Whether you call it stuffing or dressing, this easy holiday side dish recipe is the perfect way to elevate store-bought stuffing cubes. You can have it assembled in about 30 minutes to bake later. Sausage Stuffing with Fennel and Leeks is sure to become a family holiday favorite!
Why This Recipe is a Keeper!
No dry, bready stuffing for me!
The stuffing my mother made was my favorite thing at every holiday meal. It was moist, meaty and I couldn’t wait until the serving dish came around to me.
Mom started her stuffing the night before every holiday, cutting up bread she most likely baked herself, then let it sit out all night long to dry.
You can certainly use your homemade or other bread to start this stuffing/dressing recipe but if you’re short on time or not up for more work, store-bought stuffing cubes whether herb-seasoned or plain are your answer!
With a decent loaf of bread now running in the $4-5 range, herb-seasoned or plain stuffing cubes are a more economical option now and half the work is already done!
My version is:
- Moist and meaty like my mother’s but has the sweetness of leeks and the luscious flavor of fennel.
- Best of all, it bakes up with a lovely, crispy topping.
- Sausage Stuffing with Fennel and Leeks takes store-bought stuffing cubes to a new level!
What’s the difference between stuffing and dressing?
Stuffing generally means it’s going into the bird while dressing is baked and served on the side. However, stuffing is more of an all-purpose term.
How to make Sausage Stuffing with Fennel and Leeks:
Here’s everything you’ll need to make this stuffing recipe along with how to prep. See the recipe card below for the exact quantities.
- Stuffing Cubes: I used Pepperidge Farm Herb-Seasoned Stuffing but they also have plain unseasoned. I’ve had several personal chef clients who could not handle the taste of sage so if that’s you or anyone in your family, get the plain and season it yourself. You can also make your own using this technique from Better Homes and Gardens.
- Italian Sausage: I used pork, but turkey or chicken Italian sausage works, too.
- Butter: I always use unsalted butter when cooking because I can adjust the salt level myself.
- Poultry Seasoning: Sage is often a dominant flavor in poultry seasoning. McCormick’s brand of poultry seasoning contains thyme, sage, marjoram, rosemary, black pepper, and nutmeg. Penzey’s has sage, white pepper, bell peppers, lemon peel, savory, rosemary, dill weed, allspice, thyme, marjoram and ginger so every blend will be different. I used Penzey’s blend in this recipe.
- Fennel: Fennel is native to the Mediterranean and one of Italy’s favorite vegetables. It’s a member of the carrot family but grows above ground. It has a mild anise or licorice flavor that is more pronounced if eaten raw but mellows and sweetens when cooked. Here’s more information on fennel from Food Network.
- Leeks: Leeks look like giant scallions. It’s important to clean them thoroughly as dirt can hide between the layers. As shown below, I cut them in half lengthwise then slice. I fill a bowl of water, toss in the sliced leeks and swish them around in the water. Any hidden dirt will fall to the bottom. Use a slotted spoon to remove the leeks, leaving the dirt in the bottom behind.
- Gather and prep all the ingredients. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and spray a 13 x 9-inch or another similar-sized baking dish with cooking spray.
- Cook the sausage in a large skillet or saute pan, breaking it up as you go until it is thoroughly cooked and no longer pink.
- Transfer the sausage to a large mixing bowl.
- Melt the butter in the skillet or saute pan and add the leeks.
- Cook the leeks for 5-7 minutes or until they’re nice and melty soft. Keep an eye on them so they don’t burn. Add a little bit of water if necessary to keep them from burning.
- Add the fennel and celery and cook until they’re nice and tender, approximately 5-7 minutes. Stir in 1 teaspoon poultry seasoning if using herb-seasoned stuffing cubes or 2 teaspoons if using plain.
- Move the vegetables to the bowl with the sausage. Add the stuffing cubes then give everything a stir so the cubes begin to soften up and take on the flavors.
