Sausage, Fennel and Orange Stuffing…With Oregano

To continue on with our Mediterranean Thanksgiving, we had a Sausage, Fennel and Orange Stuffing.  It was wonderfully moist, flavorful and herbacious – as well as being a welcome change to the traditional stuffings that we know and love.  Mike’s family favorite is a traditional herbed bread stuffing with celery and onion.  My parents have a Battle of The Stuffings every year, where my Mom makes a rice, chestnut and sausage stuffing and my father makes a toasted bread, bacon and almond stuffing.  Oh, and if they ever casually ask you which your favorite one is, DON’T ANSWER.  That has bear-trap written all over it.  All three are delicious, and frankly we would be devastated NOT to see these on the Thanksgiving (and Christmas, and Easter) tables.  They’re tried, tested and true.  So, because the fams aren’t allowed to experiment with their stuffings, we did it instead…hehehee…

And in case you’re wondering about the title, this is turkey stuffing…which I’m sure you got.  And it’s stuffing made with sausage, fennel and orange.  Again, pretty self-explanatory there.  But the thing is, the oregano so fully tips it’s little hat to you and is such an important flavor in the dish that I really felt it ought to be noted in my clumsy and faltering title.  So there you go.  

Oh, and one final note.  We all know that stuffing isn’t beautiful.  Well, maybe yours is, but my experience is that stuffing usually looks a bit like leftover dog food.  However, it’s also far and above my favorite part of any holiday meal.  I LOVE TASTY MUSHY BREAD DISHES.  That’s just who I am.  And if it’s not particularly aesthetic?  Meh.  Neither am I most of the time, and you’ll grow to like me to eventually …. maybe…. please…..

Sausage, Fennel and Orange Stuffing…With Oregano

  • 1 large loaf of Italian bread *
  • 1/2 kg Italian sausage (about 4 large links)
  • 1 orange
  • 1 large bulb of fennel
  • 1 super enormous Spanish onion
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 tsp dried sage
  • 2 tbsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 – 1 cup chicken or turkey stock **
  • salt and plenty of pepper
* Yes, it’s true, I love stale bread.  That’s no secret.  This is just another instance where a slightly stale loaf of bread would be much better to use than fresh, and it would also aid in effective bread cutting manoevers.
** I would have used turkey stock, but this was my first turkey so frankly I didn’t have any.  Another consideration is whether the stuffing will be cooked in the bird or on the side.  If it’s on the side, you’ll need more liquid – but I recommend that you supplement as much as you can with the juices from your cooking turkey.

Preheat the oven to 400F.  Cut the bread up into cubes of about 3/4 – 1 inch in size.

Spread these out as evenly as you can on two baking sheets and set them in the center of the oven to lightly toast, rotating them halfway.  How long this takes will depend on your oven, but about 10 minutes is probably about right.

As they toast, put a large pan with relatively high sides over medium low heat with the olive oil, and start to brown the sausage.  Use your spoon to chop the sausage as it cooks and break up those (deliciously tasty) big bits that you’re tempted to eat before they’re fully cooked.  If you have a nice fatty sausage then you won’t need the oil to brown it, but if your sausage is slightly leaner then it could burn or stick if it doesn’t have sufficient oil before the fat starts to render.

Chop up the fennel and onion.  The onion should be in slightly smaller chunks than the fennel, if you please.  Not that it matters in the grander scheme of things, but that’s just my preference so it retains a bit more fennely flavor while the onion gets soft.  

And yes, you’re correct.  I didn’t use garlic.  I know, I know, this doesn’t happen very often. I’m a garlic fiend at the best of times….and following that, at the worst of times. You can add a clove or two if you so desire, but there is so much flavor in this dish that you really don’t need it and frankly maybe it’s nice to have at least ONE DAY where you can go to work without getting someone to sniff-test you before you enter a meeting.  

When the sausage has browned (even if it’s still slightly pink in the center of some of the larger bits) add in the fennel and onion.  Continue to sautee this over medium heat until the onion is slightly translucent.  At this stage, take it off the heat to cool.

In the very largest bowl that you have (I mean that!!  The one that you keep in the basement because it’s too big for your cupboards.  Yes, that one) put the browned bread cubes and your slightly cooled sausage and fennel mixture.  Sprinkle the spices over top, and lightly toss everything to combine.  Be gentle, my soft touching friend.  No need to make bread crumbs out of your croutons, and they’ll be tossed again in a minute.

Grate in the zest of 1/2 the orange if it’s nice and large, or 3/4 if it’s a bit weak on the size front.  Oh jeez, and what do those sizes mean.  Uhhh….large would be about the size of a Bocce ball, and smaller would be the size of a large fist?  And did I seriously just reference BOCCE BALLS?!  What have I become.  This is what living in the suburbs will do to you.

In a delicate stream (ha!) pour the half cup of stock all around the bowl, trying to get as much bread as possible.  Now squeeze the juice of the whole orange in there as well, and give it a toss with your hands.

Let the stuffing mixture sit for at least half an hour as you prep the turkey.  Or, if you aren’t making a turkey, go pour a glass of wine and watch that last episode of Corrie Street that you missed.  Either is an acceptable pass-time.

After it has sat for a bit and the bread has had time to soak up some of those juices, give it a gentle toss with your hands and see what the texture feels like.  Is it moist enough?  This will depend largely on how dry your bread got, how much liquid and fat came from the sausage/fennel mixture and how juicy your orange was.  Your stuffing should feel moist but not soggy and the bread should still have it’s shape.  If it’s dried out and still feels like croutons, you might want to consider adding a bit more stock.

