Big Little Recipes

The Two-for-One Ingredient Your Sausage Stuffing Is Missing

November  5, 2019

A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big everything else: flavor, creativity, wow factor. Psst—we don't count water, salt, black pepper, and certain fats (specifically, 1/2 cup or less of olive oil, vegetable oil, and butter), since we're guessing you have those covered. Today, we’re making a Thanksgiving-ready stuffing.


357 days ago, we published this column’s debut stuffing, which we called, without any hyperbole or humor, “shockingly simple”. The shocking part referred to all the classic components that the recipe straight-up skipped, like sautéed onions and celery, and toasted nuts and dried fruit, and cured meat and leafy greens.

There were, of course, some ingredients that were non-negotiable. Bread, yes, but also fat (all butter to keep things vegetarian), eggs (for that fluffy-custardy texture), and stock.

This year, we’re ditching the stock.

See that greenish liquid in the measuring cup? That's liquid gold. Photo by ROCKY LUTEN. PROP STYLIST: SOPHIE STRANGIO. FOOD STYLIST: SAMANTHA SENEVERATINE.

When you hear this word, you probably picture a giant, gurgling pot of meaty bones, vegetable scraps (onion ends, celery tops, carrot butts), and maybe even a bouquet de garnis. As the late Anthony Bourdain put it in Kitchen Confidential, “stock is the backbone of good cooking.” Which is to say, stock is the backbone of good stuffing.

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Top Comment:
“I love this idea, Emma. Sometimes my body craves, needs that bitterness, especially on Thanksgiving.”
— Eric K.

But what, really, classifies as stock? Merriam-Webster defines it as “liquid in which meat, fish, or vegetables have been simmered that is used as a basis for soup, gravy, or sauce.” And in How to Cook Everything, Mark Bittman describes “the simplest vegetable stock” as “an onion, a carrot, a celery stalk, a few other scraps, cooked together for 20 minutes.” But I know a stock that’s even simpler and quicker:

One ingredient, four minutes, ta-da.

You may know it by another name: blanching liquid, aka the salty, flavorful, colorful water that’s left behind after you boil vegetables. Odds are, you pour it right down the drain—but what if, next time, you grabbed a spoon and tried it? You wouldn’t taste something worth pouring down the drain. You would taste vegetable stock. And not vegetable stock in the many-ingredient sense we’re used to, where the flavors blur into brown. But a single vegetable stock, sharply focused and intensely flavored.

Today, we’re making broccoli rabe stock. If you’re adding broccoli rabe to anything, whether it’s pasta or stuffing, you would likely be doing this anyway (a quick blanch not only tenderizes the stalks but saps their bitterness). This nourishing liquid happily take the place of homemade or boxed stock, while the broccoli rabe itself becomes the main vegetable in our stuffing.

Now you’re probably wondering about all the other ingredients. There aren’t many: Bread (any loaf will do, but Italian-minded ones such as ciabatta or focaccia are especially up for the job). Spicy sausage (a best friend to broccoli rabe, sweeter varieties work, too). Yellow onion for bonus savoriness (sautéed in rendered sausage fat, yes please). Eggs for structure and texture. Plus honorary Big Little ingredients, salt and butter, because stuffing doesn’t really work without them.

The result is a sausage stuffing that’s greener and brighter and livelier than what Thanksgiving is used to. And for that very reason, you’ll find this on my table long after the holiday has passed.

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Emma is the food editor at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing articles about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now she lives in New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


Israel C. November 5, 2019
Great idea using the blanching liquid. Thoughts on subbing in an ever so slightly sweet cornbread that's been similarly dried in the oven? I bet the flavors would play well together.
Author Comment
Emma L. November 5, 2019
Yeah, I bet cornbread would be great! You might have to adjust the other ingredient quantities a bit (to accommodate for the difference in texture), but you could use another cornbread stuffing recipe (like this one: as a guide.
AntoniaJames November 7, 2019
Cornbread, yes. If I can't find rabe - and I'm not hopeful - I plan to make this using fennel (and a few herbs, veering from the brief just a bit) with cornbread. ;o)
AntoniaJames November 5, 2019
How clever! I’m tempted to make this. Of course I’ll have to make a more traditional batch as well, for the it-wouldn’t-be-Thanksgiving-without-[fill in the blank] types.

But then, who knows? This could become a new must-have in years to come. At least one of those traditionalists loves broccoli rabe, which we don’t often have because it’s so hard to source, among other reasons. ;o)
Author Comment
Emma L. November 5, 2019
Thank you! My family always finds it hard to settle on just one stuffing recipe, too :)
AntoniaJames November 7, 2019
I've had tremendous difficulty sourcing broccoli rabe, but have recently moved to a fun urban neighborhood with community gardens, so I've put rabe on my "must plant" list for next spring and fall - inspired by this!! ;o)
cookbookchick November 11, 2019
How surprising, AJ. Here on the East Coast rabe is almost always available at various grocery stores. We were in Naples recently where I “discovered” a delicious bitter green called friarelli. It was often included on pizzas and in other dishes. I found it at the grocery store near our hotel. If only I could bring some home with me! When I got back and researched it, I learned that my new “discovery” is - yes! - broccoli rabe!
Eric K. November 5, 2019
I love this idea, Emma. Sometimes my body craves, needs that bitterness, especially on Thanksgiving.