As I do when I make ma-po tofu, I add the vegetables to the pot based on the amount of time it takes each vegetable to cook. The fennel goes first, then the carrots, the water chestnuts etc. If you want to be extra cautious, you can cook each ingredient separately, transfer to a platter and assemble at the end so that each ingredient is perfectly cooked.
For the fennel bulb: Cut slices about 1/16-inch thick with a mandoline or if you don't own one, you can use a peeler (I love Messermeister tools for slicing and shredding).
Little reminder on how to roast a jalapeño pepper: Once you know how to make them yourself, you'll never buy the ones in a jar again. To start, cut the stem off the pepper. Wash it, pat it dry and brush it with oil. Place a grill on your stove and char all the skin of the pepper. Wrap in aluminum foil. Allow to cool for about 5-10 minutes. Clean the pepper using a knife; the skin will come right off. Seed it and finely chop the flesh. Voilà!
Soaking the water chestnuts softens the shell. I bought them at the Asian market. If you can't find the fresh version, you can always use canned water chestnuts.