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.