Dressing the Table
Elevate your Thanksgiving meal with stuffing that celebrates Arizona flavors.
Recipe by Christina Barrueta | Photography by Rick Gayle and David B. Moore
While other parts of the country have succumbed to winter weather and dried-up vestiges of summer gardens are blanketed by frost, the Valley of the Sun is welcoming late fall harvests and cool weather crops. Pepper and tomato plants have recovered from the summer heat, root vegetables and lettuces are being planted, and herb gardens are flourishing. But it’s not just leafy produce and vegetables that are being bagged up at farmers markets or tended to in backyard gardens. “Ripe dates have just been picked, pomegranates are awesome this time of year, and I love the pistachios from Willcox,” says Valley chef Jeremy Pacheco.
“I always get excited for the fall, knowing we’re going to have a great harvest,” Pacheco adds. The chef, who is known for the seasonal dishes that make annual appearance on his menus, embraces our autumn cornucopia, and this appreciation for Arizona’s bounty is one he is eager to share. “I love writing fall menus,” he says. “I look forward to getting ingredients, such as kabocha and butterkin squash, and making a simple soup pureed with apples. Or that first crop of cauliflower. Nothing is better than roasting a whole head of cauliflower with just oil, salt, and pepper until it’s caramelized on the outside.” As a ninth-generation Arizonan, Pacheco’s love for our state’s agricultural abundance is celebrated on his Thanksgiving table.
While the chef uses the freshest local ingredients for all of his dishes, his stuffing showcases his state pride. Also known as dressing, this carbalicious side dish is a Turkey day highlight for many.
There’s something about the mélange of texture and flavors that draws its many fans. It could be the soft, buttery broth-soaked bread and the crispy chewy edges, or the traditional textures of fruit, savory sausage, fresh herbs and crunchy nuts. “I love stuffing,” Pacheco says. “It’s my favorite part of Thanksgiving. I look forward to making it every year.”
The foundation for his signature stuffing is focaccia made by Valley baker Jason Raducha. “He uses great ingredients, including organic locally grown flours,” Pacheco explains. Arizona dates add the traditional fruit element, and to balance the sweetness of the fall fruit, Pacheco includes chorizo for its savory spice.
To season the stuffing, the dried, cubed focaccia is tossed with a rich turkey or chicken stock and a handful of fresh herbs. To concentrate flavor, he simmers turkey parts and vegetables, and then reduces it by half. For the home cook pressed for time, Pacheco suggests simmering store-bought stock with the turkey neck and giblets removed when prepping the bird for roasting. The well-seasoned liquid is then brought to a boil before generous amounts of fresh sage, parsley and thyme are stirred in. “Adding the herbs is key,” shares Pacheco. “You’ll distribute the flavors all the way through your stuffing if you first season your stock really well.”
A colorful jumble of pomegranate seeds and pistachios adds the final elements for a festive presentation. “Many people don’t realize that nuts such as pistachios and pecans are grown in Arizona. There’s something about locally sourced ingredients; they taste so much fresher. I love taking advantage of everything Arizona has to offer.”
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Chef Jeremy Pacheco’s Focaccia Stuffing
1 pound focaccia,* cut into 1-inch cubes (approximately 8 cups)
½ cup butter (8 tablespoons)
2 cups onion, diced
1 cup celery, diced
1 cup carrots, diced
½ pound bulk chorizo*
2 quarts turkey or chicken stock
½ cup fresh sage, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
½ cup fresh parsley, chopped
¼ pound dates,* pitted and quartered
1 cup pistachios, coarsely chopped
1 cup pomegranate seeds*
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoon black pepper
Heat oven to 170 degrees. Spread bread cubes on a sheet pan and bake until completely dry, approximately one hour. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Croutons can be prepared several days in advance and stored at room temperature until stuffing is made.
In a large soup pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion, celery and carrots and saute until vegetables are just tender, about 10 minutes. Add chorizo and cook, stirring occasionally and breaking up meat into small chunks, until cooked through. Add stock. Increase heat to high and bring mixture to a boil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add fresh herbs, stir, and remove from heat.
Place bread cubes in a large mixing bowl. Pour broth mixture over bread cubes. Toss well, distributing ingredients evenly. Add dates and thoroughly combine. If stuffing seems dry, add more stock or water. Bread should be moist all the way through. Stuffing can be prepared ahead of time and refrigerated for up to two days.
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 10-by12-inch casserole dish or baking pan with butter or oil. Spread bread cube mixture in pan, cover with foil, and bake for approximately 30 minutes, or until thoroughly heated. Allow to cool slightly and sprinkle with pistachios and pomegranate seeds.
Serves 8 as a side dish
*For the best Arizona ingredients, Pacheco recommends focaccia from Noble Bread, chorizo from Arcadia Meat Market or Schreiner’s Fine Sausage, dates from Sphinx Date Co. or McClendon’s Select, pistachios from Willcox, and pomegranate seeds from McClendon’s Select.