This stuffing has gone through much testing over the years. Variations have included: chestnuts, wild mushrooms, Italian sausage, dried fruits, even white truffle oil when I was feeling especially excessive. But what I have here is a testament to that old adage, "If it ain't broke." After all, isn't ritual — that is, repetition of an act, in this case a recipe — just proof that it was once original and, through time, has become a classic? This is my favorite Thanksgiving dish hands down. No truffles, just sweet cornbread and lots of sage. And I even ask that you use two boxed items. But I don't apologize for that. It's a friendly reminder that most of the food you're eating on Thanksgiving comes from a box, was probably concocted by a major corporation in the 1950s, and its "fresh" variation was developed years later by restaurant chefs and our nation's cultish obsession with the local and artisanal.
The sheet pan really does make a difference. This uber-buttery cornbread stuffing gets crispy at the edges, almost chewy (not to mention it somehow makes a dish that's 100% of the time vile, photogenically, somewhat presentable for a change). Also, I use milk instead of stock, which keeps this not only vegetarian but also incredibly rich in a nursery-food kind of way.
8 1/2–ounce box corn muffin mix, especially Jiffy
1/3 cup milk
1 stick unsalted butter
1 onion, diced
2 ribs celery, diced
2 tablespoons fresh sage, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, finely chopped
2 cups milk
6-ounce box stuffing mix, especially Stove Top
Prepare the cornbread mix according to the instructions on the box (usually asks for an egg and some milk). Bake 6–8 muffins at 400 degrees F for 15–10 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, in a large pot or Dutch oven, sauté the onion and celery until translucent. Add the sage, parsley, and milk, bring to a gentle boil, then stir in the stuffing mix, seasoning pack and all, as well as the corn muffins, which you can just crumble in with your hands.
Transfer to a sheet pan and top with sage leaves, drizzle with olive oil, and bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes.
Serves 6 (so for Thanksgiving, I usually double this).