Technically this dish is a dressing instead of a stuffing (it’s being baked outside the bird), but who wants to get weighed down with semantics when there is a hearty side dish packed with sweet Italian sausage, dried cherries, and cornbread to make.
I first made a variation of this stuffing years ago and used it to stuff Cornish Game Hens. I fell in love with it then and have happily returned to it again and again over the years. The sweetness of the cornbread is the perfect complement to the Italian sausage and tangy dried cherries and its presentation, a cheerful golden brown upon leaving the oven, far outshines the more traditional stuffings made from wheat bread.
Lest you think I’m biased, I will admit that cornbread is trickier to work with than regular bread. If used fresh from the oven, when being tossed into the other ingredients it has a nasty habit of falling into tiny pieces and then, as if in protest over the indignity, seems to give up all together and become soggy. This is frustrating for the cook although I’ve never had a guest complain or have trouble eating a less than perfect version.
To circumvent this problem, cube the cornbread after it cools and let it sit on the counter for a day or two to dry out a bit. If pressed for time or lacking self-control (I can’t resist nibbling on things left on the counter), cube the cornbread, spread it on one or two large baking sheets and then toast for 10 minutes in a 400 degree F oven.
From there it should be smooth sailing to pull this casserole together and I promise you’ll find yourself stuffed in no time. Which now that I think about it makes stuffing the exact right name for this recipe. Happy cooking!
This recipe is part of the menu for Minced Thanksgiving 2015. For even more turkey day preparation, follow me on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest; I’ll be using the hashtag #mincedthanksgiving and hope you’ll use it as well to share any Minced blog creations, your favorite dishes, and your best holiday memories with me.
Cornbread Stuffing with Sweet Italian Sausage and Dried Cherries
Printer Friendly Recipe
Serves 10 to 12
Make this stuffing up to 24 hours in advance. Once prepared, wrap the casserole in plastic wrap and refrigerate. When ready to bake, remove the casserole from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature about 30 minutes prior to baking. Bake as directed below.
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, more for greasing casserole dish
2 medium yellow onions, chopped
2 large celery ribs, chopped
1 lb ground sweet Italian sausage, casing removed
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup dried cherries
3 tablespoons minced fresh thyme
3 1/2 cups homemade or less-sodium chicken broth, more if stuffing is dry
13 cups cubed cornbread, at least one day old or toasted and cooled (see headnote in recipe below)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon salt, more to taste
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, more to taste
Grease a 9 x 13-inch casserole dish with butter. Set aside.
In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and celery and cook for five minutes or until the onions are translucent. Add the sausage to the mixture and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sausage is fully cooked. Stir in the garlic and cook for 30 seconds or until fragrant. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the dried cherries and minced thyme. Let cool.
Place the cubed cornbread in a very large bowl. Add the sausage mixture and very gently toss to combine. Whisk the eggs, salt and freshly ground black pepper into the chicken broth and pour the mixture over the cornbread and vegetables. Use a rubber spatula to gently incorporate everything and then gently scrape the mixture into the prepared casserole dish.
Let the mixture sit in the refrigerator for at least one hour before baking or cover tightly and refrigerate for up to 24 hours if making ahead.
When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and bake until golden brown, about 35 minutes. Let the stuffing cool for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
Cornbread – Printer Friendly Recipe
Makes 1 (9 x 13-inch) casserole dish of bread
This recipe for cornbread adapted from The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook is not only delicious, but also sturdy enough for stuffing. As directed in the blog post, make the cornbread a couple of days in advance or plan on toasting cubed pieces for 10 minutes in a 400-degree oven for best results. After toasting, be sure to let cubes cool completely before proceeding with the recipe.
4 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1 2/3 cups whole milk
2 cups yellow stone-ground cornmeal
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoon granulated sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus more for greasing the casserole dish
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and place a rack in the middle position. Grease a 9 x 13-inch casserole dish and set aside.
Whisk the eggs, buttermilk and whole milk together in a medium bowl. In a large bowl, whisk together the remaining dry ingredients (everything but the melted butter).
Whisk the milk mixture into the dry ingredients until just combined. Stir in the melted butter.
Pour the batter into the prepared baking sheet and bake for about 30 minutes until golden brown. Turn out onto a wire rack to cool before cubing.