Apple-Chestnut Bread Dressing

A traditional side dish at Thanksigiving, some people use this to stuff their turkey, but the emerging consensus is that it’s better to bake it separately — which is good news for us vegetarians!

I made this for the first time at this year’s Thanksgiving, after reading a dozen different recipes and extracting the elements which seemed sensible and to my taste.

Start with

  • a loaf of good fresh bread.

I used a white pullman loaf, but other choices would be fine, and I’m sure that a sourdough or focaccia or cornbread would each add a distinctive note of their own. I used about a pound and half of bread; if your loaf is a different size you might adjust your other ingredients proportionately.

Use a serrated knife to slice the bread and then cut it cross-wise; I aimed for cubes about 3/4″ in each dimension, although you don’t have to be exact and a bit smaller would be fine.

Spread the bread cubes out in a large baking tray and place in a medium oven, around 350° or so. Bake them for ten minutes and then shake or turn them, and bake for at least another five, or longer if needed — probably 20 minutes total, depending on how moist the bread was when you started. Remove when they are dry and just starting to toast, but before they get seriously browned.

Meanwhile, put a large pot on the stove and melt in it:

  • A stick of butter.

Chop the following, adding them to the pot as you go:

  • Two onions;
  • Two carrots;
  • A bell pepper;
  • A large portobello mushroom, or a handful of small ones.

You could use a different mix of vegetables; celery is very common here, but I’m not fond of it and find that the carrots and bell pepper replace it nicely.

When all of the vegetables are soft, remove a heaping half-cup of them and set them aside for use later.

Then add to the pot:

  • A half-dozen cloves of garlic, sliced or crushed.
  • A large handful of finely-chopped fresh herbs — sage is the most traditional, thyme and rosemary are also good, and parsley is easy.
  • Two crunchy apples, cut into medium cubes — look for varieties like fuji, granny smith, gala, or honeycrisp.
  • A package of shelled chestnuts (4-8 oz), chopped coarsely — or you could get them raw and roast them yourself and pick the shell off, but that’s an awful lot of work, so I went with the pre-shelled ones.

Cook that for a few more minutes until the apples have softened a little, and then turn off the heat and add the lightly-toasted bread cubes and stir to combine.

Meanwhile, in a blender or food processor, combine and blend for one minute:

  • The reserved cooked vegetables from above;
  • A cup of water;
  • A cup of heavy cream;
  • Two eggs;
  • A half teaspoon of salt;
  • Some black pepper.

Layer the bread-and-vegetable mix into a 9×12 baking pan or casserole dish, and pour the liquid from the blender jar over the top.

Bake at 375–400 for at least 40 minutes, and probably closer to an hour.

If you want a moister dressing, keep the dish covered with foil for the first 30 minutes, or leave it uncovered for a crunchier result.

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