~ Tettie's Baked Mashed-Potato Stuffing Casserole ~
If you're sarcastically mumbling, "just what the food world needs, another stuffing recipe", you are going to regret it. This is my Great Aunt Mary's recipe -- she lived to be 99 and was one of the best cooks I have ever known. This is a trip back to a kinder, gentler time. A time before self-appointed gourmets and TV celebrities started adding everything from chorogi artichokes to whortleberries to stuffing. This is pure, simple, unadulterated, beloved, comfort food: that warm, soft, subtly-flavored white bread stuffing that nobody talks openly about but everybody remembers, loves and longs for. Cathy Guisewhite, in her acclaimed comic strip "Cathy", describes it as "big sticky blobs of white bread, celery and seasonings", which is quite accurate!
A bit about Tettie (Tetta being an affectionate term for "auntie" in Eastern European vocabulary): Tettie was my grandmother's younger sister. This is a photo of the two of them taken in my house in 2001. Tettie is on the left, Baba ("grandmother"), is in the right. Tettie owned and operated a farm in South Tamaqua's Lehigh Valley -- her husband worked for the railroad. Baba owned and operated a grocery store -- her husband was a coal miner. They were:
Hard working and all business. Tettie baked her bread, grew and canned her fruits and vegetables, raised her own chickens and milked her own cows. She kept a good deal of her large family's tables full of food during the depression years. Baba cooked hot meals in a small kitchen in the back of her store. She sold hot, wholesome meals (some for profit, some for not, and many more for free) to miners who were injured, miners who could not work, and, miners without a wife or family member to cook for them!
It was 40 years ago this month that I asked Tettie for this recipe:
A bit about Tettie's Stuffing: It is anything but sticky or blobby. It is a uniquely homogeneous mixture of mashed baked russet potatoes combined with soft breadcrumbs and tangy buttermilk. Butter, sauted onions and celery, lightly-seasoned with dried parsley flakes*, poultry seasoning and white pepper add a subtle, irresistable flavor to the mixture. She always served it with her turkey at Thanksgiving, but, it is also great alongside pork roast or meatloaf. When I first got married in 1974, I asked her for the recipe and she happily gave it to me. The following is her recipe, with one exception: microwaving rather than baking the potatoes saves a lot of time!
* Some folks balk about dried herbs, but Tettie dried her own to see her through the Winter!
8 cups fresh, potato bread breadcrumbs, about 14 slices potato bread, white bread may be substituted
8 tablespoons salted butter
2 cups diced yellow or sweet onion
2 cups diced celery
2 tablespoons dried parsley flakes
1 teaspoon pountry seasoning, your favorite brand (Note: Poultry seasoning is a strong-flavored blend of aromatic spices which very quite a bit from manufacturer to manufacturer, so, always purchase the one your grandmother or mother used, or, taste a few side-by-side to decide which one you like. I use McCormick in this recipe because that is what Tettie used. )
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 teaspoon white pepper
2 cups buttermilk, or whole milk
4 jumbo eggs, lightly beaten
no-stick cooking spray
Tear the potato bread into pieces (or slice it into large cubes) and place in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade.
Depending upon the size of your food processor, you might have to process the bread to breadcrumbs in two batches. My Cuisinart DLC-X Plus easily and effortlessly handles all 14 slices of bread at once.
~ Step 2. Using a series of 20-25 rapid on-off pulses, process the bread to fine, even-sized breadcrumbs. You will have about 8 cups. Depending upon your processor, the number of pulses is not as important as the evenness and size of the breadcrumbs. Set the breadcrumbs aside, or, transfer them to a ziplock bag if preparing 1, 2 or 3 days in advance.
Note: Feel free to substitute plain white breadcrumbs, but, if you have access to potato bread, its slight sweetness really does contribute to the end result of this recipe.
~ Step 3. Bake the potatoes in the oven or in the microwave. I like to use the microwave because it saves a lot of time. Set aside until the potatoes are cool enough to handle with your hands, about 1 hour. Slice the potatoes in half and using an ordinary tablespoon, scoop out the soft centers.
Note: You can do this task a day in advance but do not refrigerate the scooped out potatoes. Just cover the container with plastic wrap.
~ Step 4. Prep the onion and celery as directed. In a 12" skillet, melt the butter over low heat. Stir in the dried parsley flakes, poultry seasoning, sea salt and white pepper. Add the onion and celery. Adjust heat to saute, until the vegetables are tender, but not browned, about 6-8 minutes. Remove from heat and cool slightly, about 10-15 minutes.
~ Step 5. Transfer potatoes to a large bowl. Using a vegetable masher, mash or smash. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs and buttermilk. Using a large rubber spatula, fold the buttermilk mixture into the potatoes. Next, fold in the vegetable mixture.
~ Step 8. Cover casserole with aluminum foil. Bake, covered, on center rack of preheated 325 degree oven for 1 hour, 15 minutes. Uncover and bake for another 15 minutes. Casserole will be puffed through to the center and lightly browned. Do not overcook this casserole or it will be dry!
Special Equipment List: food processor; cutting board; chef's knife; 12" skillet; very large mixing bowl; vegetable masher; whisk; large rubber spatula; large spoon; 13" x 9" x 2" baking dish or 3-quart casserole; aluminum foil
Cook's Note: For another way to make and serve mashed potatoes in casserole form, click into Categories 4, 9, 11 or 18 to get my recipe for ~ Beehive Mashed-Potato Bread-Stuffing Casserole ~. Personally, I love ways to make mashed potatoes ahead of time!
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014)