One year for Thanksgiving, I added chestnuts to my Aunt Katy's classic stuffing recipe because I love their uncommon taste and texture – slightly sweet, nutty, and chewy. I also threw in some dried organic cranberries to spice things up a little bit.
A few notes: Peeling fresh chestnuts is a huge chore! At first I thought it was odd that all the chestnut stuffing recipes called for canned chestnuts but after wrestling with the hairy little buggers for over an hour, I now understand why. I have not done a taste test comparison of the fresh vs. canned but my guess is that it is probably worth the extra effort required for fresh chestnuts. They sure are pretty, though.
Any white bread will do. Some people like the lighter sandwich type bread and others go for slightly crustier loaves. I used two sweet loaves, as opposed to sourdough. Don't skimp on the herbs! I threw a ton of fresh parsley, sage and thyme in and it lent a lovely herby flavor. The thyme is particularly wonderful.
I used a combination of chicken stock and egg to achieve the desired moistness level. I also did a vegetarian version for my brother-in-law who does not eat dairy and my sister-in-law who does not eat meat! The only changes were that I sautéed the celery and onions in olive oil, wet the stuffing with vegetable stock, instead of chicken, and did not dot the top with butter before baking. The veggie version is very good and a little healthier for you, too.
Herbed chestnut stuffing with cranberries
1 lb. white bread cut into one inch cubes
1 cup coarsely chopped roasted or boiled chestnuts
Half a stick of butter (4 tablespoons)
1 - 1-1/2 cups of chicken stock
2 small to medium sized onions, chopped
4 ribs of celery, finely chopped
2 eggs, well beaten
1/2 cup dried cranberries or other fruit, dried currants, etc.
1/2 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Cut a large X on the flat side of each chestnut (be sure to go all the way through the protective shell) then place the nuts on a thick baking sheet and pour a cup or two of water on the tray. Bake the chestnuts, flipping them over once, for 15-20 minutes. Leave them in the oven and shell and peel a handful at a time (they will be hot and a bit hard to handle). Chop the chestnut meats coarsely.
2. If you don't have time to let the bread cubes get stale by sitting out, place them in a single layer on a thick cookie sheet or two and bake at 300 degrees F. for 10-15 minutes, until golden.
3. Melt the butter in a frying pan or saucepan and add the onions and celery. Cook on medium heat until softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and fold in the herbs, mixing well to combine.
4. Add salt and pepper to taste. Fold in the chestnuts and dried cranberries.
5. Pour this mixture into the cubed dry bread and stir to combine.
6. Add the stock to the stuffing mixture and stir well until it is moist all over but not soggy.
7. Add the egg if you want to give the cooked stuffing a bit more substance.
8. Pour the stuffing into a buttered casserole pan or baking dish and dot the top with butter.
9. Bake until the top gets crusty, 30 to 45 minutes.