I had all but forgotten the pears sitting on the dining room table. I’d placed them there nearly a week before, thinking they made the loveliest still life, framed against the bay window on an oversized, embossed ceramic platter, a handmade wedding gift from my mother-in-law. Pears have such a sublime way of slowly ripening away in the background, their vibrant flesh dappling as they soften. The goal is always to catch them in that brief moment of sweet splendor just before they go bad.
When I recalled them, it was in the midst of brainstorming a last-minute holiday stuffing recipe. I tend to call it stuffing out of habit, though it really is dressing, baked in a casserole dish alongside, rather than inside the turkey. My mother makes a fantastic cornbread, sausage and apple dressing every year, and I wanted to play off of those sweet and savory flavors, with maybe a twist or two.
I opted for sourdough bread over cornbread as the stuffing base, if for no other reason than putting to good use a neglected, two-day old sourdough baguette that was harrowingly close to petrification.
The pears – remembered in the nick of time – were just perfect, tender and sweet and not yet too soft; They would hold up well to baking. Sweet Italian sausage, onion, baby leeks, and lots of sage and garlic round out the rest of the recipe.
You may have noticed a conspicuous lack of Thanksgiving recipes here recently. Well, with the glaring exception of those pumpkin pies… and now here I am, in the eleventh hour with a dressing recipe.
For the first time in my twenty seven years, I won’t be going home for Thanksgiving, and it just felt terribly disingenuous to be writing about a big feast we won’t be cooking this year. As an oft sentimental and sensitive creature, I’ve been tremendously dramatic about it, spending several angst-ridden days aching for home and feeling sorry for myself after we made the decision to stay here for the holiday. The only alternative it seemed – to the merriment of being with family and feast and football and all the tradition – was to order Chinese take out, sit in the dark, and bemoan being far from my roots. In this scenario there is also, of course, driving rain and bitter cold and generally petulant behavior all around.
My grandmother, who just celebrated her ninety third birthday yesterday, and presides as matriarch over all family Thanksgivings, would tell me to put away my liver lip. To pull my chin up, and have a little pluck, or something along those lines. That’s the reasonable voice I’m choosing to listen to, because whether together or not, we – the Honey and I, and our families – have so much to be thankful for. We are blessed with love, and good health, and a warm home, and more than enough to eat.
So, I sent a festive table arrangement in our place, and decided to make a scaled back Thanksgiving dinner after all. Something special for just the two of us. Maybe we’ll even break out the wedding china. The entire menu isn’t quite figured out, as this is very new territory for me, but at the bequest of my Honey, it definitely includes homemade stuffing – er, dressing, filled with sweet and savory fall flavors that remind me of home.
Here’s wishing you and yours a happy, healthy, delicious Thanksgiving, wherever you may be this year!!
- 8 cups sourdough bread, cubed or torn into bite-sized pieces (about 1/2-inch)
- 1 pound (5 links) sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
- 1 large yellow onion, diced
- 1 small (or baby) leek, diced
- 3/4 cup (3-4 ribs) celery, diced
- kosher salt and freshly-ground pepper, to taste
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp ground sage
- 1/2 dried thyme
- 1/4 ground nutmeg
- 3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
- 1 cup chicken broth, plus more as needed
- 2 Bosc or Comice pears, chopped (peeled if desired)
- 1 large egg
- 1/4 cup dried cranberries
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9-by-13-inch oven safe casserole dish, set aside. Add the sourdough bread to a large mixing bowl, set aside.
- Cook the sausage in a large skillet over medium heat until deeply browned. As the sausage cooks, use a spatula to break it into small, bite-size pieces. Use a slotted spoon to remove the sausage from the skillet, and let cool.
- Add the chopped onion, leek and celery to the skillet, and cook in the leftover sausage grease until just softened, about 3 minutes, stirring often. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. If there isn’t enough grease to lightly coat the vegetables, add 1 Tbsp of the melted butter to the skillet.
- Add the garlic, sage, thyme and nutmeg, and stir to combine. Cook for another two minutes, then remove from the heat and add the melted butter, chicken broth and sausage to the skillet. Give a good stir to combine, then slowly pour over the bread, and toss to combine. The bread should be evenly moist, but not soggy. Add the pear and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
- In a small bowl, beat the egg until blended, then drizzle over the stuffing mixture and gently mix until just combined. Transfer the stuffing to the prepared baking dish, and spread in an even layer.
- Cover the stuffing with foil and baked until thoroughly cooked through, about 30 minutes. Remove the foil, and cook an additional 20-25 minutes, until the top is golden brown and slightly crispy. Top with dried cranberries and serve warm.