Nathanael went gluten-free about fifteen years ago before it became the norm for those trying to filter out harmful food allergens. Not only did he teach us about the complications of digesting this complex protein, but also about the cascade of autoimmune reactions it causes. He even convinced his caregiver and friend, Maria, go gluten-free to decrease the inflammatory response from her Rheumatoid Arthritis. She did it and we literally watched as her hands went from swollen and stiff day after day to slender and fluid again. It's amazing what eliminating that little grain can do! Furthermore, he was aware of mycotoxin contamination in many U.S. grown wheat crops so even if certain family members aren't gluten-intolerant, we mostly shy away from the stuff... unless we can grab some irresistable Pacific Coast/Bay Area sourdough! However many European and other wheat crops world-wide aren't contaminated so we've heard success stories from friends eating bread in other countries! And if it doesn't effect you at all, consider yourself blessed!
The good news is that there are lots of good alternative grains for GF eaters. This holiday season I offer you an N-inspired stuffing for those in need of delicious, GF, and vegetarian side dish. If possible, wrangle a kitchen elf to help do some sous cheffing for you as there are quite a few steps, or just plan plenty of time to make it come together. It's definitely worth it as you'll find out from reviews at the dinner table. I was prompted to write this up as our guest and dear friend, Mira Bai (N's beloved massage therapist who helped him till the end), requested it...and so that I don't forget how we did it!
Gluten-free Cornbread Stuffing with Fennel, Serrano Chiles, and Ginger
Adapted from Tia Mowry's Cornbread Stuffing with Fennel and Sausage, and guided by N's mom, the incredible chef Hilary Parnell Daggett
For the Cornbread
Make your cornbread one day or at least few hours ahead of time.
Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees
1 cup of good quality polenta (if you can't get this, just double up on the cornmeal)
1 cup of good quality cornmeal (grainy is better than powdery)
1 tsp. of baking powder
1 tsp. of baking soda
1/2 tsp. of salt
1/4+ cup of melted butter
2 tbsp. of granulated sugar (don't use a fancy sugar; only the white sugar truly elevates the corn flavor-- hot tip courtesy of Hilary)
1 1/4 cups of buttermilk
2 egg yolks
2 egg whites
1. Mix dry ingredients in a medium-sized mixing bowl: polenta, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
2. Mix egg yolks and sugar in a separate medium-sized mixing bowl. Melt butter in the same cast-iron skillet you'll bake your cornbread in. This doubles for greasing your skillet and melting your butter which is why we call for 1/4+ butter. This is a trick Hilary taught me and it saves on dishes, too! Stir in melted butter and buttermilk. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix well with a fork.
3. Blend egg whites until stiff peaks form. Dump on top of cornbread batter and use a rubber spatula to gently fold together in a few broad strokes coming down from the sides and under until the egg whites are swaddled in a blanket of cornmeal:). It's okay to leave it somewhat unmixed with egg white pockets shining through the yellow cornmeal. In fact, it's better this way-- another Hilary Daggett hot tip!
4. Dump into buttered cast-iron skillet and shake into place. Bake in pre-heated oven for 20-30 minutes or until edges start to turn golden-brown. Stick knife or fork to see if it comes out clean. If so, you're done! Leave out overnight or a for at least one hour until you are ready to cube the cornbread. Or hey, you can just stop here and eat piping hot cornbread with butter and maple syrup if you don't want to make the stuffin'!
You will have to make two batches of this cornbread if you have a large bird to stuff, a crowd or foodie-family to feed, or want some left-overs!
For the Stuffing
You'll want to double this recipe also if you are feeding the hungry hippos. That's what we did and it was well worth it!
1/2+ stick of butter
3 tbs. olive oil
2 large onions, diced
3 stalks of celery, diced
1/2 head of fennel, diced
2 green apples, peeled and diced
1 serrano, jalapeño, or habañero (if you are brave) chile, minced
2 one inch pieces of ginger, peeled and minced (you can throw it in mini-food processer with the chile if you have one)
1/4 cup of fresh Italian parsley, chopped
1 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1. In a large sautee pan set over low heat, melt 2 tbs. of butter and 1 1/2 tbs of olive oil (or more as needed). Add onions and carmelize until golden and aromatic (adjust heat as needed). Turn heat to medium-low and add celery and fennel and sautee until everything is tender and fragrant (about 20 min.).
2. In the meantime, cut your cornbread into 1/2 inch cubes and melt the remainder of the butter and set aside. Beat the egg in a small bowl.
3. Remove carmelized veggies from heat and dump into a large mixing bowl. Add minced apples, chiles, and ginger and gently mix together with a spoon. Add salt and pepper. Little by little add the cornbread and gently toss together with your hands (come down from sides and under like when you fold in the egg whites) until all ingredients are mostly mixed. The cornbread cubes will crumble some as you toss. Add melted butter and parsley and gently toss some more to mix. The buttery cornbread crumbles mixed in with the whole cubes carry the various flavors nicely. Taste and decide if you need to add any extra chiles or ginger, salt or pepper. We like it pretty spicy and some of the chile spice will also cook off so I usually end up adding more. Lastly, add in the beaten egg and gently toss all the stuffing ingredients one last time.
Adaptations: Hilary has been known to add dried, shredded coconut, habañeros, lime juice, minced red peppers, and plantains for a more Cuban flavor. These adaptations are phenomenal stuffed in an everyday roasted chicken or made as a sidedish.
4. Transfer stuffing into your fowl (both chest and head cavities) and sow to close. Transfer any extra stuffing into a buttered baking dish and bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until golden brown on top.
Enjoy this GF stuffing with any poultry or just as a side dish on your favorite holiday or any day of the year! We were so busy eating that I forgot to take pictures of the final product. You'll have to create your own and post a pic!
Happy Gluten-Free (or not:) Holidays
from the N. Daggett Tribe to you and yours!