Do you, or do you not — stuff your bird? My Mom and both grandmothers always stuffed theirs and there would usually be a side casserole for the leftover dressing that wouldn’t fit in the cavity. The casserole stuffings always seemed to get eaten first, because they had crispy, craggily edges and that golden brown crown. Whereas the stuff that came out of the bird — well, it looked like stuff that came out of a bird. Kind of mushy-gray with flecks of whatever mixed in. Not so with this Sausage Leek Butternut Stuffing.
This stuffing is all about textures, colors and flavors. Each one putting it’s signature mark on the overall dish. A few housekeeping notes: When you’re chopping the vegetables and fruit, take the time to cut into small, evenly sized pieces to ensure quicker and more uniform cooking. No-one wants to bite into a piece of undercooked squash.
Regarding sausage: You can use your favorite type, so long as it can be crumbled and browned like I’ve shown above. If you like spicy Italian… go for it. I used Jimmy Dean “Sage” flavor because sage is a fall type spice IMO.
For the bread: buy it a few days ahead of time and let it rest on the counter to get stale. I used ciabatta bread and trimmed it of the crusts. Sourdough or other sturdy loaves would work well too.
Mix the bread in with the other ingredients and then wet it with the broth. You want the bread to absorb the liquid without falling apart (hence the sturdy loaf) so don’t over-broth it. You want it to be moist, not soggy. The picture above shows how the bread has absorbed the broth, but still maintains its basic form.
Add a few dots of butter on top of the casserole and it’s ready to go. Incidentally, the other great part about casserole stuffing is that it can be made ahead — even a day or two ahead — and cooked when you’re ready to eat… Unless you like making 20 dishes from scratch on Thanksgiving Day.
See? When you take it out of the oven it’s golden with some dark edges and crispy nubs. That’s the good stuff.
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Sausage Leek Butternut Stuffing
- 2 teaspoon olive oil
- 1/2 pound breakfast sausage I used Jimmy Dean "Sage"
- 1 cup onion 1/4" dice
- 1 stalk celery 1/4" dice
- 2 leeks pale green parts only
- 2 cups butternut squash peeled, seeded, cut into 1/4" dice
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt divided
- 1 large granny smith apple peeled, seeded, cut into 1/4" dice
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries
- 1 teaspoon dried sage crumbled
- 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary chopped
- 3/4 teaspoon ground bay leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper freshly ground
- 8 cups day old bakerybread, preferably sourdough or ciabatta crusts removed, cut into 1" dice
- 1 1/2 - 2 cups low sodium chicken or vegetable broth
- 2 tablespoons butter cut into small cubes
- Preheat the oven to 375°. Spray a large casserole dish with vegetable spray and set aside.
- Slice the leeks in half vertically, then chop them into 1/4" moons. Fill a large bowl with water and add the leeks to the water. Swish the leeks in the water with you hand, dislodging any grit or dirt that may be between the layers. Lift the leeks (do not pour them out) with your hands into a salad spinner. Spin to dry and set aside.
- In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the sausage and cook, breaking it up with the back of a spoon or fork until crumbled and browned.
- Add the onion, celery, leeks, squash and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Stir to combine, cover with a lid and cook for 6-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender.
- Add apples, cranberries, sage, rosemary, bay leaves and remaining kosher salt and pepper to the vegetables. Stir to combine and cook for 3-5 minutes or until apples are tender and cranberries are softened.
- Remove from heat and add bread cubes a handful at a time, tossing to combine after each addition. Add broth 1/4-1/2 cup at a time until the bread is moistened but not falling apart. (I ended up using about 1 3/4 cups of broth for this step.) Taste for seasoning and adjust to your tastes.
- Transfer the stuffing mixture to the prepared casserole dish and dot with butter. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the top is crusty and browned.
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