Unlike certain mushy food aficionados, I do not like to eat mush. I don't understand the allure: the best bites of cereal in milk are the first crunchy ones, not the final sodden ones; bread belongs beside your soup bowl, not in it; and soggy bread does not a salad make.
Bread puddings, stratas, and stuffings are a little better: After being soggified (it’s a word), they’re partially firmed back up from cooking. But the only acceptable time to make these dishes is if your bread is so stale it might break a toe if dropped; intentionally drying out perfectly good bread to make these recipes is inexcusable.
I am not a picky eater (inasmuch as a vegetarian can avoid being one), so I will eat all of these dishes when you serve them to me. But I will do so reluctantly while I question whether we are truly destined to be friends (I can be a little dramatic at times).
Thus, it should come as no surprise that Thanksgiving is not my favorite holiday. A meal often centered around meat, food from a can, and mushy foods? No, thank you. Oh yes, I love the friends and family and togetherness bit, but I’ll pass on the green beans cooked to oblivion, the sweet potato casserole, and the celery-studded stuffing—or take the smallest socially-acceptable servings.
This year will be different though: I have found a stuffing for stuffing lovers and haters alike. Gingerroot’s Layered Grapes and Bread with Chèvre and Balsamic doesn’t use all that much liquid (yes, substituting vegetable broth for chicken stock works just fine) so the middle isn’t as squishy as some stuffings can be and there are plenty of crispy edges on top. Plus the mix of flavors is irresistable—I ate not one small serving, but three large ones. This dish now has a permanent place on my Thanksgiving menu; I bet it might on yours, too.
Serves 6 to 8 as a side
For the bread:
10 ounces day-old sourdough, cut into 1-inch cubes (8 to 9 cups)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
For everything else:
2 large sweet onions (1 pound total)
2 teaspoons olive oil, plus extra for the dish
3 tablespoons port, divided
1 pound organic seedless black grapes, de-stemmed and halved (about 4 cups), divided
1 1/2 cups homemade or low-sodium chicken stock or vegetable broth
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
4 1/2 ounces chèvre
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
First photo by James Ransom, final photo by Linda Xiao