savory stuffing strata
I have a lot I could say about the origins of this recipe and the importance of stuffing, but I’m going to cut to the chase first. For me, this is The Best Stuffing Ever. The only recipe I’ll need from now on. The One.
This stuffing strata comes out so fragrant, moist, and flavorful, you would never know it hasn’t been cooked inside the turkey. But the fact that it hasn’t set up camp in a turkey means that you can shorten your turkey cooking time, and serve the stuffing to vegetarians without that out-of-place taste of vegetable broth that usually flavors vegetarian stuffing. Also, it’s a total snap to whip up; you can assemble it the day before and just pop it into your already-350-degree oven on the big day. It features all the traditional flavors of a really homey stuffing (sage, thyme, celery, and of course the bread) bound together by a magical mixture of egg, milk, wine, mustard, and gruyere cheese. The strata gets moistness and richness from the egg mixture, but doesn’t turn out soggy or taste of breakfast; essentially, it tastes like everything stuffing should be, but more…better!
Until I learned how to make a truly delicious turkey, stuffing was the indisputable king of the Thanksgiving table for me. Even now that I know my way around a turkey, I could still eat a vat of my mother’s traditional sagey, celery-laced breadstuff, to the exclusion of many of the other things on the table. Over the last couple of years we’ve tried stuffing variations that have certainly been tasty, but I almost always seem to migrate back to recipes that rely heavily on the bread, celery, sage, and thyme. I know some people swear by cornbread stuffing, or stuffing with apples and currants and crap, or stuffing with sausage in it, but I always want my stuffing to taste like it did when I was a kid.
Last year’s Thanksgiving edition of Bon Appetit featured a vegetarian main from Molly Wizenberg, a butternut squash and cheddar bread pudding that immediately caught my eye. It has butternut squash, kale, torn baguette, and extra sharp cheddar cheese held together with a white wine and dijon mustard eggy mixture, and it I’ve had it on my list of things to try since I spotted it. Yet somehow, whenever Thanksgiving (or fake Thanksgiving) rolls around for us, I don’t have the heart to make it instead of stuffing. It would be most definitely be a fabulous veggie main, but when you’re up to your earballs in turkey, it’s hard to imagine making more than one bread-related casserole, and regular stuffing always wins for me. But I’ve kept wondering if her bread pudding would be better than some of the stuffing recipes we’ve tried. Wanting to save myself this doubt in the future, I decided that on Thanksgiving, you shouldn’t have to choose between two amazing things, and a stuffing bread pudding was born.
If there is some key ingredient in your family’s Thanksgiving stuffing that is not featured in the recipe below, I still urge you to try this strata-fied take on stuffing. With a strata, the task at hand is essentially to soak the bread in the magic egg mixture, grate some cheese, and then put a layer of whatever else you want between the layers of bread and cheese. You could take out the mushrooms if they’re not your cup of tea, or add apples or bacon or something green, like spinach, to the mixture. You could add a layer of chopped hazelnuts for a woodsy, nutty effect (we’ve tried this and it’s delicious), or perhaps add sausage if you like. Basically you just need to pre-cook your filling, whatever it is, and layer it between the bread and cheese, so do expand and play with the blueprint below! I expect that if you try it, you will never cook stuffing inside a turkey again.
Oh, and P.S. (I’m really excited to be able to start doing this, even though it means I’ll have to link back to some potentially embarrassing early posts):
One year ago: Tortas
Savory Stuffing Strata
Inspired by Molly Wizenberg’s Butternut Squash and Cheddar Bread Pudding, via Bon Appetit
2 cups milk or half and half
1/3 cup white wine
1.5 tsp dijon mustard
1.5 tsp salt
1 loaf day old french bread or baguette, torn into roughly 1-inch pieces
3 T butter
3 medium shallots, chopped, or 2 large leeks (white parts only), chopped
1.5 lbs mushrooms, sliced
1.5 cups celery, finely chopped
2 tsp chopped fresh sage
1 T chopped fresh thyme
1 cup grated gruyere cheese (about .2 lbs)
In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, milk, wine, mustard, and salt. Add the bread pieces, stir to combine, and allow to soak for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, place a large skillet over medium heat and add the butter. When it’s melted, add the shallots and saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms, celery, sage, and thyme, and cook, stirring occasionally, until everything is tender and the mushroom liquid has mostly evaporated, about 2o minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and butter a 13×9 baking dish. Transfer half of the soaked bread cubes to the baking dish and spread them evenly over the bottom. Then spread half of the mushroom-celery mixture over the bread, and sprinkle with half of the grated gruyere. Spoon the second half of the bread on top of the cheese, followed by the second half of the mushrooms and celery, and then the last of the cheese. If there is any egg juice left in the bread soaking bowl, pour it over the top of the pudding and cover the whole dish with foil. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove the foil and bake until the custard is set and the bread feels springy, about 25 minutes longer.
If desired, turn on the broiler and broil until the cheese browns slightly, about 2 or 3 minutes, then remove and serve!