I have very strong feelings about stuffing, which, for once, I can express succinctly: GIMME. Well, that and a little bit of righteous indignation. Why do we limit our consumption of it to Thanksgiving? Why do we feign interest in all sorts of uninteresting things (dry turkey, thin gravy, occasionally awkward conversations with tipsy distant relatives) just to eat stuffing? Separated into components — croutons, broth, sautéed vegetables — we’d never reject them during all of the months that are not November, but together, for whatever reason, together in a casserole dish, it’s the fourth Thursday of the month or bust. I demand answers.
There are a lot of really excellent stuffing recipes out there, and I would enjoy — possibly with someone else’s metabolism — chomping my way through all of them. But when it actually comes down to picking The One, I get daunted because the best ones have so much going on: homemade cornbread and five herbs, crumbled sausage, plumped dried fruit, toasted nuts — 14 ingredients is totally the norm — plus braising and blanching and frying and simmering, and given that it’s tradition to prepare this along with three other vegetables, dinner rolls, three types of pie and a turkey that’s half the size of a refrigerator, gravy, salad and cocktails, it’s really no wonder that most of us find the prospect of making Thanksgiving dinner overwhelming-slash-excruciating.
My solution this year was to simplify by honing in on the two things I most wanted with my torn-up bread and give them enough flavor that nothing else is needed: onions cooked in butter and olive oil until deeply caramelized, then nudged into the tart-sweet zone with sherry vinegar — these alone would make the meal for me. Then, a heap of kale, slumped in olive oil with salt, pepper flakes and garlic — which are also delicious alone. But together! The onions are sour and a little jammy, the kale is faintly bitter and kicky, the sourdough bread is a crouton dream and they tangle together into something so phenomenal, it would be an undeserved cruelty to keep it from yourself for another 22 days. Not when it’s so good with a crispy egg on top, or a bowl of soup on the side, or even roasted sausages. Not when it’s your right as the cook to pick the best craggy bit off the top before sharing it with anyone else.
One year ago: Smoked Whitefish Dip with Horseradish
Two years ago: Spinach and Egg Pizzette
Three years ago: Granola-Crusted Nuts
Four years ago: Homesick Texan Carnitas
Five years ago: Spaghetti with Chickpeas
Six years ago: Salted Brown Butter Crispy Treats
Seven years ago: Peanut Butter Crispy Bars and Spaghetti with Swiss Chard and Garlic Chips
Eight years ago: Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic
Nine years ago: Bretzel Rolls and Stewed Lentils and Tomatoes
And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Not Derby Pie Bars
1.5 Years Ago: Blue Sky Bran Muffins
2.5 Years Ago: Essential Raised Waffles
3.5 Years Ago: Bacon Egg and Leek Risotto
4.5 Years Ago: Ribboned Asparagus Salad
Kale and Caramelized Onion Stuffing
Technically, this is dressing. Stuffing is cooked inside the bird, dressing, on the outside.
1 1/4-pound (20 ounce) round of sourdough or dense country-style white bread
1/2 cup olive oil, divided
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
3 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced in half-moons
1/2 teaspoon sugar or honey
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 pound (large bundle) curly kale, center ribs and stems removed, chopped or torn into large chunks
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups vegetable, chicken or turkey broth, divided
Red pepper flakes, to taste
2 tablespoons sherry
Heat oven to 400°F. Slice crusts off bread (you can save them for breadcrumbs) and tear loaf into rough 1-ish-inch pieces. Place in a large bowl and drizzle with 4 tablespoons olive oil and toss well. Spread on a large rimmed baking sheet and toast in oven, tossing once or twice for even color, until golden brown and crisp on the outside but still a little tender inside, about 20 minutes. Let cool on sheet, then tip back into that large bowl.
Meanwhile, melt 1 tablespoon butter in 2 tablespoons oil in the bottom of a large saute pan over low heat. Add the onions, toss to coat them in oil and cover the pan and with the stove on the lowest heat possible, let them cook undisturbed for 15 minutes. (The steaming and wilting will help them caramelize much faster, yay.) Remove lid, raise heat to medium/medium-high, add sugar and 1 teaspoon salt and cook onions, stirring frequently, for another 15 to 20 minutes, until they’re a deep golden brown. Add 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar and use to scrape any stuck bits off bottom of pan, then cook off. Taste onions. If desired, add a second tablespoon of sherry vinegar and cook off in the same method. (I prefer them with 2 tablespoons.) Add onions to bowl with croutons.
Add 2 more tablespoons olive oil to pan and heat garlic for half a minute, before adding kale. Get kale coated with garlicky oil, then add 2 tablespoons broth. Cook kale until wilted and somewhat tender, seasoning well with salt and pepper, about 6 minutes. Add sherry to pan and cook until it almost disappears. Add remaining broth and last two tablespoons of butter and bring mixture to a simmer.
Pour kale-broth mixture over croutons and caramelized onions. Toss well to combine. Pour mixture into a 3-quart casserole dish and cover with foil. Bake for 15 minutes, then remove foil, and bake for another 15 to 20, until golden and crisp on top.
Do ahead: Each part of this (the croutons, the onions and the kale) can prepared up to 3 days in advance, and assembled and baked when needed. Keep the croutons at room temperature in a container or bag. Keep the onions in the fridge, as well as the kale and broth mixture.