When I was in grad school, a friend’s roommate -who was preparing to go home to Boston for Thanksgiving -starting waxing rhapsodic about his mother’s Thanksgiving turkey stuffing. He claimed that his mother (who had immigrated to the U.S. from Italy in her early 20s) stuffed her turkey with ricotta cheese and pepperoni.
I was fascinated by this idea, and always wanted to try it, but I have never quite had the nerve to take such a huge gamble on Thanksgiving Day. I mean, you only get one Thanksgiving a year, and the stuffing is an integral part of the feast in my family. Still, the memory of this stuffing never faded and this year, I decided to try it out on a practice chicken in advance of Thanksgiving.
I started by googling every combination of “ricotta cheese”, “pepperoni” and “turkey” and came up with nothing. If this is an Italian American tradition, the internet hasn’t heard about it yet. I was going to have to wing it.
My first attempt was incredibly literal.
I mixed a quarter cup of (mini!) pepperoni slices into a cup of ricotta cheese and shoved into a bird that had been seasoned only with salt.
As a control (because, SCIENCE!) I decided to do a sausage version as well. I just slit open a couple of sweet Italian sausage links, crumbled and browned the sausage and then mixed it into a cup of ricotta.
Both birds were trussed up and popped in a 350 degree oven for about an hour and 15 minutes.
The results of my first experiment were underwhelming, but promising. The pepperoni was far better than the sausage, so I stuck with the pepperoni only afterwards. The stuffing definitely needed some seasoning if it were to be Thanksgiving Worthy. After a bit of experimenting, I came up with a recipe that I love. As an added bonus, so many people are eating gluten-free these days, and this stuffing is a great alternative to bread stuffing for those folks.
I’m giving you quantities in the recipe that follows, but you’re going to have to make adjustments based on the size of your Thanksgiving turkey (or practice chicken). The important thing is that you taste the stuffing (and make adjustments) before stuffing the cavity of the bird.
Pepperoni Ricotta Stuffing
2 C. ricotta cheese
1/2 C. pepperoni slices
1/3 C. parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 clove garlic, minced
salt and black pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and stir well. Taste for seasoning. Stuff your bird* and roast according to your recipe. The ricotta will release a lot of liquid into the roasting pan as it cooks. Keep an eye on the liquid level in case you need to ladle some off during the cooking process.
Serve the stuffing in a bowl with the rest of your side dishes.
*Some of you are probably getting yourselves worked up to leave a comment here about how stuffing a turkey is DANGEROUS and COULD KILL YOUR WHOLE FAMILY. Please don’t. If you are afraid that stuffing the turkey creates a safety hazard, please don’t stuff yours. If you haven’t cooked a stuffed turkey in the past, please be sure to review these best practices for cooking a stuffed turkey.
I stuff my turkey every year, but I am always careful to use two thermometers and to verify that both the turkey and the stuffing have reached the proper internal temp for safe eating. I’ve never had a problem with it, and I think the overwhelming improvement in flavor the stuffing get from cooking in the bird are worth the extra effort.
That being said, cooking a stuffed bird without regard for proper safety is irresponsible and punishable by food poisoning. Don’t do it.
On Monday, I’ll be posting two more alternative stuffing recipes that are fantastic!
P.S. Don’t forget to Pin It to Win It!