My Easter Stuffing
I always love cooking for holidays and get-togethers, and yesterday was no exception. Usually, I decide the dishes way in advance and have a 3-day prep list in order to make my life easier and, quite frankly, less stressful for the event. This Easter Sunday, not so much. I bolted awake Saturday in a panic and interrogated my husband to figure out what to make. His response was classic and came as no surprise in their usual casserole form: “shepherd’s pie and stuffing and I really don’t care what else you make.”
We ended up having a bunch of friends (whose family is not in the NYC area) over for the Sunday meal. I’m used to stuffing for Thanksgiving when there’s actually a bird or something to be stuffed. That said, who doesn’t love stuffing? The weather is still cold, so I threw together some hearty ingredients that complemented the brined pork chops I served.
The foundation of the stuffing (besides the whole bread thing) is the bacon. It adds that first layer of salty, smoky crunch, and I use its fat to cook the other vegetables. The shiitakes add in that meaty, umami flavor and roasted leeks a signature, onion-like one. For heat, I threw in a very generous pinch of Aleppo chili flakes, which are tangy, a bit sweet, with that kick. I loved the results. If you want a vegetarian version, you can obviously omit the bacon and use vegetable stock in lieu of chicken stock; I’d use butter though for richness and maybe throw in some smoked paprika. Crusty, moist, flavorful and pure comfort…enjoy!
Serves 6 to 8 / Yields (1) 2-quart baking dish
1 loaf challah bread, crusts removed, cut into cubes*
1 leek, white and light green parts only, thickly sliced
kosher salt to taste
2 pieces of bacon, cut into a small dice
12-14 shiitake mushrooms, cleaned and stemmed, thinly sliced
1 shallot, finely chopped
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
very large pinch Aleppo chili flakes
¼ cup white wine
½ cup chicken stock
2 eggs, beaten
¼ cup heavy cream
1 ½ tsps chopped fresh thyme
small handful cilantro, finely chopped
freshly ground black pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400° F.
Transfer challah cubes to a large bowl and add the other ingredients as they are ready.
Toss leek with a bit of olive oil and salt and lay out on a baking sheet. Roast in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes until starting to brown as you are prepping the rest of the ingredients. Transfer to the bowl with the challah bread.
Heat a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook stirring until the fat has rendered and the bacon has crisped up. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to the challah bread reserving the fat in the pan.
Turn the heat up to high and when hot, add the shiitake mushrooms to the pan with the bacon fat. Let them just sit there for a minute or two before stirring – you want to develop a nice brown on them. Stir and add in the shallot, garlic, Aleppo and some salt to draw out the moisture. Cook until the shallot is translucent. Add the white wine and reduce until it’s almost all gone. Add the chicken stock and let simmer for 1 minute. Transfer the vegetables and liquid to the bowl with the challah bread.
Add the eggs, heavy cream and herbs to the bread as well and toss the whole mixture together. You can add a bit more chicken stock if you find it isn’t moist enough.
Transfer stuffing to a greased baking dish and cover with foil. Bake covered for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake uncovered for another 10 to 15 until crisp.
* I usually use brioche or challah for this and buy the bread the day before. If the bread still has a lot of moisture, transfer the cubed pieces to a baking sheet and throw it in a 350° F oven for 5 to 10 minutes to crisp up. You want them to be dry before adding the rest of the ingredients.