This ultra-savory Pancetta, Fig, Sage and Swiss Chard Stuffing will add a uniquely Italian twist to your holiday table!Jump to Recipe
I had the great fortune of working in a very authentic northern Italian restaurant called Franco’s Trattoria in Scottsdale, AZ not long after graduating from culinary school. As the pastry chef, I not only got to dabble in all sorts of delicious Italian desserts, but I learned so much about the cuisine of Florence and Tuscany by default. I also had amazing opportunities to travel to Italy and eat my way through the country with my husband. Those experiences completely impacted me as a chef and to this day I have such a love of Italian cuisine and culture. For Thanksgiving, I wanted to include some of this influence in a savory and satisfying stuffing by using some of my favorite ingredients from Italian cooking: pancetta, figs, sage and Swiss chard. These combined with some chewy ciabatta bread create a dish that is a winner all on its own!
The Process and Ingredients:
Ciabatta is a wonderful Italian yeast bread which is slipper-shaped (ciabatta means “slipper” in Italian) and full of chewy, porous texture that is just perfect for sopping up olive oil, soups or sauces. As a base for stuffing, ciabatta becomes delightfully crisp and flavorful when toasted and can really soak up the juices. Pancetta is a salume made from salt-cured pork belly. It is a desirable flavor enhancer in Italian cuisine and in this stuffing it adds a really savory quality. Much like bacon, pancetta will render or release much of its fat during cooking, so I like to cook the pancetta with some yellow onion, sage and thyme to create this savory foundation. Swiss chard and dried black Mission figs are added to this mixture. Having the addition of a slightly bitter green like the chard adds texture, color and a balance of freshness to this recipe. The figs add a wonderful meaty texture, sweetness and depth of flavor.
After the chard has wilted, the figs and some chicken stock are added before tossing in the cubed ciabatta.
You want to be sure that the bread is coated with enough liquid so that it will be moist but not soggy. At this point you can stuff your bird or (my preference) transfer the stuffing to an oiled baking dish and drizzle the top with some additional olive oil. If preparing in the pan, bake the stuffing covered with foil for half of the time, then remove the foil to crisp the top. One trick to compensate for not baking in the bird is to save some of the turkey pan drippings and pour them over the top of the stuffing once it is out of the oven. This will add the wonderful turkey flavor and some extra moistness!
Holiday Wine Pairings:
I have two wine picks for this pancetta, sage, fig and Swiss chard stuffing. First is a delightful Pinot Grigio from Friuli in northeastern Italy. The Cabert Pinot Grigio’s honeysuckle sweetness on the nose and hints of toasted bread and fresh lemon on the palate make for a dreamy combo with the herbaceous flavors and richness of this stuffing. This crisp and light wine would pair well with a variety of dishes, as its acidity and subtle bitter citrus flavor cuts through the richness of holiday fare.
My second wine choice with this stuffing is the Costa di Bussia 2016 Barolo. The most prestigious expression of the Nebbiolo grape, Barolo wine hails from a village of the same name located in the region of Piemonte in northwestern Italy at the foothills of the Alps. The mountainous soil that nurtures the vines of the Nebbiolo is what gives this wine its distinct characteristics. The Costa di Bussia Barolo is a holiday showstopper with an elegant and earthy nose and plenty of black fig and roasted spice on the palate. The complex flavors of this fig and pancetta stuffing hold their own with this King of wines and the sage ties all of the balancing flavors together.
Pancetta, Fig, Sage and Swiss Chard Stuffing
- 1 large loaf ciabatta or firm Italian bread, cubed and toasted (8 cups)
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup chopped yellow onion
- 4 ounces pancetta, cut into ¼-inch dice
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves or ½ teaspoon dried
- 2 tablespoons fresh sage leaves, slivered (or 2 teaspoons dried)
- 1 large bunch Swiss chard, stems removed and leaves chopped
- 1 cup black Mission figs, quartered
- 2 cups chicken stock or broth
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Preheat the oven to 400°.
- In a heavy skillet, heat 3 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the pancetta and herbs and cook until pancetta begins to crisp. Add the Swiss chard and sauté briefly until wilted. Stir in the figs and chicken stock and cook for 2 minutes longer.
- Carefully mix in the toasted ciabatta, making sure that the bread is evenly coated with the liquid.
- Transfer the stuffing to a greased baking dish. Drizzle the top with a little more olive oil. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake 20 minutes longer, until the top is golden and crisp.
Tips for Success:
- Toast the ciabatta in advance so it has time to completely dry out.
- Cook the pancetta until it is nice and crisp in order to render the fat out into the other ingredients.
- The flavor of the Swiss chard works well in this recipe, but kale or mustard greens could also be used.
- If baking the stuffing in a pan, save some of the turkey pan drippings to pour over the top of the stuffing and add the flavor of the roasted bird!
- The Cabert Pinot Grigio’s honeysuckle sweetness on the nose and hints of toasted bread and fresh lemon on the palate make for a dreamy combo with the herbaceous flavors and richness of this stuffing.
- The Costa di Bussia Barolo is a holiday showstopper with an elegant and earthy nose and plenty of black fig and roasted spice on the palate. The complex flavors of this fig and pancetta stuffing hold their own with this King of wines and the sage ties all of the balancing flavors together for a uniquely Italian holiday pairing.