- Pour the chicken broth into the sauce, bring it to a boil and scrape up all those browned bits.
- Pour the hot chicken broth over the sausage, vegetables and stuffing cubes and stir well.
- Place a large pot lid over the bowl and let it stand 10-15 minutes or until the cubes are all moistened.
- Transfer to the prepared baking dish.
- MAKE AHEAD: At this point, you can refrigerate it covered two to three days until needed or bake it! Let it stand at room temperature while the oven reheats so you don’t place a cold baking dish in a hot oven.
- Aw yeah! Sausage Stuffing with Fennel and Leeks! Super flavorful, moist, meaty stuffing that tastes as though you fussed!
Chef Tips and Tricks:
- It’s super important to clean your leeks well. Fill a bowl of water, toss in the sliced leeks and swish them around in the water. Any hidden dirt will fall to the bottom. Use a slotted spoon to remove the leeks, leaving the dirt in the bottom behind.
- If you want to fill your turkey with this stuffing, make sure it’s good and COLD before you place it in the turkey.
- You don’t want to overstuff your turkey because if it’s too densely packed, it will take longer for heat to penetrate.
- The safe temperature for the center of the stuffing inside a bird is 165 degrees.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Sausage Stuffing with Fennel and Leeks can be made ahead two to three days. Cool, cover and refrigerate until needed. Let sit out at room temperature while the oven preheats. You may need to add additional baking time.
Yes! Cool thoroughly and place in the baking dish you plan to use or in an airtight container (a zipper-top bag will also work and can be transferred when ready to bake). Freeze 1-2 months. Thaw in the refrigerator.
You certainly can, but I found this recipe has the right amount of liquid to hold the stuffing together. Stuffing/dressing with eggs tends to be more firm.
More side dishes perfect for your holiday dinner!
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Sausage Stuffing with Fennel and Leeks
- Cooking spray - for baking dish
- 1 pound mild Italian sausage - bulk or casings removed
- 1 package (12-ounce) herb-seasoned stuffing cubes - or plain unseasoned stuffing cubes
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 large leeks - white and light green part only, halved and sliced
- 1 large fennel bulb - chopped
- 2 stalks celery - chopped
- 1-2 teaspoons poultry seasoning
- 4 cups chicken broth or stock - or turkey broth or stock
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper - to taste
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 13 x 9-inch or another similar-sized baking dish with cooking spray. Set aside.
- In a heavy 10 to 12-inch skillet, cook the sausage over medium-high heat, breaking it up as it cooks until no longer pink. Transfer sausage to a large stainless steel bowl.
- Add the butter to any fat remaining in the skillet, reduce heat to medium.
- Add the leeks and cook 5-7 minutes or until leeks are tender, adjusting heat down as necessary so the butter and leeks don't burn. If they begin to brown too much, add 1-2 tablespoons water or broth.
- Add the fennel and celery and cook another 5-7 minutes or until tender adjusting the heat as necessary. If the vegetables begin to brown too much, add 1-2 tablespoons water or broth.
- Stir in 1 teaspoon poultry seasoning if using herb-seasoned stuffing cubes or 2 teaspoons if using plain. Transfer the sauteed vegetables to the bowl with the sausage.
- Pour the stuffing mix into the bowl with the sausage and vegetables and stir.
- Pour the chicken broth into the skillet and bring to a boil. Pour the broth over the sausage, stuffing mix and vegetables in the bowl and stir well.
- Cover the bowl with a large pot lid. Let stand for 10-15 minutes or until the cubes have softened and absorbed all the broth. Stir again.
- Taste for seasoning and add salt and black pepper if desired. Transfer to the prepared baking dish. (CAN BE MADE 2 DAYS AHEAD AND REFRIGERATED AT THIS POINT.)
- Bake for 30-35 minutes or until heated through to 165 degrees in the center.
These are estimated values generated from a nutritional database using unbranded products. Please do your own research with the products you’re using if you have a serious health issue or are following a specific diet.