There are probably as many versions of dressing as there are cooks in the South. And no, we don’t call it stuffing. Ask anyone about dressing and they will quickly begin to tell you about their Mother’s or their Grandmother’s dressing. Few if any wrote down their recipe. Both my Grandmothers and my Mother made wonderful dressing. In all honesty, if the dressing isn’t up to par, well Thanksgiving is a bust!
Our family recipe for dressing is cornbread based, as are most Southern dressings. I start with a fresh baked savory cornbread, seasoned with freshly cracked black pepper, parsley, sage and poultry seasoning.
But you need a balance from other breads. In our family we’re big fans of sweet and savory. As this recipe has evolved through the years I’ve added two breads to partner with the cornbread, a Challah bread plus panettone – a wonderful Italian holiday bread. You can find panettone bread in a number of specialty markets or online. My favorite, carried by Williams-Sonoma is made in Italy by Pasticceria Scarpato using a recipe dating back to 1888. It is studded with golden raisins and glazed chestnuts. Then I add a handful of dried cranberries and you have a wonderful balance of sweet to savory.
Dressing is somewhat akin to a savory bread pudding. Chunks of bread soak up half and half, broth and eggs all highlighted with the herbs and seasonings of the holidays. Toasted pecans add a final element of taste and crunch!
For the Savory Cornbread:
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon dried parsley
½ teaspoon dried sage
½ teaspoon poultry seasoning
1 cup milk
½ vegetable or canola oil
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, kosher salt, pepper, baking powder, sugar, parsley, sage and poultry seasoning.
In a separate bowl or large measuring cup, whisk together the milk, eggs and oil. Mix with the dry ingredients, stirring until just combined.
Pour into a 9” cast iron skillet or 8” square baking dish, which has been sprayed with a cooking spray.
Bake at 400 degrees for 30-35 minutes until golden brown. You can make the cornbread several days ahead, break it up and leave it in your mixing bowl to dry out a bit.
For the dressing:
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped, about 2 cups
4 stalks of celery, including leaves if on the celery stalks, about 2 cups
1 clove garlic, finely chopped, about ½ teaspoon
1-1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper, divided
2-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
4 cups seasoned cornbread, broken into large pieces
4 cups Challah, cut into 1”-2″ cubes
4 cups Panettone bread, cut into 1″-2″ cubes
½ cup dried cranberries
½ cup toasted chopped pecans
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning, or to taste
2-1/2 teaspoons dried sage, or to taste
½ teaspoon dried parsley
2 teaspoons sugar
2 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup half and half
2 cups chicken stock
1 can cream of chicken soup, 10.5 ounces
In a large sauté pan, melt the butter with the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, celery and ½ teaspoon of the black pepper. Cook until the vegetables are soft and the onions are translucent then add 1 teaspoon of the kosher salt along with the chopped garlic.
Continue cooking for an additional five minutes. Set aside to cool slightly.
In a large mixing bowl toss together the breads, the dried cranberries, toasted pecans, the remaining pepper and kosher salt, poultry seasoning, dried sage, parsley, sugar plus the onion and celery. Stir to blend together.
In a small bowl whisk the eggs with the half and half. Add the chicken stock along with the cream of chicken soup. Using a light hand, stir to mix together.
Spoon the dressing into a large baking dish that has been lightly sprayed with a cooking spray.
Cover with foil and bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake for an additional 20- 30 minutes or until the center is set and the edges have started to turn golden.