Don’t let that lovely stuffing dish sit empty for your gluten-free guests this holiday season! At least 1 million Americans have been diagnosed with gluten allergies or Celiac disease and this can make the festive Thanksgiving or Christmas table a sad place for these special folks. It doesn’t have to be that way. I have a gluten allergy and am eager to share my best gluten free stuffing recipe with you. As a bonus, this recipe will also feed your vegetarian guests in style, too! With just one gluten free stuffing dish, you’ll have given the pleasures of savory stuffing back to the very guests who may be longing for it most.
In my family, my mother’s cornbread stuffing is literally legendary. Frankly, I would have been happy to eat nothing else but stuffing at Thanksgiving or Christmas as a child – it was that good! Her recipe was based on equal parts cornbread and wheat bread crumbs with plenty of sage, onions, celery and the fabulous addition of hazelnuts and raisins. The result was a corn-y, supremely savory stuffing with just a hint of harvest-like fruitiness from the raisins and a wonderful nutty crunch from the nuts. But the trouble with cornbread for the gluten-free diner is that you can’t make traditional cornbread without wheat flour. Colonial housewives quickly found this out, much to their dismay. No matter how much leavening they mixed into the cornmeal, the bread just wouldn’t rise. Thus, the jony cake, jonny cake or journey cake was invented – a golden brown pancake-like creation that served as the bread of the early Colonies until wheat was under consistent cultivation. If no stuffing but cornbread stuffing says ‘stuffing’ to you, stick with me here.
Technically, I think you could use crumbled jonny cake in a stuffing, but my gluten free stuffing recipe is a bit updated with…of all things…an old Italian tradition: polenta. If you dine at fancy restaurants or gourmet delis, you may think that polenta is a fussy dish, suitable only for the kitchens of master chefs. Not true. Polenta is the food of the humblest people of Italy and is as easy to prepare as oatmeal or cream-of-wheat cereal. My toasty twist on polenta will yield a gluten free stuffing recipe with the corn-y goodness you crave. Just follow these easy steps:
Gluten Free Stuffing
3 C. Cooked Long Grain Brown Rice (you could use part wild rice if you like)
1 C. Polenta Corn Meal (find at your local natural foods store, often in the bulk department)
2 C. Water
1/2 C. Rice Milk (keeps this dish proper for your vegetarian guests)
1/4 C. Very thinly sliced and chopped red or yellow onion
1/2 C. Vegetable broth
3 Stalks chopped celery
1/4 C. Raisins
1/3 C. Coarsely chopped, very lightly toasted hazelnuts (filberts)
3 T. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 T. Sweetener (sugar, maple syrup or whatever you prefer)
1/3 t. dried powdered sage
Salt & Pepper to taste
Whipping Up the Polenta
Bring your 2 cups water, 1/2 cup rice milk, 1 T. olive oil, sweetener and a dash of salt to a boil in a pot on your stove burner, set to medium heat. Put your polenta flour in a measuring cup for easy pouring. While you whisk the liquid, slowly pour the polenta flour into the pot in a steady stream until it’s all been poured out. Continue to whisk the mixture for 8 minutes. At the end of this, it will be very thick and hard to stir.
Pour the polenta batter into a small-medium sized glass bowl or a miniature square baking or refrigerator dish. This serves as your mold, so it needs to be big enough to hold the polenta, but small enough so that the polenta will come out as a small, sliceable loaf. Let the polenta cool for 1/2 hour.
Run a knife around the perimeter of the bowl. Turn your bowl upside down on a dish and the polenta will fall out. Let cool another 10 minutes.
Next, slice it into 1/4 – 1/3 inch thick slices (as you would slice bread) and lay them out on the broiler pan of your stove. Broil on high until the topside is turning golden brown (maybe even a tiny bit burnt around the edges). Flip the little toasts over and brown on the other side. Remove from broiler.
