The elections are over. The successful candidates are now transitioning to their new roles, and we can all breathe a sigh of relief that the polarizing political ads have disappeared. But I hope you have enough patience to listen to one more divisive issue that always bubbles to the surface at Thanksgiving: the Great Stuffing Debate. This issue is so hotly contested that people can’t even agree on a name. Is it stuffing or is it dressing?
Most people fall into one of two camps. Either you like stuffing or you don’t. There is even more fragmentation in the “Love It” group: sage fans, dried fruit fans, inside the bird, outside the bird, sausage or not…the list goes on and on. And, just like political debates, the sides can get very passionate about their positions.
I bring to the table a new way of thinking about this part of your Thanksgiving meal. I know there are stalwarts with a favorite stuffing recipe that will always grace their Thanksgiving spread. But for those of you who are on the fence about your recipe, who don’t like stuffing to begin with or perhaps want to try something new, I have an enticing option for you: Mushroom and Leek Bread Pudding from Ina Garten’s newest cookbook, Barefoot Contessa Foolproof.
Ever cooked with leeks? It’s important to get them clean before you start as grit tends to hide between a leek’s many layers. I rinse the leeks off, chop off the root end and then cut them as called for in the recipe. Take a large bowl of cold water and dump your chopped leeks right in. Swish them around a little bit to remove any remaining grit and let it set for a few minutes. Any residual dirt will sink to the bottom of the bowl. Gently scoop out the leeks and let dry before using.
I’m a sucker for anything with mushrooms, and when I saw pancetta in the ingredient list, I was hooked. I like to cook my pancetta until it’s nice and crispy. It tastes just like little cubes of bacon tucked into the bread pudding.The nutty Gruyere is a wonderful complement to the onion-y flavor of the leeks. The only changes I made to Ina’s recipe were to decrease the salt and pepper. My husband and I inhaled this dish for dinner last week. It’s definitely going to make an appearance on our Thanksgiving table. No need to vote on this one.
Have you ever gambled and tried something new at a holiday? Did you discover a new family favorite? We’d love to hear about it!
6 cups (1/2 inch dice) bread cubes from a rustic country loaf, crusts removed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 ounces pancetta, small dice
4 cups sliced leeks, white and green parts (about 4 leeks)
1½ pounds cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon leaves
¼ cup dry sherry
Salt and pepper
⅓ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
4 large eggs
1½ cups heavy cream
1 cup chicken stock
1½ cups grated Gruyere cheese (6 ounces), divided
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Spread bread cubes on a cookie sheet and bake for 15-18 minutes or until slightly browned. Set aside.
Heat oil and butter in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add pancetta and cook for 7-9 minutes, until starting to brown and get crispy. Add leeks to pan and cook for 8-10 more minutes, or until leeks are tender. Stir in mushrooms, tarragon, sherry, ½ tablespoon salt and ¾ teaspoon pepper. Continue to cook for 10-12 minutes or until most of liquid evaporates, stirring occasionally.
Take pan off the heat and stir in parsley.
Whisk together eggs, cream, chicken stock and 1 cup of cheese in large bowl. Stir in bread cubes and mushroom mixture. Set aside for 30 minutes so the bread can absorb the liquid. Stir again and pour into a 13x9 baking dish. Sprinkle with the remaining ½ cup cheese and bake for 45-50 minutes or until the top is browned and the pudding is set.