Cranberries, apples, sage and thyme are the symbolic elements of winter holidays at home. Christmas brings back visions of favorite family moments, of avid conversation against a backdrop of lively kitchen noise made by a stove filled with pots and pans. My absolute favorite at the Thanksgiving table was my Mom’s stuffing made with mushrooms and apples. As a child I ate spoons of it at dinner, covered with ladles of warm gravy. Next to stuffing, I loved the bright tanginess of cranberry relish made with oranges. The following recipe works perfectly for filling poultry. It also stands beautifully on its own as a deep dish casserole or as the filling for a squash or pumpkin. It is yet another of countless examples of my mother’s intuitive talent in cooking that I proudly carry on in my everyday tasks in life.
This recipe is both sweet and savory. The ingredient quantities are made for a crowd of eight, or for leftovers after the holidays. This year I will be filling Dutch Elstar apples with it until brown, crisp and bubbly. See my notes below for how to do the same.
- eight slices of day old whole wheat or spelt bread .
- the leaves of two sprigs of fresh sage
- the leaves of four springs of fresh thyme
- one banana shallot . about 100 grams in weight
- one small carrot . equal in weight to the shallot
- two celery stalks . pale green leaves attached
- two big handfuls of fresh mushrooms in season . about 250 grams in weight
- two large apples, preferably grown locally . equal in weight to the mushrooms
- two organic eggs
- 50 grams of extra virgin olive oil
- sea salt and black pepper to taste
Cut the bread into nice bite-sized cubes, leaving the crust on. If working well in advance, let the bread dry for a day on the countertop. Alternatively, toast the cubed bread in a preheated oven at 150° Celsius by spreading it evenly on a cookie sheet, and baking it for about 25-30 minutes.
Meanwhile, pick the leaves of sage and thyme, cutting the sage into nice ribbons. Wash the celery stalks, removing the coarse threads on the back of the stalks with a paring knife. Slice each stalk lengthwise in four sections. Peel the shallot and cut it in half lengthwise. Cut the shallot and celery into a fine dice. Repeat the same procedure with the carrot. Mix the herbs through the chopped vegetables in a mixing bowl. Sprinkle them with a teaspoon of Celtic sea salt or fleur de sel and add a generous grind of black pepper.
Brush off any sand or dirt from the mushrooms before slicing them thinly. Drizzle the olive oil into a skillet and sauté the shallot-herb mixture at medium heat about ten minutes or until the aromas are released and the shallots have softened. Add the sliced mushrooms and continue to sauté ten more minutes, or until the mushrooms are nicely browned, yet still plump and juicy. Turn off the heat and allow the ingredients to cool.
Wash and core the apples, leaving the skins on. Grate the apples on the coarse side of a box grater. Break the eggs into a bowl and whisk them with a fork. Mix the toasted bread with the mushroom mixture. Add the apples and taste the stuffing for the right balance between savory herbs and sea salt with sweet apples. Add a finishing touch, if needed. Mix the beaten eggs well through the stuffing ingredients and chill for thirty minutes, allowing the flavors to mingle and settle.
Fill a turkey, chicken or a pumpkin with the mixture of ingredients. If so desired, bake the stuffing as a dish in itself. Place parchment paper in an oven dish, spooning in the stuffing. Cover the top of the oven dish with parchment paper to keep the stuffing moist. Bake the stuffing in a preheated oven at 170° Celsius for 30 minutes.
Serve the warm stuffing as a part of a colorful arrangement of vegetable-based Christmas trimmings like mashed carrots with (sweet) potatoes, oven-roasted Brussel sprouts and stewed red cabbage.
Notes on a new twist for stuffing
Wash six medium-sized apples. Cut off their tops, making a lid about 1 centimeter thick. Core the apples carefully with a spoon and paring knife. Set the lid aside for later use. Scoop out half of the fruit, being careful not to make a hole in the bottom. Fill each apple a spoonful of stuffing and arrange them in a deep casserole dish covered with parchment paper. Sprinkle the apples with coarse black pepper, add a dab of butter and top each apple off with a few sprigs of fresh thyme. Put on the apple lids and arrange the scooped out fruit in the casserole dish. Peel two red onions. Cut them in half and then into small wedges. Tuck in the onion and the remaining stuffing around the apples. As a final touch, drizzle a spoon of honey over the ingredients.
Bake the apples at 180° Celsius for 30 minutes or until the apples are golden brown and the stuffing crunchy around the edges. Present the savory baked apples as an appetizer with your favorite winter salad leaves.