While You’re Broiling Your Polenta Toasts…
Put your nuts in dry skillet over medium-high heat and toss them around until they are just beginning to look a bit toasted. Do not let them turn brown! That would be over-cooking them and overcooked nuts are not healthy to eat. Toss the nuts onto a plate.
Put remaining 2 T. olive oil in the same skillet over medium-high heat. Sautee onions until turning translucent. Toss in your chopped celery and stir fry for 2 minutes.
Add rice, sage, salt and pepper. Stir fry 1 minute more.
Get out your best baking dish; either a covered one or an uncovered one will do.
Put the rice mixture into the baking dish. Add nuts and raisins.
With a sharp knife, chop your polenta toasts into a large crumb consistency (like small, flat croutons). Add them to the baking dish.
Pour in 1/2 vegetable broth. Give everything a very quick stir to blend.
Bake covered in the oven at 375 degrees for 1/2 hour. Use either your baking dish’s cover or aluminum foil.
After 30 minutes, remove the cover and let bake 8-10 minutes more uncovered.
Remove from oven and serve!
Riffing On Gluten Free Stuffing!
If you are serving vegetarian guests, this vegetarian/vegan gluten free stuffing can be used to stuff baked winter squash. Cut your squash in half, bake it 1/3 the recommended baking time and then fill with the stuffing and finish the baking, covered with foil. Remove foil a few minutes before the squash is finished. This dish can serve as the central part of the meal and is very, very good.
Many families will only have a few guests whose special dietary needs must be considered. The above gluten free stuffing recipe will easily feed 4 people. If you’ve got more gluten free or vegetarian guests, you can double the recipe.
Feel free to add other special ingredients to the above gluten free stuffing if you have different culinary traditions in your family. For example, some families love chestnuts in their stuffing. Others enjoy experimenting with dried cranberries.
Other Surefire Holiday Dishes For Your Gluten Free Guests
Happily, the cranberries and mashed potatoes are fine for gluten-free guests as are any other vegetable or fruit-based dishes. Be generous with salads at a gluten-free holiday table! Gravies can be thickened with potato flour. Most breads are out, but be sure to set out corn chips for dips or spreads if you are serving hors hors d’oeuvres. Olives, pickles and other wheat-free finger foods will offer gluten-free guests plenty to snack on before the big meal begins!
Special Notes For Vegetarian Guests
Totally mouthwatering mashed potatoes can be made with vegetable broth. Important to note is that vegan guests generally do not eat refined sugar. Cranberry sauce can be sweetened with maple syrup, instead. Green beans can be dressed with a lemon/salt/pepper/olive oil dressing or an herbed vinaigrette. Sweet potatoes can be made festive with a spiced maple syrup dressing to be poured on by the guest. Mix spices like cloves, nutmeg and ginger into maple syrup and put it in a little pitcher and you’ll have a very happy vegetarian diner!
Gluten Free Stuffing Leftovers
Because the gluten free stuffing is cooked separately from meat, it is totally safe to send home with your guests as a leftover. It can easily be reheated in a skillet with just a bit of olive oil and, frankly, it’s awfully good the next day!
Don’t Forget To Make The Table Gorgeous!
We’ve got a special line of cranberry dinnerware, servingware and bakeware that has become a tradition in American homes for holiday baking and dining. It’s handmade right here in Virginia and is lead-free for total safety for your guests. A diagnosis of gluten intolerance can initially be very depressing for the sufferer. He may feel cut out of a normal social life. Dining out has suddenly become confusing and tricky and accepting dinner invitations may cause real discomfort.
As a host or hostess, your primary duty is to make all guests welcome. Be sure to let your gluten free guests know that you have researched and understood their condition and that you will be serving great food that they can dig into without fear. Let them come into your home, see your charming decorations, your beautifully laid table, maybe with candles, special dinner service, flowers! Let them catch the scent of that gluten-free stuffing coming to the table – rich with the fragrance of toasted corn, sage and onions. The mood is set, the food is fantastic and you’ve given someone you care for a very happy holiday.