The One True Dressing

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I'm a dressing maverick. I've taken my own dressing to Thanksgiving for years, ostensibly because I needed a vegetarian version. My dirty little secret though, is that I just like mine so much better than any other dressing. Ever. Better than anybody's mother or grandma (sorry Mom). I've been making this dressing since before I'd heard the word foodie, much less considered myself one. It's foolproof. It will make your vegetarian guests happy. And I'm telling you, it's the best dressing you'll ever have. It's more of a savory, crunchy, appley bread pudding than a StoveTop bowl of croutons (don't get me wrong, I've eaten and enjoyed StoveTop. But for Thanksgiving, only this will do). My recipe comes from, of all places, a souvenir cookbook from Mystic Seaport in Connecticut. So yes, it's a damn Yankee recipe. It's the kind of cookbook that's heavy on cakes composed of Cool Whip, boxed chocolate pudding and Graham crackers. But the unnamed cook who contributed this particular recipe should have a statue in her honor. I've survived long holiday weekends on not much more than this dressing and pumpkin pie -- and nobody heard a peep of a complaint out of me. Even this year, the dressing was the star of my first Thanksgiving as a non-vegetarian in nine years (held early because we're out of the country on T-day). I didn't bother with any meat, though we could've had a perfectly lovely local turkey, duck or chicken, and instead stuffed our deliriously good dressing into some hollowed-out acorn squash from our farm share. The key to this dressing is cooking it a lot longer than you would think necessary, and stirring it periodically while it bakes. This gives you that perfect combination of a golden, crisp top and a luscious, steaming moist inside. Studded with crunchy almonds and walnuts and strewn with sweet apples, every bite is a sage-scented bit of heaven. Without further ado then, I present Apple Nut Sage Stuffing Adapted from Mystic Seaport A New England Table 1 lb loaf of stale or toasted bread, torn into small pieces (check Old Town Liquor early in the morning, you may score some day old Blue Dog) 3 cups vegetable broth 6 Tbsp unsalted butter 3 medium onions, chopped 1 1/2 cups chopped celery (that's 3-4 stalks) 1 cup slivered almonds, toasted 1 cup walnuts, toasted 1 cup chopped apple (2 medium or 3 small crisp sweet apples -- ours came from our farm share and I have no idea what the variety was, other than red) 1/2 cup chopped fresh sage, and maybe a little dried sage too, for good measure salt and pepper to taste 4 eggs (I highly recommend using good farm eggs -- their rich yolks will make all the difference) Place bread in large mixing bowl and pour broth over it; let stand for 5 minutes to let broth absorb. Melt butter over medium heat in a large, heavy skillet and saute onions and celery until tender. Stir in nuts and sage, and cook another five more minutes. Add this mixture to the bread, mix in the apples, and season with salt and pepper. Beat the eggs with a fork until well-blended and pour over stuffing. Toss well to coat all the bread and season again. Transfer to a buttered 13x9 inch baking pan and bake uncovered at 325. After baking 45 minutes to an hour, remove from oven and stir it all up, to fold the more cooked top into the custardy inside. Return to the oven and bake another 15-30 minutes, and repeat the stir. It may still need another 15 minutes or so. Remove from the oven and try to resist the urge to pluck the walnuts and apples from the dressing. Those are bound for someone's plate, and besides you'll burn your fingers. For added fun and a fancier presentation, stuff hollowed-out acorn squash that you've roasted while the dressing cooks, and return to the oven for a few more minutes to brown the top.
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