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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.

<CW-34>Instead, she puts aromatics, such as fresh herbs and onion, in the turkey cavity and heats up the stuffing separately. When the stuffing comes out of the oven, she folds in some fresh greens, such as baby spinach or wild arugula, for added color.

</CW>?The green goes deeper green, and there?s a nice little color thing, with the beautiful golden-orange squash, and the flecks of red from the dried cranberries,? she said. ?And it would be really pretty to garnish it with some fresh figs and balsamic vinegar.?

With the bacon left out, Baumhefner?s stuffing would provide an elegant entree for the vegetarians in the crowd, as well as a side dish for the turkey.

?All those flavors work really beautifully together,? she said. ?And it?s nourishing and hearty.?


Over the ridge at the Mondavi Winery in Oakville, executive chef Jeff Mosher makes stuffing with chestnuts and wild mushrooms for an added crunch.

?I like stuffing, all different kinds, but sometimes stuffing is just soft,? he said. ?I think it?s better when it has different textures in it.?

For the bread, Mosher prefers to use pain de mie, a French loaf bread that is fairly dense.

Both the chestnuts and the mushrooms add a bit of bite, while the bacon lardoons and a cup of duck fat add richness.

Mosher recommends buying pre-shelled, frozen chestnuts that can be roasted up right out of the freezer. And if you can?t lay your hands on duck fat, you could substitute chicken fat, the rendering from the bacon or even a mild extra virgin olive oil.

?It?s rich, but it?s not overly rich,? he said of the recipe. ?And it?s definitely wine-friendly.?


Executive chef Justin Wangler of Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates in Santa Rosa grew up in North Carolina eating traditional stuffing ? white bread, sage, celery and onions ? made by his Midwestern mom.

But now that he?s started his own family here in Wine Country, he?s developed his own recipe that reflects California?s bounty.

His Butternut Squash and Wild Rice Dressing, enriched with eggs and half-and-half, provides a rich foundation that contrasts nicely with the crunchy, wild rice.

?It?s almost like a bread pudding, with the cream and eggs on the bottom,? Wangler said. ?But the rice on top gets crispy and the cranberries pop.?

The stuffing also provides some flavor contrast between the sweetness of the squash and the tartness of the cranberries.

And the best part: You can make the stuffing the night before, then be free to work on other dishes on Thanksgiving day.

?Cut the ingredients, mix the whole thing, and throw it into a cast-iron Le Creuset pot,? Wangler said. ?Then just reheat it that day.?

?Rich with contrasting flavors, textures and colors, this hearty and nourishing dish is also packed full of plant proteins, vitamins and natural energy,? Kay Baumhefner writes of her stuffing recipe. ?It?s an open-minded concept that easily adapts to your personal preferences or available ingredients.?

Autumn Harvest Stuffing

Makes 8 to 12 servings


2 pounds butternut squash, peeled and seeded and cut into ?-inch dice

Olive oil, grey salt and black pepper, to taste


? cup dried cranberries and ? cup golden raisins, macerated in 2 tablespoon Grand Marnier


?-? pound baby spinach leaves (or ? pound arugula)


2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cups Italian farro (semi-pearled)

2 teaspoons salt

8 grinds black pepper

1 bay leaf

4 cups hot chicken stock (or water)


4 ounces applewood smoked bacon, cut into ?-inch lardons

2 tablespoons bacon fat or olive oil

1 pound crimini mushrooms, thinly sliced

2 cups sliced red onion

2-3 full sprigs fresh thyme

3 cloves garlic, pounded with 2 juniper berries and a pinch allspice

6-8 grinds black pepper

Grey salt to taste

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar


1 bulb fennel, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon strained fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil


? cup roasted pistachio meats

? cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

Drizzle of roasted pistachio oil (optional)

Salt and pepper, to taste


Figs and Seckle pears and pomegranates

For squash: Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Evenly and generously coat diced squash with several tablespoons oil, a sprinkling of salt and pepper and distribute it into a single layer on a parchment-lined sheet pan. Bake in the middle of a 375 oven for 45 to 60 minutes.

For cranberries: Stir the Grand Marnier into the combined cranberries and raisins; set aside to infuse and plump, stirring several times.

For greens: Rinse and spin the spinach or arugula; store in fridge temporarily.

For farro: Rinse and drain the farro, picking out any impurities. In a large heavy saucepan over medium heat, stir the farro into the oil to coat and toast for several minutes; add the seasonings and then the hot stock (or water). Bring to a boil, stir once, then cover and simmer about 20 to 30 minutes until all the liquid is absorbed and it?s tender but toothsome, adding more hot stock if needed. Discard the bay leaf and set off the heat, lid askew.

