This is my elevated version of the classic boxed stuffing mix. It’s inspired by Suzanne Goin’s Kale Dressing in Bon Appetit, which is a two-part recipe that has you slow-cook kale, then use it as the base of a traditional dressing that you bake in the oven. It's a beauty, but it's a time-intensive one. Stuffing definitely warrants a place on the table more than once a year, so I decided to make a streamlined version of it that can be prepared on the cooktop. It presented a fun challenge of figuring out how to adapt the cooking techniques; in the end, I was able to simplify the dish into a one-pot affair. Aside from toasting your bread, which can be done well in advance, and a little bit of chopping, this version is nearly as simple as making the boxed variety -- and infinitely more delicious. —EmilyC
½ loaf of ciabatta, cut into ¼ to ½ cubes (8 level cups total)
3 T olive oil
1 dried chile de árbol
¼ tsp fennel seeds, lightly crushed
½ cup minced fennel from 1 small bulb
½ cup minced onion from 1 small onion
1 T finely minced fresh thyme leaves
1 tsp finely minced fresh rosemary
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
kosher salt + freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch Tuscan kale (about ½ pound), washed, stems and center ribs removed, and leaves torn into 1” pieces, about 5 cups
2 cups vegetable stock
1/4 cup dried cranberries or tart cherries (optional)
To toast ciabatta: Preheat oven to 400°. Spread 8 cups of cubed ciabatta on a large rimmed baking sheet. Toast, stirring once or twice, until croutons are golden brown, crisp, and dry. You're looking for a texture that is a bit drier than a normal crouton, which will ensure they retain their shape and don't get mushy in the cooktop stuffing. Once toasted, you should have around 4½ cups of croutons. Set aside and let cool before using. They can be made a day in advance and stored in an air-tight container.
In a 3 or 4 quart casserole or Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add chile and let sizzle in pan for 1 minute. Next add fennel seeds, fennel, onion, thyme, rosemary, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper and sauté until vegetables are tender and lightly caramelized, about 6 minutes.
Add kale to pan, tossing with tongs to evenly coat the kale with the oil. Season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Saute for about 3 to 4 minutes, tossing occasionally. The kale will turn bright green, slacken, and start to tenderize.
Add vegetable stock to pan and bring to a boil. Simmer kale another 2 to 3 minutes (uncovered) until tender. Add ciabatta croutons and dried cranberries or cherries (if using) to pan, stirring well so croutons evenly absorb the stock. Cover pan, then take off heat and let sit for 5 minutes. Uncover pan, fluff with fork, and season to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. All of the stock should be absorbed and your croutons should be soft yet have retained their shape. Since ciabatta loaves will naturally vary in texture, here are a few troubleshooting notes, if needed: if any stock remains yet croutons are soft, pour off excess and return the pan to low heat so that it all evaporates. If croutons are not soft, add a few tablespoons of stock, bring to a simmer, cover and let rest for a few more minutes.
Cook's note: I'm aware that neither my recipe nor the boxed stuff is technically a stuffing since they're not cooked inside the bird. Call it whatever you like: dressing, stuffing, bread salad, you name it!