The name says it all. Stuffing, when made with the traditional loaf of bread, is a heavy addition to the holiday table that can leave you feeling, well, stuffed. As if the table weren’t already collapsing under the weight of a giant bird and a half-dozen side-dishes, tradition demands that a big dish of what is essentially just a loaf of bread cut up into pieces, be included, too. Well, phooey on tradition. We’re not saying that stuffing shouldn’t be served at all, we’re just saying, why limit yourself to stuffing made with bread?
The attributes that make stuffing so popular – a mild, comforting flavor and rich, indulgent texture – can be achieved with all sorts of different ingredients. Our favorite combination this holiday season is a buttery blend of cauliflower, mushrooms and leeks baked until soft and caramelized and covered with an intensely nutty blend of hazelnuts and fresh herbs.
Just like all your friends and relatives will be showing up for Thanksgiving dinner barely recognizable in their best duds, the cauliflower in this dish undergoes a similar transformation. This is not the plain, crunchy cruciferous you’ve become accustomed to and even grown to love despite a slightly sulfuric aroma. For this stuffing, the long cooking time and co-mingling with other ingredients transforms the cauliflower into something extra special. We’re tempted to give hazelnuts all the credit. While roasting nuts for long periods of time is not recommended on a regular basis because of possible oxidation, roasting them for added flavor in the occasional holiday dish should be enjoyed, not over-analyzed. The roasted hazelnuts in this stuffing bring a rich texture and a depth of flavor that just can’t be achieved with raw nuts.
Along these same lines, but with a totally different flavor, Fruit and Nut Stuffing is another holiday option. In fact, these two types of stuffing are different enough that both can grace the table if you like. So go ahead, put two bowls of stuffings on your table this year and enjoy them both without any guilt.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
In a sauté pan over medium heat, melt 1/4 cup of butter and sauté mushrooms, leek and celery for about 5 minutes, until the mushrooms soften a bit. Combine with cauliflower florets in a 13×9 inch rimmed baking pan.
In a food processor, combine hazelnuts, juice of one lemon, lemon zest, garlic, thyme, parsley, salt and 1/4 cup of melted butter.
Pulse until the mixture is well-blended and the hazelnuts are in tiny pieces, but it’s not nearly as smooth as a paste.
Spoon the mixture on the top of the cauliflower and mushrooms and mix well.
Bake for 45 minutes at 350 degrees, stirring occasionally. Raise the heat to 375 degrees and bake another 35-45 minutes, stirring several times so the stuffing does not burn or stick to the pan. It is these last 35-45 minutes that are crucial to finishing the dish. The hazelnuts will brown and lose moisture, becoming caramelized and a bit crunchy again.
This stuffing can be baked a day ahead and then covered and re-heated before serving. Right before serving, squeeze the juice of the remaining lemon top and add more salt if needed.