Stuffing is one of my favorite parts of a big holiday meal, largely because I rarely have stuffing the rest of the year. Whether you call it stuffing or dressing (and the name largely depends on what region of the country you live in), it is a staple for most of us around Thanksgiving and Christmas. Stuffing, unfortunately, can get a little bit boring when you keep it too simple, so I am always thinking of new was to add flavor, color and texture into my recipes to make this side dish as delicious as possible.
This Cranberry, Pancetta and Butternut Squash Stuffing is a new favorite because it brings together a lot of great elements. And all those flavors work very well together, so it doesn’t feel like there is too much going on. You get just a hint salty, savory flavor from the diced pancetta, a bit of sweetness from the butternut squash and a mix of sweet and tart from the dried cranberries. Put those all in with onions, sage and thyme and you have a side dish that becomes extremely enticing. I also like the fact that the stuffing looks very colorful, which makes it a nice addition to any dinner table.
The stuffing mixture can be prepared in advance, poured into a baking dish and kept (covered) in the refrigerator overnight before baking. This allows you to free up stovetop space while you’re cooking some of the other components of your meal. I like to make sure that the top of my stuffing is nice and crispy, but if you prefer a slightly wetter stuffing, you can keep it covered with aluminum foil a little longer while it is baking, instead of uncovering it halfway through.
I don’t usually have leftovers of this stuffing, but when I do, it can easily be reheated in the oven to crisp up the topping again. You can also stuff it into a turkey sandwich with cranberry sauce to recreate Thanksgiving in between two slices of bread!
Cranberry, Pancetta and Butternut Squash Stuffing
1 1/2 lbs bread (any kind)
4-6 oz pancetta, diced
1 1/2 cups diced celery
1 1/2 cups diced onion
2 cups diced, peeled butternut squash
2 tsp dried thyme
1 tbsp dried sage or 3 tbsp fresh sage, finely chopped
2/3 cup dried cranberries
approx 2 3/4 cups chicken broth or stock
salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease a 9×13-inch casserole dish/baking pan.
Cut the bread into rough 1-inch cubes and place in a large bowl.
In a large skillet over medium heat, render the pancetta until it is slightly crisp and some of the fat is released. Add diced onions and celery and cook for 4-6 minutes, until onions are opaque and celery is tender. Add in butternut squash and cook until the pieces just start to soften slightly, 2-3 minute. Season generously with salt and pepper and stir in thyme and sage. Remove from heat and stir in dried cranberries.
Pour vegetable mixture over the bread cubes in the large bowl. Add chicken stock (use slightly more if you prefer a wetter stuffing) and fold gently with a spatula until vegetables are evenly distributed and all bread cubes are moistened. Season with additional salt and pepper, if needed.
Pour into prepared pan and press into an even layer. Cover with a piece of aluminum foil.
Bake for 20 minutes, then remove the foil and bake for an additional 20-25 minutes, until top is golden brown.