If you have a turkey dressing you love, this post may not be for you. But if you’re looking for something a bit different, read on. In November 2004, a Seasonal Pantry column featured several nontraditional dressing/stuffing recipes, including Polenta Stuffing, Skirlie (Scottish toasted oatmeal dressing), Evelyn Cheatham’s Rustic Cornbread Dressing and Wild Rice Stuffing. Because that column is not available in the on-line archives, I’m offering the recipes here, in three separate postings.

But first, what about the question: to stuff or not to stuff? Whether you call it stuffing or call it dressing, you still have to decide how to cook it, on top of the stove, in the oven or in the bird? For me, it needs to go into the bird, where it soaks up all the delicious juices during cooking. That is part of the joy of it all. There are a lot of warnings about dangers inherent in this process but if you use common sense, there shouldn’t be a problem. Don’t stuff a partially frozen bird. Don’t chill the stuffing or dressing before putting it in the cavity and don’t refrigerate the bird after it has been stuffed. Instead, put it into a preheated oven immediately after stuffing. Make sure the innermost area of the stuffing reach at least 145 degrees when you remove it from the oven; let the turkey rest, covered lightly with foil, for 20 to 45 minutes after removing from the oven, during which time the temperature will continue to rise. When you carve the turkey, scoop out all of the dressing and when dinner is over, cover and store it in the refrigerator.

And now for first of the recipes.

Polenta Stuffing I have received many requests for this recipe and so it seems right to feature it first. As the polenta cooks inside the turkey, the grains expand and by the time the turkey is done, the polenta has taken on a light and fluffy texture, almost like a souffle.

For 1 small to medium turkey

  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 3 cups coarse-ground polenta or cornmeal
  • 6 (1 1/2 cups) ounces grated dry jack or Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • Olive oil
  • 6 ounces pancetta, in one piece, cut into small dice
  • 4 shallots, minced
  • Black pepper in a mill
  • 16 sage leaves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
  1. Pour 10 cups of water into a large pot, add the tablespoon of kosher salt and bring to a boil over high heat. When the water boils, use a whisk to stir it in one direction, creating a vortex. Slowly pour the polenta into this vortex, stirring all the while and always in the same direction. Continue to stir until the polenta begins to thicken, about 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and simmer slowly, stirring frequently, until the grains of polenta are completely tender. Time will vary based on the age and moisture content of the polenta.
  2. Brush a large baking sheet or dish with olive oil. When the polenta is tender, add the cheese and butter, stir thoroughly, taste and correct the seasoning. Let rest 5 minutes and pour into the baking sheet. Let cool for 10 minutes and then cover with a sheet of parchment or wax paper. Let the polenta set up until firm, at least 1 hour. You can prepare the polenta the night before and refrigerate it until ready to use.
  3. To make the dressing, pour a little olive oil in a saute pan set over medium heat, add the diced pancetta and cook until it loses its raw look, about 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer the pancettta to small bowl. Add the shallots to the saute pan and cook until they are soft and translucent, about 7 minutes. Remove from the heat and add to the bowl with the pancetta.
  4. Cut the firm polenta into 1-inch cubes and put the cubes into a large bowl. Add the pancetta mixture, the sage and the parsley and toss gently but thoroughly. Season with salt and several turns of black pepper.
  5. Use as you would any turkey dressing, by spooning the mixture into the main cavity of the bird immediately before putting it into the oven.

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