For the longest time I dreaded being invited over to my friends’ homes for the holidays. Fear of bizarre charade games with Uncle Bernie or reenactments of scenes from A Christmas Story aside, I really hated stuffing. It was wet, mushy, and compacted from being literally shoved inside the cavity of a denuded fowl, the last of a series of indignities. And then I discovered dressing, not the liquidy stuff drizzled over salads but the carby, not custardy cousin of the bread pudding and realized that just because we’re given the same starting point doesn’t mean that the end result will be the same. By baking the same ingredients outside you get a moist, savory bready delight with crispety edges, the best of both textural worlds, thereby catapulting this humble dish from side dish to star attraction. I’ve used pancetta here for savory seasoning but bacon would work just as well and the meaty mushrooms and savory stock are very flavorful so this also tastes delicious vegetarian as well. Usually you see celery as the “green” in dressing but since I had some lovely asparagus in the veggie bin that needed a home, there you go. I’ve added some dried cherries as a sweet note but you could easily go with the traditional apple cuz dressing, like bread pudding, is very versatile and a great way to clean out your pantry. I like the mild astringency of the fresh parsley as it helps to balance the richness of the pancetta and cheese but if you don’t have fresh parsley you can skip this as dried parsley doesn’t have much flavor. There’s no additional salt in this recipe cuz the broth, pancetta, and cheeses provide plenty of savory bite. And since we tried a new(ish) bakery nearby that mills its own flour, there was a rustic, springy wood-fired bread just begging to be included in the mix.
2 large eggs
1 c low-salt vegetable or chicken broth (I used Better Than Bouillon Mushroom Stock)
3 c crusty rustic bread, in 1-inch cubes
1 tbsp fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 tbsp shredded parmesan
1 tbsp grated Swiss cheese (I used Emmental)
1 tbsp blue cheese, crumbled
2 oz pancetta **if cooking vegetarian substitute 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1 leek, finely chopped
8 oz wild mushrooms (I used cremini and shiitake)
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/2 tbsp fresh (1/2 tsp dried) rosemary
1/2 c dry white wine (I used Chardonnay)
4 oz asparagus, woody end snapped off and in 2-inch lengths
2 tbsp dried cherries, coarsely chopped
Preheat oven to 350F.
In a large bowl whisk together eggs and broth. Add parsley and cheeses to egg mixture and then add bread cubes. Let soak while cooking mushrooms.
While bread is soaking, in a 9-inch cast iron skillet or oven safe skillet, brown pancetta over medium heat till fat is rendered ~2-3 minutes. Using a paper towel and tongs, blot fat till only 1-2 tsp remain in the skillet. Sauté leek till tender and translucent ~2 minutes. Add mushrooms, pepper, and rosemary and sauté till the mushrooms are tender and have released their juices ~3-4 minutes. Add wine, increase heat to high and reduce till most of liquid is gone ~3-4 minutes. Add asparagus and cherries, remove from heat, and pour into bread and egg mixture. Gently fold to mix ingredients and then return them all to the skillet. Bake till bread is golden brown and no liquid seeps up when you press down with a fork ~20-30 minutes. In a cast iron skillet with convection it takes me 20 minutes.