Homegrown for the Holidays

Not to jump the gun or anything, but we have in our deep freezer the ingredients for my Nana’s dressing, what we used to call “stuffing” because it was stuffed into the turkey and baked with the roast. It features chestnuts, one of the finest foods on the planet.

My Polish Nana’s was an exceptional cook and the wizard behind my family’s annual Thanksgiving feast. Nana was raised in Brooklyn before the American Chestnut blight made this delicacy scare. By the time I arrived on the scene she was making stuffing with Italian chestnuts and paying premium prices. Leaving them out was out of the question.

This dressing is the true centerpiece of the spread, not optional in the least, and not merely a side to carboholics like myself. The crunchy nuttiness of the chestnuts and the spicy and succulent sausage compliment the seasoned bread so well that everything else on the plate is merely there to riff off its perfection.

For years I made this dressing as soon as Italian chestnuts appeared in the produce aisle. But, not lately. Thanks to decades of work by plant geneticists the blight resistant American/Asian Chestnut was developed, sparking a movement to restore chestnuts to the Appalachians. Homeowners began planting seedlings, anticipating holiday magic in the years ahead. Happily, my vegan sausage version of Nana’s dressing has recently begun featuring chestnuts grown within fifteen miles of my home instead of Italian imports. Many thanks to Tami Schwerin and Lyle Estill for sharing the fruit of their optimism. Nana would be proud!

Here is the recipe. You will also find it archived on our recipe site here.
 
 

Chestnut Sausage Dressing – Vegan

Nana’s time-tested masterpiece, veganized

Ingredients:

  • Chestnuts, roasted, removed from their shells and chopped – 2 cups, or about 1 pound
  • Gimme Lean Sausage, fried – 1 pound
  • Bread Cubes (stale preferred, previously frozen is fine) – 6 cups
  • Margarine – ¼ cup (half a stick)
  • Onion, diced – 1 cup
  • Celery, diced – 1 cup
  • Vegetable Stock – 1 1/2 cup (I use vegan chicken base or boullion)
  • Poultry Seasoning – 1 tablespoon

Directions:

  • Prepare chestnuts by roasting, removing the nut from its shell, and chopping.
  • In a large pot sauté onion and celery in margarine.
  • Add stale bread cubes and toss.
  • Combine poultry seasoning with stock and drizzle over bread, tossing to moisten.
  • Fry sausage in separate pan.
  • Fold in fried sausage and pre-cooked chestnuts. Do not over-stir. What you don’t want is a big glob of dough.
  • Taste and adjust seasoning. Resist the urge to add more stock as much as humanely possible.
  • Place in a greased casserole and cover.
  • Bake at 375 degrees, covered, for 30 minutes.
  • Uncover and bake for another 15 minutes.

Notes

  • Best to do the chestnuts and bread cubes ahead, especially if assembling this on Thanksgiving morning. You can also chop the onion and celery ahead, and fry the sausage. Heck, you can make the whole casserole several days before the big day and just slip it into the oven like a pro. Last-minute stress adds no flavor to a fine dish.
  • To roast chestnuts, score each nut with a sharp knife (this is the dangerous part!), place in a flat pan, and bake, covered, at 400 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour. I do not bother soaking the nuts or double scoring with an X. At 30 minutes, test one nut for doneness. Toss the other nuts around in the pan if returning to the oven. The chestnuts will be done when the shell peels back revealing the starchy golden nut and the nut is mealy, but not mushy. Remove from shell when warm, before the membrane no longer pulls away from the nut easily. Keep them in a covered pot to continue steaming as you peel. After peeling, you can freeze them in case harvest comes well ahead of Thanksgiving. I recommend buying 2 pounds so you can enjoy some while peeling and setting aside your 2 cups.
  • If using fresh bread, cut bread into cubes, lay on a cookie sheet and bake at 200 degrees until the cubes firm up – half an hour to an hour.
  • I do not recommend substituting corn bread for wheat bread.

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