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Savory Holiday Stuffing with Quince and Chestnuts

Better than listening to Bing sing about them!
Better than listening to Bing sing about them!

This stuffing is especially delicious with Thanksgiving turkey. It is a variation on a "traditional" sage stuffing. Its success depends on a nice balance of savory and sweet components. Bake it in a casserole or stuff it into a bird. Quinces and chestnuts are in the markets now. And for those of you in Marin, there is a vendor at the Sunday Civic Center farmer’s market who sells roasted chestnuts!! 

Ingredients:

4 C. cubed rustic bread, toasted until dry and lightly brown

1.5 C. coarsely chopped chestnuts- see notes below

1.5-2 C. poached quince cubed (may substitute apples cubed and lightly sautéed with butter and sugar)

1 small onion diced

1-2 stalks of celery diced

½ C. pancetta, thinly sliced and then coarsely cut into cubes

2 T. unsalted butter

1 C. rich chicken or turkey stock

¼ C. quince poaching liquid, if available 

¼ C. chopped fresh sage

1 bay leaf

Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

To assemble:

Add two tablespoons butter to a large sauté pan. Add the diced onion, celery, and pancetta. Add the bay leaf and let cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add the chestnuts, half the chopped sage and ¾ cup of the broth. Simmer, partially covered, for another 5 minutes on low heat. 

Add dry bread cubes to a medium sized mixing bowl. Add the quince (cubes of fruit should be about the same size as the bread cubes) and other half the sage to the bowl. Then add the mixture from the stove. If you have it, add a quarter cup of the quince poaching liquid (and cut down on the stock by the same amount.) Add salt and pepper and mix thoroughly. Taste for seasoning and moisture. It will take some time for the bread to absorb the moisture. I like to make this a number of hours ahead of time. I then add more broth as needed. I like my stuffing moist but not wet. Depending on how much moisture the bread absorbs, you may need more or less than one cup of stock.

Place into a covered casserole and bake in 350-degree oven for 45 minutes. You may wish to uncover and turn up the heat to lightly brown the top before serving.

Additional notes:

Chestnuts are in the markets now but are somewhat challenging to peel. I recently learned a technique that makes it much easier. Use pruning shears or kitchen scissors and cut off the "root" end off the nuts. Drop into boiling water for about a minute. Then transfer to a perforated pan. You "roast" them in a fireplace, barbeque or open gas flame. You can find perforated pans at a barbeque store. It is a sauté pan with holes in it. Partially burn the chestnuts on the outside. There will be some black on the exposed end of the nut, but this can be removed with a knife. This technique is easier than any other I've seen. Eating them right out of the fireplace is better than hearing Bing Crosby singing about them.

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