Country Bread Stuffing with Smoked Ham,Goat-Cheese and Dried Cherries

As much as we cook on Thanksgiving, we’ve always made stuffing from a box. This year we decided to attempt to make it from scratch ( since we finally mastered Turkey Gravy, we needed another challenge). We found  similar recipes in the Kansas City Star and Epicurious and adapted slightly to our tastes. We toasted the bread and cooked the veggies a day the day before to save time.
goat cheese stuffing
1/2 cup dried tart cherries

1 (1-pound) loaf crusty country-style white bread
1/4 cup olive oil
4 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1 large garlic clove, minced6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter
1 1/2 cups finely chopped onion
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced celery
1 1/4 cups chopped smoked ham (preferably from 2 meaty ham hocks)
1 cup finely chopped green bell pepper
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley1/2 cup toasted pecans, chopped
1 3/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth, heated
4 ounces chilled fresh goat cheese, crumbled into 1/2-inch pieces

Day before: Preheat oven to 375°F.

Cut bottom crust and short ends off bread; discard. Cut remaining bread with crust into 1-inch cubes (10 cups loosely packed). Place in large bowl. Add oil, thyme, and garlic; toss. Spread out on large rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake until golden and slightly crunchy, stirring often, about 20 minutes. Return to same large bowl.

Melt butter in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add next 4 ingredients. sauté until vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes. Mix in parsley and cherries. .

Day of:

Place cherries in bowl; cover with boiling water. Let stand until soft, about 15 minutes. Drain.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter 11x7x2-inch glass baking dish. Stir vegetables  and nuts into bread cubes. Add hot broth, tossing to coat. Mix in cheese. Transfer to dish. Cover with buttered foil, buttered side down. Bake until heated through, about 25 minutes. Uncover and bake until top is brown, about 25 minutes longer, and serve.

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