Alright, now comes the fun part.  Are you stuffing the turkey?  If so, stuff as much into the cavity as you can, secure it as you like to do, and stuff the neck until you’re happy.  You will still have enough left to fill a round Corning Ware with an 8-9 inch diameter.  This is good!  Extra stuffing is NEVER a bad thing, and you know how it shrinks and condenses as it cooks away.  When you take the turkey out of the oven, tuck the extra stuffing (uncovered) back in.  Baste it with a bit of turkey stock before you put it in and let it cook for 30 – 45 minutes as your turkey rests and you get ready to carve.  Check on it after 20 minutes, and if it seems a bit dry, drizzle with a bit more stock or turkey juice…..which I’m sure has a better name, but you know what I mean.

If you’re doing it all in the oven, pour the stuffing into 1 or 2 large casserole dishes and set the oven to 350F.  Drizzle the stuffing with 1/4 – 1/2 cup more stock/juice and toss it around.  If it seems dry after 1/4 cup, add a bit more.  Put the casserole dish(es) or Corning Ware in the oven for 30 – 45 minutes.  Again, you want to check  after about 20 minutes to make sure that it isn’t too dry.  If it is, add a bit more stock to the top.

The stuffing will take anywhere from 30 – 45 minutes to cook, but you’ll know that it’s done when the top is just starting to brown, the kitchen smells even more amazing then it did when you took the turkey (or whatnot) out before, and when you take a nibble -which you should- it tastes like STUFFING!!!  Remember that the sausage and veggies are already cooked, so you’re really working on the bread and having all of the flavors come together.

And that’s all she wrote!  Mmm-boy do I love stuffing!!  I will admit that on my first leftover lunch after Thanksgiving I gave Mike a log-rollers portion of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes (with artichoke) and other various sides (smothered in gravy, of course) and I had…..a tupperware of stuffing.  Hey, there’s carbohydrates, vegetables and protein, right?  Isn’t that a complete meal?  No?  Well that’s okay, my fourth food group was Sour Patch Kids.   Now THAT’S balance….

Turkey stuffings are as varied as the day is long and I’ve never met a stuffing that I didn’t like, but this one still made it’s way into our Instant Favorites category and I can’t wait to make it again….at least until Easter, when I try out a bacon, smoked oyster, spinach and sourdough stuffing that I’ve been dreaming about since we finished off our leftovers……..

  • Kristie

    Lawdy, how I love Sour Patch Kids…

    I don’t like wet bread unless it’s a dessert, but your mom’s dish sounds pretty radical. And I admire yours on principle so much that I just ate a blood orange WHILE I WAS READING THIS because I got all citrus-y craving.

  • Mike

    Kristie, I actually ate a bowl of this pretty much on its own one day. I’m fairly certain that it could be served to be totally independent of Thanksgiving, and I’d be a-okay with it.

    When Tina served it to me, it was in a portion of such size that I thought she might have mistaken me for a team of astronaut weightlifting lumberjack firemen, and I still didn’t quite get my fill.

    I’m Mike, and I support this stuffing.

  • MIke

    Definitely a tricky one to make look pretty, but man oh man, I could live on nothing but stuffing. I’ve never had one flavored like this, but I know I’d love it.

  • noble pig

    I love the idea of the orange and fennel, hoe delicious. I totally beleive their should be at least six stuffings for T-Day!

  • Peter

    Tina, I’m all over this stuffing…the fennel & sage have me won over.

  • Tina

    Mike & Noble Pig – there’s just SOMETHING about stuffing, isn’t there? It’s always the homeliest thing on the table, but the first to go.

    Peter – I’m a fan of fennel in any way, shape or form. And I can’t help sneaking sage into almost everything stuffing related…..

  • Lo!

    I think we try a new stuffing every year. And I think this one would definitely make the cut. I am a big fan of stuffing that uses sausage… and I’m a complete sucker for fennel.

    Am starting to think that we’d get along splendidly with you two.

  • Tina

    Oooh, you try a new stuffing every year? That is SO what I’m all about!! Particularly because there are several reasons to make turkey during the year, so when you find those favorite stuffings they can still be circulated whilst trying new ones 😉

    And PS – we’re always in the market for new friends!!!

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  • hmbalison

    Any chance you can share your dad’s bacon/almond/toasted bread stuffing recipe?



    • Tina

      hmbalison – I would if I could, but I can’t. My father has never used a recipe in his life, and when he does give me a ‘secret recipe’ it is always missing one or two ingredients. Without fail. I think that’s how he maintains his title as culinary patriarch in our family. That said, I can run you through his process;
      – Chop bacon (about 1 lb I think) into bite sized pieces and bake in oven (or fry in pan) until it is firm and cooked through but NOT crispy. Drain on paper towel and discard fat.
      – Cut a 1-1.5 loaves of white sandwich bread into bite sized cubes (1-1.5″) and toast in a hot oven until golden and browned.
      – Toast blanched, peeled almonds (about 1 cup) in the oven until golden and fragrant.
      – Finely chop yellow cooking onion (1-2), a few cloves of garlic (1-2) and celery (sometimes) in butter until the onion is translucent.
      – Season with salt, pepper, sage, thyme, and sometimes oregano although he might object to this because he doesn’t use oregano often.
      – Toss all of the ingredients together in a large bowl and moisten with chicken stock until barely softened but not soft like a panzanella.
      – Stuff your bird and you’re off to the races!!!

      My father doesn’t comment on this website very often, but I can assure you that he reads each and every article, so if there is something that I’m missing or incorrect about, he’ll let me know in no uncertain terms and I’ll pass that on!!