Cook's Illustrated (November 2015)
We swear to you, we're not picky about our stuffing.
Over the course of our Thanksgiving planning, we've tried three of this year's new stuffing recipes. This one -- a Rustic Stuffing with Fennel and Pine Nuts -- is what we would refer to as the most "classic" of the three. Well, with the fennel and pine nuts, let's say it's "classic with some flourishes."
But we just didn't love it.
In the pro column, this is a nice, simple stuffing that won't offend anyone or challenge anybody's tastebuds. (That can be an important factor when you're cooking for a crowd.)
But the problem for us was that the flourishes didn't really stand out. The stuffing is a big and bready, and the fennel and pine nuts just got a little lost.
Don't get us wrong: The bread pieces, torn from baguettes and then toasted in olive oil, are mighty tasty. We couldn't help ourselves from sampling one or two (or seven) pieces that we purloined from the dish after baking it.
But we lost the fennel -- its licoricey flavor just didn't come through. The pine nuts, with their toasted crunch, are much more present, though also not a big flavor contributor. (We're having a love-hate relationship with pine nuts right now, but that's a story for another time.)
If we made this again, we'd definitely tear our bread into even smaller pieces. The instruction is for "bite-size" -- we could go smaller. And we'd amp up the fennel. There's fennel bulb plus ground fennel seed in here -- we'd give it a bit more of both.
So this stuffing was perfectly fine but just not really for us.
Maybe we are picky about our stuffing....
Servings: 6 to 8
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 baguette (10 ounces each), bottom crust and ends trimmed and discarded
2 cups chicken broth
1 fennel bulb, stalks discarded, bulb halved, cored, and cut into ½-inch pieces
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 large onion, cut into ½-inch pieces
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground fennel
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup pine nut, toasted
Baguettes from the bakery section of the supermarket, which have a slightly soft crust, work well in this recipe. The weight should be listed on the wrapper. To make the stuffing ahead, wrap it with plastic wrap immediately after transferring it to the baking dish, and refrigerate it for up to 24 hours. Add 5 minutes to the baking time.
Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees. Grease 13 by 9-inch baking dish with 1 tablespoon oil and set aside. Tear baguettes into bite-size pieces (you should have about 12 cups) and spread into even layer on rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with 3 tablespoons oil and toss with spatula until oil is well distributed. Toast in oven for 5 minutes. Stir bread, then continue to toast until edges are lightly browned and crisped, about 5 minutes longer. Transfer sheet to wire rack. Drizzle broth over bread and stir to combine.
Melt remaining 2 tablespoons oil in 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Add fennel, salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until fennel begins to soften, 3 to 5 minutes. Add onions and cook until vegetables are soft but not browned, about 8 minutes. Add rosemary, garlic, and ground fennel and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Add vegetable mixture to bread and toss with spatula until well combined. Transfer stuffing mixture to prepared dish and spread into even layer. Bake for 20 minutes. Stir with spatula, turning crisp edges into middle, and spread into even layer. Continue to bake until top is crisp and brown, about 10 minutes longer. Stir in parsley, sprinkle with pine nuts, and serve.