With a handful of fresh herbs and plenty of butter, this homemade pear fennel stuffing is easy to make and incredibly delicious. It’s the irresistible side dish you need to complete every holiday dinner.
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Homemade Pear Fennel Stuffing
Buttery, herby stuffing was the first traditional side dish I taught myself how to make from scratch. This was long before I started developing recipes professionally, and I remember having to do some convincing to earn it a place on the family buffet. Since then, the overall recipe has been tweaked with every attempt.
This recipe for Pear Fennel Stuffing is a direct evolution of that very first attempt. Sweet-tart bites of pear mingle with savory vegetables, salty pancetta, and fresh herbs like sage, thyme, and rosemary, the mouthwatering mixture melting into rich hunks of eggy challah bread. The top browns and crisps to a satisfying crunch, while the center stays moist and luscious for an irresistible combination of textures and flavors. Best of all, while chopping might take a little time, the recipe itself couldn’t be easier, making it the perfect side dish for both expert and novice home cooks.
Whatever holiday you are celebrating – whether its Thanksgiving, Christmas, or no reason at all – this adaptable recipe for homemade stuffing will surely be a crowd pleaser.
Delicious Details & Simple Substitutions
Tinkering with a Template
A delicious stuffing recipe isn’t science – it’s art. The recipe here will get you something delicious, you can rely on that. But if you want to substitute out celery for onion, sourdough instead of challah bread, or mix up the fresh herbs for whatever is most available, feel free to be creative. Just be mindful of the salt, butter, and stock – these ingredients provide a lot of the flavor that binds everything together, so adjust with care.
Fresh vs. Stale Bread
Most stuffing recipes will recommend using stale bread. This is because stale bread will keep its shape and better absorb all the wonderful juices of the stock and vegetables. If, like me, you never think to buy your ingredients that far ahead, you can easily dry fresh bread out overnight. Just dice it the appropriate size, spread them out on a baking sheet, and let them sit uncovered in a safe place (for instance, I have to hide mine from my bread-loving cats). They’ll be just right by the time you make your stuffing the next day.
Reduce Stress & Make Ahead of Time
One of the things I love about this stuffing recipe is how easy it is to split up the work. As noted above, the bread should be chopped up the day before anyway. The vegetable mixture only improves when you make it ahead of time. Not only does it get the dicing out of the way, the flavors mingle together in the fridge overnight for a really delicious combination. On the day of the dinner all you have to do is combine the vegetable mix, stock, and chopped pear together with the bread before sticking it in the oven. It’s just that easy.
Small Scale Holiday Meal
Whether you find yourself taking lead on the holiday cooking this year or you’re stuck at home cooking for just immediate family, you might feel overwhelmed. Don’t panic! There are so many ways you can still celebrate while building new traditions reminiscent of the old. Homemade stuffing is the kind of comfort food that will help you do this.
Considering what to pair with your stuffing? Here are few showstopping recipes you can totally pull off for a small scale holiday dinner:
- Apricot & Sausage Pull Apart Bread
- Coffee Rubbed Roast Chicken with Honey Stout Glaze
- Whole Roasted Spatchcocked Chicken with Bourbon Brown Sugar Glaze
- Whiskey Braised Lamb Shoulder with Blackberries & Goat Cheese
- Farro Stuffed Butternut Squash with Cranberries & Chickpeas
- Victorian-Inspired Cake with Vanilla Glaze & Mixed Berries
- Pumpkin Cake Bites with Maple Glaze & Candied Pecans
- Cranberry Orange Pie with Gingersnap Crust
Pear Fennel Stuffing with Sage and Pancetta
- 1 large loaf challah bread, diced into ½ inch cubes (see note)
- ½ cup (4 ounces) diced pancetta
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 3 stalks celery, diced small
- 1 fennel bulb, diced small
- 8 ounces baby bella mushrooms, diced (or 1 pound, stems only & caps reserved for other use)
- 2 tablespoons sage, minced
- 1 cup other mixed herbs, minced with stems removed (I used thyme, marjoram, and rosemary)
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2-3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- 1 bosc pear, pitted and diced
Prepare the Vegetable-Herb Mixture
- In a large pan over medium heat, sauté the pancetta until the fat is just rendered. Remove the pancetta to a plate with a slotted spoon, reserving 1 tablespoon grease in the pan.
- Melt a tablespoon of butter along with the grease, and sweat the celery and fennel in the pan until soft and semi-translucent (about 10 minutes). Add the mushroom, fresh herbs, salt, and pepper and continue to sauté until the mushroom are browned and all the flavors have mingled (8-10 minutes). Stir in the pancetta and the cayenne pepper. Remove the pan from heat and let the mixture cool.
- If making the entire recipe in one day, you can move on to the next steps. Otherwise, transfer the vegetable mix to the fridge overnight. This is my preferred method.
Mix Together All Ingredients
- Use 1 tablespoon of butter to grease an oven safe casserole dish (make sure its large enough to fit all of the bread crumbs). Stir the chopped pear into the cooked vegetable mixture.
- Sprinkle a layer of bread crumbs into the bottom of the casserole dish, followed by a layer of vegetable mixture, and a splash of stock. Stir to combine. Continue this process until all of the bread and vegetable mixture are mixed and the bread is just moist from the stock, but not soaking wet. (You can also mix together all of the ingredients in a large bowl before transferring to the casserole dish, but I try to avoid making extra dishes to wash whenever possible.)
- Melt the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter. Drizzle this over the top of the stuffing casserole.
Bake the Stuffing
- If baking alongside turkey, chickens, or another large roast: butter a sheet of parchment paper and lay this directly on top of the stuffing. Cover with foil and bake at whatever temperature your roast requires right alongside. Once the roast is removed to rest, uncover the stuffing and bake for an additional 20-30 minutes at 375 degrees F.
- If baking ahead or alone in the oven: Follow above, but bake covered at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes, and then uncovered at 375 degrees F for an additional 30 minutes.
- The stuffing is finished when fully cooked through and the top is golden. Let the dish rest for 10 minutes, and then serve.
Split Up the Work: The vegetable mixture can be prepared and sauteed the day before and stored in the fridge overnight. I prefer this method, and think the time improves the overall flavor.
Mushroom Caps & Stems: If you are making stuffing alongside a gravy, the traditional method is to use diced stems in the stuffing and mushroom caps in the gravy. You could also make a stuffed mushroom appetizer with the caps. This is mostly for appearance reasons though, so if you are only making the stuffing and not trying to do anything else fancy, just dice up a package of mushrooms, caps and all.
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