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Wine Country chefs weigh in on stuffing

If there were just one Thanksgiving side dish that you could serve alongside the turkey, what would it be?

For many, the pi?e de la r?istance is the stuffing, an earthy accompaniment that marries the deep, fatty flavor of butter and onions with the crisp, crunchy textures of wild rice, pine nuts and porcini mushrooms.

?Stuffing and gravy are the reasons people like Thanksgiving,? said Kay Baumhefner of the Come Home to Cooking School in Petaluma. ?Everything else is just something to put the gravy on.?

Baumhefner, along with chefs Josh Mosher of Robert Mondavi Winery and Justin Wangler of Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates, each shared a recipe for a Wine Country stuffing that offers an entire world of texture, flavor and color, all in one bite.

Although she has experimented with all kinds of bread stuffings, Baumhefner?s favorite recipe is made with farro, a whole grain from Italy that is an ancient cousin of spelt.

?I?m really in love with mushrooms and farro,? she said. ?It?s a very nutritous grain. .<TH>.<TH>. It has a lighter mouthfeel and is sweeter and earthier.?

Baumhefner cooks the imported, semi-pearled farro with onions and butter, bacon and mushrooms, then adds an aromatic blend of juniper berry, fresh thyme, allspice, garlic and fennel.

?Farro is basically indestructible,? she said. ?You cook it and it holds up and gets toothsome and chewy, as well as being tender.?

<CW-40>For added texture, she adds dried cranberries or currants, plumped up in some Grand Marnier, and a handful of roasted nuts, such as pistachios or pine nuts. And to gild the lily, she folds in cubes of already roasted butternut squash.

</CW>Like most chefs, Baumhefner does not like to cook the stuffing in the bird, because it requires a longer cooking time, which leads to dried-out breast meat.

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