Cook the bacon in a deep, heavy skillet over medium heat until barely crisp; remove and reserve.

Pour all but 2 tablespoons of the fat out of the skillet (and reserve), raise the heat to medium-high and add the mushrooms and thyme. Cook, stirring, until a deep golden brown, adding more bacon fat (or olive oil) as needed to keep from sticking. Reduce the heat to medium and add the red onion to briefly saute with a sprinkling of salt until just starting to go limp, once again adding a little oil as needed to keep from sticking.

Add the pepper and garlic-juniper berry-allspice paste; cook for several minutes, still stirring to infuse with flavor but without scorching the garlic. Discard the thyme; taste for salt and add the balsamic vinegar and reserved bacon, stirring to coat the mushrooms and reduce any liquids. Reserve off heat.

When all the component parts are ready, fold the farro into the mushrooms, add a sprinkling of water or stock and cover just to gently reheat together. Then transfer the mixture to a large bowl or casserole and fold in the macerated dried fruits. (Can be made ahead to this point, cooled and kept covered in the fridge for several days; then either use to stuff the turkey or gently reheat, covered, with a sprinkling of water or stock to remoisten.)

Toss the fennel with the lemon juice and olive oil to coat and fold into the hot stuffing. Then fold in the roasted squash, pistachios, parsley and optional pistachio oil.

Taste carefully for salt and pepper and serve on top of a bed of fresh spinach or arugula, in a wide bowl or rimmed platter, garnished with halved figs or pears or sections of pomegranate.

This recipe is from Jeff Mosher, chef at Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville. If you don?t have duck fat, you can substitute chicken fat or bacon fat.

Chestnut and Wild Mushroom Stuffing

Makes 8 servings

? loaf pain de mie, or other white bread, unsliced

1 each medium sweet yellow onion, cut into small dice

4 each celery ribs, cut into small dice

6 each garlic cloves, minced

? cup bacon lardons (made from applewood smoked bacon)

2 cups peeled chestnuts

3 cups assorted wild mushrooms, cut into 2-inch pieces

3 tablespoons chopped fresh marjoram

1 cup duck fat

2 cups chicken stock

Salt and pepper to taste

Trim the crust off the bread and slice into 1-inch cubes. Toss with ? cup of the duck fat, season with salt and pepper and toast in 350 degree oven for 7 minutes.

Saute, on medium heat, the onions, celery, and bacon lardons in 1 tablespoon of the duck fat. Once the bacon begins to color, add the garlic and saute an additional 2 minutes. In a separate pan, using 1 tablespoon of duck fat, saute the mushrooms on high heat for 3 to 4 minutes, season with salt and pepper.

Cut the chestnuts in half and toss in ? cup of duck fat, season with salt and pepper and roast in the oven at 400 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes, until they achieve a nice golden brown color.

Combine all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Add the marjoram, as much of the remaining duck fat as you wish, and the chicken stock. Stir all the ingredients together, and check the seasoning.

If stuffing a bird, omit the chicken stock and stuff the bird. If making separately, place the stuffing into an ovenproof pan, cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes right before serving.

This recipe is from executive chef Justin Wangler of Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates.

Butternut Squash and Wild Rice Dressing

Makes 8 servings

2 tablespoons butter

2 shallots, minced

1 cup fresh cranberries

2 cups chicken stock

? cup uncooked wild rice, rinsed

1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning

1? pounds butternut squash (?-inch dice)

1 tablespoons fresh thyme, minced

1 medium onion, finely chopped

3 celery stalks, chopped

Freshly ground black pepper

1? cups half &amp; half or light cream

8 large eggs

1? cups turkey or chicken stock

? cup dried cranberries

1 tablespoons sage leaves, chopped fine

8 cups sourdough bread cubes

In a Dutch oven, melt 1 tablespoon of butter over medium heat. Add shallots and cook for 1 minute. Add fresh cranberries and cook for 1 minute more. Add 2 cups chicken stock, rice and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Bring to a boil and reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 45 minutes. Drain.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Return Dutch oven to medium heat. Add remaining butter, squash and thyme. Cook and stir for 2 minutes. Add onion and celery. Cook and stir for 3 minutes more. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and set aside.

In a bowl, whisk together the half &amp; half, eggs and 1? cups stock. Stir in cooked rice, squash, dried cranberries, sage and bread cubes. Transfer to a shallow, 3-quart casserole dish. Bake, covered, for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake for 30 minutes more or until golden brown.

You can reach Staff Writer Diane Peterson at 521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com