My grandmother makes what I consider to be the best darned Thanksgiving dressing ever, and try as I might, I have never been able to duplicate it. So to save myself needless frustration, I have gone in a completely different direction with my own dressing recipe. It incorporates some of my favorite fall flavors - earthy roasted chestnuts, plenty of sage, and nutty browned butter. A mixture of egg yolks and crème fraiche gives it a little richness, keeping it moist and almost custardy in the middle. We are lucky to get fresh chestnuts at our local farmers' market, but if you can't find them, feel free to substitute good quality jarred chestnuts, drained and rinsed. —lastnightsdinner
ciabatta, cut into about ¾ inch cubes
peeled roasted chestnuts, roughly chopped
½ stick plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
finely chopped leeks
finely choppped celery
dry white vermouth or white wine
freshly ground pepper
large fresh sage leaves, plus 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage
Spread the bread cubes out on a large sheet pan in a single layer, and allow them to stale overnight.
Cut an X into one end of each chestnut shell with a paring knife, place them on a baking sheet, and roast in a 425 degree oven until they are tender, about 25-30 minutes. Cool the chestnuts, peel them, and set the nuts aside (you can do this a day or two in advance - and if you can't find fresh chestnuts, drained jarred chestnuts will work just fine).
Use one tablespoon of the butter to coat the inside of a baking dish (about 2.5 -3 quart capacity).
Melt the remaining tablespoon in a skillet or saute pan, and add the leeks and celery. Season with salt and cook until softened. Add the wine or vermouth, cook another minute or two, then remove from the heat and set aside.
Whisk the egg yolks and creme fraiche in a large mixing bowl until combined. Season with salt and lots of cracked pepper, and stir in the chopped fresh sage and fresh thyme. Add the chopped chestnuts, the leek and celery mixture, the bread cubes, and the stock. Toss the mixture until the bread cubes are well moistened, then pour the mixture into the buttered baking dish.
Cover the baking dish with foil and bake at 450 degrees for 25 minutes.
Place the remaining 1/2 stick of butter and the whole sage leaves into a small pan and cook over low to medium heat until the sage leaves are crisp and the butter is browned and nutty. Remove the sage leaves, drizzle the browned butter over the top of the dressing, scatter the sage leaves on top, then return the baking dish to the oven.
Continue baking, uncovered, for an additional 20-25 minutes, until the top is crisp and browned.