Fig & Prosciutto Stuffing
About 10 years ago, I was gifted Molly O’Neill’s New York Cookbook and found this recipe, which is not just my favorite Thanksgiving recipes, but one of my favorite recipes of all time. I also have to mention that, though it was published in 1992, The New York Cookbook is one of the few cookbooks that I use frequently! It’s chock-full of ethnic recipes – many by New York Celebrities, such as Elaine of Elaine’s, Sirio Maccioni, the owner of Le Cirque, the real Soup Nazi from Seinfeld. It even includes the original David’s Cookies recipe for chocolate chip cookies, as well as Katherine Hepburn’s brownie recipe.
I love to eat Italian food and the places where you can find really good, fresh, authentic homemade Italian food appear to be dwindling. This forces me into the kitchen. Thanksgiving, too, is not traditionally an Italian holiday. So, of course, I need to add some Italian flair by bringing a gorgeous antipasto and this Italian food-version of stuffing, which is full of flavor. Traditional Thanksgiving stuffing is very bland, but this one isn’t.
I’ve adapted this recipe from The New York Cookbook version in a few ways. First, it calls for 1 cup of toasted pecans, but I don’t like pecans, so I just omit them. However, if you love pecans than, by all means, toast a cup in the oven for 10 minutes, chop them, and add them to the mix. Second, the original recipe calls for Madeira wine, but I like sweet Italian wines and always have them in the house, so I usually use whatever is handy (though cooking wine tends to have a different salt level than regular wine, just so you know). You can also substitute Marsala, or sherry. If you don’t use alcohol, then use additional chicken or beef stock.
I also make the breadcrumbs myself. I like to use a mix of potato and butter bread. Using fresh bread and toasting it yourself will really make this stuffing so much better than if you use those grocery store bags of dried bread crumbs. I’ve tried it both ways, so please trust me.
One final piece of advice. When I say Prosciutto di Parma, I mean Prosciutto di Parma. Don’t even talk to me about domestic prosciutto. It’s awful and it will make this recipe taste unnecessarily, and overly, salty and you’ll be left with an odd, domestic-prosciutto-aftertaste.
Jenifer’s Fig & Prosciutto Stuffing
2 cups dried figs, tough stems removed
1 cup Italian red wine
1/4 lb Prosciutto di Parma, minced
1 stick of butter
1 onion, minced
1 cup minced Italian parsley
1 cup minced celery stalks and ribs
2 tsps dried Thyme
1 tsp dried Rosemary
1 tsp dried Sage
8 cups lightly toasted white, egg, or potato bread, or a mix of all of these
1/3 cup chicken broth
*Adapted from Molly O’Neill’s The New York Cookbook (Workman Publishing | New York | 1992)
Before you begin, put on some great music! Music makes cooking much more enjoyable! Luckily, some great new albums have been released in time for the holiday season, including Michael Bublé’s Christmas album. Did you know that Michael has his Italian citizenship? The spectacular Il Volo boys have released a Christmas CD, too. I saw them recently in Miami and their performance blew me away. You can read about it here! I threw in Frank Sinatra because he always makes me feel cheerful. I’ve also included Andrea Bocelli’s recent concert in NYC’s Central Park. There were special guest appearances, including one by Celine Dion.
Step 1. Preheat the oven to 300°.
2. Prepare the breadcrumbs. To do this, take fresh bread loaves and cube them. I leave the crusts, but you can remove them if you prefer. You’ll need 8 cups. Place the bread cubes on a cookie sheet. Let them bake for about 25 minutes. They’ll be lightly browned, so toss them around to get the ones underneath that haven’t browned yet. Bake for an additional 20 minutes. You want them golden and brown, like toast. Baking them on a lower heat for a longer time makes it less likely you’ll burn them accidentally and helps dry them out. The picture below shows what they’ll look like when done.
3. Cut the stems off of the dried figs. Here I’m using figlets, which are smaller. Then, in a non-reactive sauce pan simmer them in the wine for about 15 minutes to plump them. Let them cool, pat them dry and roughly chop them. Place them aside in a bowl with the minced Prosciutto di Parma.
4. Chop the onion, celery and parsley. I use the food processor. In a skillet over medium heat, melt the stick of butter. Add the parsley, celery, salt, pepper, thyme, rosemary and sage and cook for about ten minutes or until the onions are translucent.
5. Place the mixture in a large bowl. (I actually use the tin that I’m going to bake it in because its big and its easier to toss everything together in.) Add the cubed bread and the 1/3 cup of chicken broth. Add the fig and Prosciutto di Parma mixture. Toss and combine.
6. Now you can either stuff the turkey and bake as you usually do. Or, you can preheat the oven to 350° and bake the stuffing in a casserole dish until lightly browned, about 40 minutes. That’s what I did here and this is what it looked like when it was done.
We wish you and your family a happy, healthy, Italian-food-filled Thanksgiving!