The holidays are quickly descending upon us and I am so filled with the spirit of the season that I can hardly contain myself. However, I also can feel that familiar sense of anxiety that inevitably visits us all at some point this time of year begin to slowly creep its way into my being.
I’d like to think that with each year I manage to handle the holiday bustle with a little more grace and poise, than the previous year. But my mind is already churning over Thanksgiving plans, holiday catering jobs and Christmas gift ideas.
However, there is one thing I that can check off my seemingly endless holiday to-do list, and that is my Thanksgiving stuffing recipe. Stuffing may be an afterthought to some people, but for me it is the absolute star of the show. Carbs are my weakness, so I have had a soft spot for this particular side dish for as long as I can remember. I love toying with different stuffing recipes, but I’m so excited to share this Fennel, Leek and Charred Lemon Stuffing with you today, because folks, this one’s a keeper.
Why you’ll love this Fennel, Leek and Charred Lemon Stuffing
I start with a bread of extraordinary quality (always) and cube and toast it. The extra step of drying out the bread is so worthwhile for stuffing, because it will absorb more flavor than fresh bread and also hold its texture better as it absorbs the liquid.
Then I elevated the typical stuffing players to make this stuffing truly special. I replaced onion with leeks, celery with fennel and plain button mushrooms with silky shiitakes.
For a final touch I char fresh Meyer lemons on the grill and squeeze the some of the juice onto the stuffing mixture just before baking, which infuses it with a citrusy brightness. I also save some of the grilled lemon slices to garnish the stuffing.
- This stuffing is vegetarian, but if you’re inclined to add sausage as many people like to do, I recommend using one studded with fennel seeds to accent the caramelized fennel in the stuffing.
- If you’d like to make this stuffing vegan, you can replace the butter with a vegan butter substitute and omit the eggs. You can add 1/2 cup of pureed squash or pumpkin to replace the eggs, although keep in mind that it will alter the flavor a bit.
- If you can’t find Meyer lemons, regular lemons will work just fine too!
If using pre-dried stuffing cubes rather than a loaf, your stuffing will likely require a bit more vegetable broth than what is listed, in order to properly soak the bread cubes. Start with 1/2 cup extra and keep adding in small increments until the bread cubes are well saturated.
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Fennel, Leek and Charred Lemon Stuffing
This Fennel, Leek and Charred Lemon Stuffing is sure to please both vegetarians and omnivores alike at your holiday table.
- 1 loaf rustic bread, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 10 cups)
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter divided
- 2 large fennel bulbs chopped
- 2 large leeks trimmed and chopped
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1 pound shiitake mushrooms sliced
- 1 teaspoon rubbed sage
- 2 Meyer lemons sliced 1/2 inch thick
- 2 cups vegetable broth
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
- 2 tablespoons fresh parsley
Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 225 degrees. Spread the bread cubes on a large baking sheet and bake until crisp, stirring every 30 minutes, about 90 minutes total. Remove from oven and set aside.
Increase heat to 375 degrees. Meanwhile, heat 3 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet over medium heat and add fennel. Cook, stirring, until fennel is softened and caramelized, about 7 minutes. Add leeks and cook until they begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Add mushrooms, garlic and ground sage and season mixture with salt and pepper and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes.
Heat a grill pan, spray with cooking spray and place lemon slices on top. Grill both sides until surfaces are charred, about 2-3 minutes per side. Remove and set aside.
Transfer the toasted bread to a large bowl. Add the fennel mixture and fold to combine. Add broth and eggs to a separate bowl and whisk to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Pour over the bread mixture and stir until evenly combined.
Lightly grease a 9x13-inch baking dish. Transfer the bread mixture into the baking dish and spread into an even layer. Melt the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter and drizzle over the top. Squeeze the lemon juice from 1-2 lemon slices evenly over the top.
Cover the baking dish tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 25 minutes. Uncover and bake for another 15 minutes until the top is golden-brown. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes before serving.