Turkey gets the talk at Thanksgiving, but many of us are all about the dressing (or stuffing, as some call it, regardless of whether it’s stuffed inside a bird). Few foods peg regional preferences and hometown traditions more accurately than the style of dressing preferred by a family.
This one says California, and it’s inspired by Judy Rodgers’ legendary warm bread salad served with her perfect roast chicken at Zuni Cafe in San Francisco.
Large pieces of grilled rustic bread (sourdough, if you want the quintessential San Francisco touch) are tossed with traditional dressing ingredients and a few handfuls of tender fall greens.
This dressing is both familiar and inventive, and it might become a new family favorite.
For our Thanksgiving Gathering this year I very much wanted a bread dressing that shouted “California,” and what better way than to riff off the Zuni Cafe bread dressing? But when Sheri handed us this recipe I knew that she had not only evoked that delicious dish, but probably replaced my own beloved classic sage and onion stuffing with a new favorite.
The base of this bread dressing is grilled bread. You can grill it just before making the dressing, or days ahead. The grill marks give the bread a smoky, rustic flavor that is so completely delicious you’ll wonder why you don’t always make stuffing like this!
The mix-ins are sautéed leeks, apples, and cranberries plumped up in tart vinegar, and there is just enough sage and thyme to make this taste like traditional stuffing. The last note is a handful of greens mixed in after baking; I love this touch, which makes this stuffing a much fresher-looking dish. But if green anywhere near the stuffing is anathema to you (or someone in your family!), no worries — just leave it out. It’s still one of the best dressings I know how to make. It’s certainly going on my Thanksgiving table this year.
One bite of this fresh-yet-hearty side and my husband was echoing Faith’s sentiments exactly, wondering why we’ve never made dressing this way before. I asked myself the very same thing — why hadn’t I ever thought to grill the bread first? It’s so simple and so smart!
There couldn’t be a better example of a recipe where making one small change to the process completely transforms the result to something that will surprise and delight everyone around the table. Consider this your solution for upgrading the classic Thanksgiving dressing you already know and love.
If, like me, you don’t have a grill, don’t worry — use a grill pan on the stovetop or slip the slices of bread under the broiler for a char that will give you a very similar result. Most importantly, don’t be shy about getting some serious char on the bread. It offers a nice smoky contrast to the sweet fruit and fresh greens, and is the warm, earthy, rustic backbone that makes this dressing really stand out.
Grilled Bread Dressing with Cranberries and Leeks
1 (16- to 18-ounce) day-old loaf rustic bread
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup unfiltered apple cider vinegar or sherry vinegar
4 thick-cut bacon slices, chopped
3 large leeks, white and tender green parts only, chopped (about 4 cups)
3 large celery stalks, thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
1 Honeycrisp or other firm apple, peeled, cored, and diced
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage leaves
2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
2 large eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups chicken or turkey stock, preferably homemade, warmed
2 packed cups bitter greens, such as baby kale or torn mustard greens
Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 400°F. Butter or lightly grease a 9×13-inch baking dish; set aside.
Heat a gas or charcoal grill to high heat. Slice the bread in 8 to 10 thick slices and brush both sides of each piece lightly with the oil. Grill the bread on an outdoor grill until it’s lightly toasted and has distinct grill marks, 1 to 2 minutes on each side. Set aside to cool.
No grill? You can also grill the bread using a grill pan on the stove, or broil it lightly.
Use your hands to tear the bread into rough 1 1/2-inch pieces and place in a large bowl.
Stir together the cranberries and vinegar in a small bowl. Microwave on HIGH for 30 seconds or until the vinegar bubbles; let stand until the cranberries plump. Do not drain.
Cook the bacon in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat until very crisp, stirring often, about 15 minutes. Add the leeks and celery and stir to coat; cook until tender, stirring often, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the apple and cook until almost tender, about 3 minutes more.
Stir in the thyme, sage, salt, pepper, and celery seed. Add to the torn bread and stir to combine. Stir in the cranberries.
Add the beaten eggs to the bowl and mix well. Pour 1 cup of the stock over the top and toss well. The mixture should be evenly moist, but not wet. Add more stock if the mixture is dry. Spoon into the prepared dish.
Make ahead: At this point the dressing can be covered and refrigerated overnight. To bake, let come to room temperature for about 30 minutes and then proceed with baking.
Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake 20 minutes. Uncover and continue baking until the top is browned and a little crunchy, about 20 minutes more.
Immediately add the greens and stir them into the hot dressing. They will wilt down quite a bit. Serve warm.
- Vegetarian version: To keep this meatless, replace the bacon and drippings with 4 tablespoons butter. Use light-colored vegetable stock in place of the chicken stock.
- Make ahead: The dressing can be prepared and assembled up to 1 day in advance, then covered and stored in the refrigerator until ready to bake. Set at room temperature for 30 minutes prior to baking.
- Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or in the freezer for up to 1 month.