Sausage Cranberry Bread Stuffing

INGREDIENTS:

12 cups, cut into 1/2-inch bread cubes, plus 2 cups finely ground fresh bread crumbs (use a food processor) from a couple loaves of dense, crusty Italian or French bread
2 tablespoons Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning (ground)
1 tablespoon sage
1 teaspoon thyme
1 tablespoon salt
2½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper, divided
2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
1 1/2 pounds bulk Italian sausage or quality pork sausage with sage
6 tablespoons butter + 2 tablespoons
2 large onions, chopped (about 3 cups)
1/2 cup brandy
3 medium celery stalks, chopped (about 1 cup)
1 1/2 cups dried cranberries
1 cup pecans, broken into large pieces
3 large eggs
1 quart chicken or turkey stock (or part milk and stock)

Optional: Additional melted butter

METHOD:

Prepare bread cubes and bread crumbs and place in very large mixing bowl. Set aside.

To bread cube mixtures, add Italian seasoning, poultry seasoning, sage, thyme, salt, pepper, orange zest and fresh parsley. Toss to combine well.  Set aside.

In large sauté pan, crumble and cook sausage until no longer pink. Add to bread cube mixture.

Melt 6 tablespoons butter in large sauté pan with pan drippings from sausage. Add chopped onions and cook until onions begin to caramelize. When the onions are golden brown, add brandy. Stir and continue cooking until brandy is reduced to a syrup consistency. Add to bread cube mixture.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in sauté pan. Add chopped celery and cook for five minutes, or until slightly softened. Add to bread cube mixture.

Toss cranberries and pecans in bread cube mixture. Using your hands or large spoon, combine the dressing ingredients.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together eggs and stock (or part milk and stock). Pour 1/3 of mixture over dressing mixture. Mix lightly. Add the last of the egg-stock mixture to the dressing and mix to combine.

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Spray a large casserole dish or baking pan with vegetable non-stick spray. Spoon the dressing into the prepared dish. (Drizzle an additional 3-4 tablespoons of butter on top of the dressing, if desired, for a crustier finish.) Cover with foil, with one slit cut in the middle.

Bake for 45 minutes. Remove foil. Continue baking an additional 25-30 minutes, or until dressing is golden brown and crusty.

VARIATIONS:

  • Replace cranberries with chopped prunes, apricots or chopped tart apples.
  • Replace pecans with coarsely chopped chestnuts.