Most years I make a typical southern-style cornbread dressing similar to what was served in my home on Thanksgiving when I was a child, but I was in the mood for a change this year and wanted to try my hand at a bread based dressing. Slightly spicy sweet Italian sausage and rich earthy cremini mushrooms bring a lot of hearty flavors to this rustic-style herb bread dressing. Using artisan bread adds another dimension of freshness instead of using the dried packaged bread stuffing mix. And of course it’s not dressing without the traditional flavors of fresh thyme and sage herbs. An aromatic mirepoix of vegetables rounds out the dish. I did increase the amount of fresh thyme and sage by half again from the original recipe, so if you think that might be too herby for your family’s taste, cut them back to one tablespoon each.
I’ve used cremini mushrooms in this recipe. Often you’ll see them labeled baby portabellos or baby bellas. The differences between white button mushrooms, cremini and portabellos can be confusing and what it boils down to a matter of their age. The cultivated white button mushrooms are the youngest variety of button mushrooms. When the mushroom is left to grow for longer and become mature, they turn brown, their tops spread out and that is the portabello. The cremini mushroom is the one in between. It is a moderately mature version of the white button mushroom yet younger than the portabello, hence the name baby portabellos or baby bellas.
Cranberry sauce is one of my Thanksgiving specialties and I will be posting several versions early next week for those of you that love cranberry sauce, so stay tuned. Here’s a close-up of the herbed bread dressing. Dig in with your fork
Rustic-style Herbed Bread Dressing with Sausage & Mushrooms
Adapted from Wine, Food & Friends by Karen MacNeil, based on a Lightened-up Recipe Makeover from Cooking Light, yield 12 servings
1 ½ pounds peasant-style artisan white bread
4 (4 ounce) links sweet Italian turkey or chicken sausage in casings
2 teaspoons sweet butter
1 pound cremini or baby bella mushrooms, cleaned, tough stems trimmed off, then quartered
2 tablespoons sweet butter
1 ¼ cups chopped mild white or yellow onion
1 ¼ cups peeled & chopped carrots
1 ¼ cups chopped celery
½ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 ½ tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
1 ½ tablespoons minced fresh sage
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 (14 ounce) can fat-free low-sodium chicken broth (or homemade if you have it)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Cut bread into 1” cubes and arrange in a single layer on a half sheet pan and bake for 10 minutes. Toss half way through to insure evening browning. Remove from the oven and place in an extra large mixing bowl. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F.
Cook sausage links in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat for about 10 minutes until they are cooked through, browning evenly on all sides. Remove from the skillet and set aside until they are cool enough to slice. After they are sliced, add to the bowl with the bread cubes.
In that same skillet, melt 2 teaspoons of butter over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and sauté until they’ve given up their liquid, salting about half way though. Add them to the bowl along with the bread.
Carefully wipe out the skillet and add the 2 tablespoons of butter. Sauté the onions, carrots and celery over medium-high heat until they have softened, but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add the parsley, thyme, sage, salt and freshly ground black and sauté one minute to incorporate. Add the vegetables to the bowl with the bread, sausages and mushrooms.
Whisk together the eggs and chicken broth. Stir the liquid into the bread mixture to moisten and toss well to coat. Coat a 13 x 9-inch baking dish with cooking spray, then spread the bread mixture evenly in the dish. Bake at 350 degrees F for 45 minutes. Serve warm. Yield 12 servings.