When the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag people gathered for what we now call the first Thanksgiving, they were celebrating plentiful game and fish and a bountiful harvest, giving thanks for all that had been given them.
Researchers tell us the people feasted for several days on wildfowl, venison, corn, shellfish and various tree nuts from the forest. Colonists also included a variety of vegetables they grew, including carrots, turnips, onions, garlic and pumpkins.
To honor that first celebration, I like to include on my Thanksgiving table food grown and raised locally — my grateful prayer to God for abundant gifts.
I developed this stuffing, or dressing, recipe with ingredients from my home state of Arizona.
You can adapt it to include ingredients from your local area. For instance, replacing the pecans with walnuts, chestnuts or almonds, or substituting the dates with raisins, dried apples or cranberries.
Other types of kale or greens can take the place of the Tuscan kale. And, this recipe also works well with cornbread as a substitute for the sourdough bread. Just keep to the same instructions and quantities, and you’ll be serving up a homegrown, homemade special treat this Thanksgiving.
THANKSGIVING STUFFING WITH SAUSAGE AND KALE
Start to finish: 1 hour and 45 minutes
Servings: 8 to 10
1 large or 2 small loaves of sourdough bread (about 1 pound total)
1 cup pecan halves
1 stick of butter, separated into 5 and 3 tablespoons
1 cup diced celery
2 cups diced onion
1 bunch of lacinato (Tuscan) kale, ribs removed and chopped
1 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 teaspoons dried sage
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
1 cup dry sherry
2 cups chicken stock
12 pitted dates, cut into quarters lengthwise
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Tear the bread into bite-sized pieces and spread the bread pieces in one layer on baking sheets. Toast in the oven — tossing the bread a few times — until the pieces are dry on the outside, about 15 minutes.
Transfer the bread pieces to a large bowl. Put the pecans on the baking sheet and toast for 5 minutes in the oven. Transfer the nuts to the bread bowl.
Heat a skillet over medium heat and melt 5 tablespoons of butter. Add the celery and onion and saute 5 minutes until the vegetables are soft. Add the kale, parsley, sage, salt and pepper and cook until the kale leaves are wilted. Remove the skillet from the heat and cool.
Place a deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and saute until brown, about 8 minutes. With a wooden spoon, break up the meat as it cooks. Set aside and cool. Do not drain the grease.
Place a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, add the sherry and cook until reduced by half, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add the rest of the butter — 3 tablespoons — the chicken stock and dates to the sherry. Cook until the liquid begins to bubble and turn off the heat. Let cool for 10 minutes.
Add the sauteed veggies, sausage, the liquid and dates to the bread and pecans and mix until all is well combined and the bread has soaked up the liquid. If bread still seems a bit dry, add a little more chicken stock to the mix.
Transfer the stuffing to a buttered heavy pot or casserole dish. Cover and bake at 375 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes. Uncover the dish, and bake for another 15 minutes until top is golden. Transfer stuffing to a serving dish, or serve directly from casserole.