While a little labor intensive this dressing was well worth it. Chestnut, pancetta and fennel are three of my favorite winter flavors. The recipe came from the Food & Wine entire year of recipes 2006.
Any rustic or country bread will do, the less dense the bread (like ciabatta) the shorter the time to make the croutons. Also, make sure to have a large bowl on hand for the crouton mixture. My largest glass mixing bowl just barely was able to hold everything.
CHESTNUT STUFFING WITH FENNEL
1 1/2 pounds day old bread, crusts removed, bread torn into 1 inch pieces (I used a few day old ciabatta loaves from the co-op)
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 Tbsp fennel seeds
4 oz pancetta, sliced 1/8 thick and then diced (if you ask at the deli counter, they will cut the pancetta to the correct thickness)
1 small fresh rosemary sprig
1 dried arbol chili, or other red chili, stemmed and halved
1 small onion finely chopped
1 small fennel bulb finely chopped
1 1/2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
salt and fresh ground pepper
1 Tbsp lemon zest** note, if zesting always make sure you are using organic citrus
3/4 dry white wine
2 1/4 cups chicken stock** homemade or low sodium
3 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 10-oz jar of chestnuts, coarsely crumbled** I ended up buying, roasting and peeling my own chestnuts which was fine but took longer than I had expected
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 Tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley
--Preheat the oven to 400
--On a baking sheet toss the bread with 1/2cup olive oil, spread bread in a single layer and toast in oven for about 15 minutes, stirring once, until golden brown. The ciabatta I used needed less than 15 minutes, a denser bread will require 15.
--Leave the oven on
--Let the croutons cool then transfer to a large bowl
--In a small skillet toast the fennel seeds over medium heat until fragrant and golden, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a mortar or spice grinder and coarsely grind
--In a large skillet, heat 2 Tbsp olive oil.
--Add the pancetta and cook over high heat until crisp, about 3 minutes.
--Lower heat to medium and add rosemary and chili for 1 minute.
--Add the onion, fennel, fennel seeds and thyme and season with salt and pepper
--Cook stirring for about 8 minutes
--Discard the rosemary and chili
--Add the lemon zest
--Add the mixture to the bowl with the croutons
--Take the large skillet just used and heat over high. Add the wine and bring to a boil to scrape up any browned bits left in the pan. Boil about 4 minutes, or until reduced to 1/3 cup.
--Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil
--Pour the hot stock mixture over the croutons and toss
--Wipe out the skillet. Add 3 Tbsp butter and the chestnuts and cook over medium-high heat, stirring until lightly browned, about 5 minutes.** Since I roasted my own chestnuts I eliminated this step and just added the chestnuts straight into the dressing
--Add the chestnuts to the dressing, season with salt and pepper and let cool completely.
--Add the eggs and parsely and toss well.** make sure the crouton mixture has cooled or you will scramble the eggs
--Transfer the stuffing to a 9-by-13 inch baking dish. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 20 minutes or so, or until crips on top.