First Person


    Romancing the stuffing

    By Paul Mantee/Special to The Malibu Times

    I’m not only married to past flavor, I fuel the romance. If I were this attentive to my ex-wives, life would be fraught with simultaneous honeymoons.

    Food is safer.

    I was a little boy when my grandmother was stuffing Christmas turkey, and I was more obsessed with pointing my Gene Autry cap pistol at my stepmother than standing by a hot stove with pencil and paper. As far as I knew, Nonna merely washed her hands and made dressing. But I remember the flavor as surely as I recall my first kiss. Working backward, from result to cause, I’ve uncovered a replica.

    Everybody has a favorite stuffing from somebody in the family. But if you have a yen to forego the heavy sausage or fruit-loopy-goop and decide to stuff a bigger-than-life Italian adventure into your holiday, give this orgy a whirl.

    The following will accommodate a 20-pound bird with plenty left over for the micro (which is never quite as satisfying). Don’t you wish they’d develop a turkey with two chest cavities?

    This extravaganza can be halved if necessary. It works for roast chicken as well.


    6 onions

    4 leeks

    Half dozen cloves of garlic (Or more, up to you.)

    Head of celery (With the tops if humanly possible. Your modern vegetable consultant will inform you they lop them off and discard them the moment the product arrives at the market. Shoot him.)

    1 cube butter

    Olive oil

    Dried mixed Italian seasonings

    1 loaf Pioneer sour dough bread

    1 cup pine nuts (Or more. Over-the-moon expensive.)

    1 package frozen chopped spinach

    1/2 cup parsley

    1 small can chicken or beef broth

    Grated Parmesan (Not shredded. The grated plays better with others.)

    Pepper and salt

    Build this a few days before you intend to use it. It gathers flavor in the fridge.

    Set your oven at 250. Lay the slices of sourdough on the racks, or on a couple of cookie sheets. They need to get hard, not toasted. You’ll need to turn them once. When hard through and through, remove from the oven and place in a large soup pot. Set aside.

    Break out the big frying pan. Drizzle enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan, add the butter and melt over a low flame.

    Chop the onions, leeks (about 1/3 into the green), celery, and garlic to a medium-fine consistency. Turn the heat up to medium-high, scoop the works into the pan and soften everything. The pile will appear cumbersome at first, but diminishes as it cooks. Re-arrange it from time to time. If more moisture is needed along the way, add a little olive oil as you go. When this group is soft and clear, add a big slug of black pepper, and between the palms of your hands crush, then add a generous tablespoon of mixed Italian seasonings. Stir.

    Smell your hands. Is this fun, or what?

    To the middle of the pan, add the frozen spinach as it comes from the package. Also, a large handful of finely chopped parsley. Turn the heat on high and add the can of broth. Chicken is fine; beef has a little edge from left field, which I appreciate. Let it whoosh, then simmer till the spinach thaws. Stir. Does it appear to be an unidentifiable entity? Excellent. Love is in the air.

    Turn off the heat and allow the relationship to cool.

    Have a Martini.

    By now, the sour dough has cooled as well. Crumble it piece by piece in your hands, allowing it to fall back into the soup pot. Be satisfied with anything from crumbs to small chunks. If your hands are sensitive, wear rubber gloves. Rock-hard bread cuts. Add the pine nuts, which I enjoy overdoing.

    When the vegetables have cooled (Nonna called them veg-e-tubbles), ladle them into the soup pot and thoroughly mix with the bread and pine nuts. A couple of wooden spoons will do the trick (use your hands if no one’s watching).

    Now, sprinkle in the Parmesan. Lots. Maybe a cup or so. Sprinkle, mix and taste, and sprinkle, mix and taste again, till you sense perfection, as you understand it. Then salt. You’re going to need it; you’ve salted nothing so far. Mix, salt, and taste again.

    When the melody beckons you from a gondola, scoop it into a plastic container, cover and place in the fridge. If you can’t resist returning to the scene and picking at it from time to time, you got it right.

    Buon appetito.