Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Place the oven rack to the middle level.
Coat the inside of a deep 9 x 13-inch baking pan with about 1 tablespoon of room temperature butter. Set aside.
Place the room temperature toasted bread in a large bowl. Set aside.
In a large saucepan, over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
Add 1 pound of bulk sweet Italian sausage.
Use a fork or a potato masher to break up the sausage into small pieces. Cook for approximately 8-10 minutes until no longer pink and lightly browned.
With a slotted spoon, transfer the cooked sausage to a large shallow bowl to cool down. Leave the sausage fat in the pan.
Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 4 tablespoons of butter to the saucepan.
Add 2 cups diced large yellow onion and 2 cups diced fennel bulb.
Sauté over medium heat for about 8-10 minutes until cooked through and just beginning to brown. Stir occasionally. When done, set aside.
COMBINING THE STUFFING INGREDIENTS:
Add the sauteed sausage and vegetables to the bowl of toasted bread. Toss gently together.
Add the chopped fresh herbs (½ cup chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley, 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage,1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme).
Season with salt and pepper (1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper). Toss together and taste. Adjust seasonings. Add the chopped parboiled chestnuts (about 12 ounces).
Add the chopped parboiled chestnuts (about 12 ounces).
Slowly add 1¼ cup of room-temperature chicken broth and toss gently together. The toasted bread will begin to re-hydrate by absorbing this liquid.
Taste again and adjust for salt and pepper.
Whisk together 2 eggs with about 1 cup of chicken broth. Add this liquid mixture to the stuffing and gently combine it together.
Evaluate if your mixture needs more broth.
Transfer the stuffing to the buttered baking dish. Do not pack in the mixture, just let it drop naturally in the dish.
Cover tightly with foil. Bake for approximately 40-45 minutes.
Remove the foil and continue to bake, uncovered for another 20-30 minutes until the top is crispy and golden.
Remove from the oven.
If desired, garnish with chopped parsley and serve immediately.
1 pound of chestnuts (approximately 20 average sized chestnuts with the shell) yields approximately 12 ounces (340 grams) of cooked chestnuts. This is approximately 2 cups.
The stuffing can be cooked up to 1 day before your holiday dinner and gently reheated.
If you are using sausage with casings, simply cut through through the casing with kitchen shears.
Can this be made into a vegetarian version? Yes. Simply eliminate the sausage. No other changes are necessary. What is the best way to cook chestnuts for stuffing? Since the chestnuts will be baked for over an hour, parboiling the chestnuts prevents them from drying out.What kind of bread is the best? Artisan, Country-Style white bread, crusty Italian bread or any good quality white bread works well for this recipe. It's really up to you.How much broth do I need to add? The goal of adding broth to the stuffing is to re-hydrate the toasted bread. You need to touch the bread and evaluate the texture in order to get the perfect stuffing with a crispy golden top and a soft bread pudding like interior. Do the bread pieces feel spongy? If yes, there is enough liquid.If the bread pieces still feel a little hard, you may want to add a little bit more broth. Add it in small quantities.There should not be any liquid accumulating at the bottom of the bowl. Please keep in mind that the nutritional information provided below is just a rough estimate and variations can occur depending on the specific ingredients used.