Stuffing is the star of Thanksgiving, if you ask me (or my son), and I’m very sorry if I’m shocking those of you who believe it is a turkey-centric meal. I believe this so strongly, that I always make two kinds of stuffing, this glorious version with a homemade peppery cornbread as it’s base, and another, which you will have to wait until tomorrow to find out about, because I think a little mystery is a good thing—in food, and romance and good books.
Now, to be fair, I did rhapsodize over Turkey stock a few posts back, and I should point out that the stock plays an important role in the ensemble of flavors that come together to make stuffing the big hit that it is. Stuffing demonstrates the essence of the phrase “the whole is greater than the some of it’s parts.” Though, this next part, the cornbread, is pretty great straight out of the pan, and all of it never makes it into the stuffing because I cannot resist having a steaming hot piece of it right out of the oven, slathered with butter.
Fresh cornbread is so easy to make, I encourage you to make your own, now and forever, just for the opportunity to cut into it, as I do, and have that warm piece as a reward for all your hard work. I’m including my recipe for this Peppered Cornbread with the stuffing recipe. See how beautifully it crusts up when you bake it in a preheated cast iron pan?
Here are the remaining cast of characters for the dish: leeks, celery, toasted pecans. Why am I showing you those leek tops piled up in the sink? Because I want to remind you to save these in the freezer for the next time you make stock of any kind. I love finding a bag of them hidden away when I’m about to make stock…it’s an added bonus and makes me feel all warm and frugal and sustainable and all that good stuff we now call eco-friendly but our grandmothers just called it common sense.
Oh, did I mention bacon?
And the leeks and celery getting soft and translucent in with the bacon?
Then it’s just a matter of tearing up the cornbread (while having a few more samples) and mixing it in with the pecans, and dousing it all with the stock and some beaten eggs and putting it in a pretty baking dish.
For now, I’m leaving mine raw, wrapping it tightly with winding layers of plastic wrap and freezing it until the day before Thanksgiving, when I will take it out to thaw in the fridge overnight, and bake it to a golden brown about 45 minutes before dinner. If you are a cornbread stuffing lover, you will love this one, and if you’ve never had one, this is the one to start the addiction with.
Cornbread Stuffing with Bacon, Leeks and Pecans
adapted from Martha Stewart Living
2 cups pecans
2 homemade or store-bought cornbreads, coarsely broken into 2-inch pieces, approx. 16 cups.
(See my Peppered Cornbread recipe below)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, plus more for dish
8 slices smoked bacon, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
4 celery stalks, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
4 leeks (white and pale-green parts only), chopped into 1/2-inch pieces, rinsed well
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
2 1/2 cups homemade chicken or turkey stock, or store-bought low-sodium chicken stock
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread pecans on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast in oven for 7 minutes. Let cool slightly; coarsely chop. Mix together pecans and cornbread in a large bowl.
2. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Cook bacon in a large high-sided skillet over medium-high heat until almost crisp, about 3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium; add celery and leeks. Cook until vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Stir in thyme and 1 1/4 teaspoons salt; season with pepper. Transfer to a large bowl.
3. Return skillet to medium-high heat, and add stock; bring to a simmer, scraping up brown bits and stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Add to bowl with bacon-vegetable mixture. Stir in eggs. Gently mix in cornbread mixture. (Do not overmix.) Transfer to baking dish. Dot top with butter. Bake until golden brown, about 35-40 minutes.
Black Pepper Corn Bread
Makes one 10-12” corn bread, using a cast iron skillet
Canola oil, for greasing the pan
2 cups stone ground (or fine to medium ground) cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose, unbleached flour (for gluten-free just sub this with another cup cornmeal, ground very finely in a blender or food processor to make “corn flour”).
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons or more to taste freshly ground pepper
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups buttermilk (or use plain milk mixed with a little yogurt)
½ cup sour cream
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Rub a 10” cast iron skillet and heat it in the oven. (If you don’t have a one, grease a 9” round cake or similar size rectangular pan with oil but there is no need to preheat it.)
2. In a bowl, whisk the cornmeal with the flour, sugar, baking powder and soda, salt, pepper. In another bowl whisk the eggs, buttermilk, sour cream and butter, then whisk into the dry ingredients until combined. Pour the batter into the skillet (or pan).
3. Bake the corn bread for about 35 minutes, until risen and golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs. Let cool for 20 minutes before serving or dicing for croutons.
Note: You can add any number of things to enhance this basic cornbread, for example:
1. Add a small can of corn kernels (or a cup of frozen) to the wet ingredients. Combine
2. Eliminate the pepper and add fruit like blueberries, cranberries, strawberries, but distribute them evenly over the batter after you’ve poured it into the skillet, and triple or quadruple the sugar content for a sweeter bread.
3. Add savory ingredients like cheddar cheese and jalapenos, or rosemary and parmesan cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, carmelized onions or anything else you can imagine!