Possibly my favourite part of a plate of Christmas food, bread stuffing can flatter even the driest of turkeys. This recipe takes its cues from an American Thanksgiving style recipe, leaving the bread chunkier for crunchy exterior, whilst adding chicken stock to give a soft pudding-like base. The appearance of basil in a Christmas dinner, might make some put down their napkin and leave the table, but it gives the dish a wonderful fragrant, herby aroma that works brilliantly with the sweet/savoury combo of apple and bacon. Leave out the bacon and replace the chicken stock with vegetable stock to make this veggie friendly.
Heat an oven to 120C. Cut the sourdough into 1 inch slices and then cut each slice into half so that you have 2 long pieces. With your hands, tear each strip into 1 inch sized chunks. Place on a baking sheet and place in the oven for 30 minutes, till dried out but not coloured, moving around occasionally. Remove and allow to cool.
Place a wide based pot or frying pan on a medium to high heat and when hot, add the olive oil followed by the bacon. Move the bacon around a little and then leave, allowing it to crisp and colour. Move around again and continue to cook till crisp all over, perhaps turning the heat down if necessary. Add the onion, fennel, celery, garlic, butter and stir to mix, seasoning with salt and pepper. Continue to cook for around 15 -20 minutes, till soft and sweet but not coloured, so keep an eye on the heat. Add the vermouth and turn the heat up so that it all evaporates. Empty into a large mixing bowl along with the dried chunks of bread, pine nuts, kale and apple.
Heat an oven to 175C. In a small bowl or jug, beat the 2 eggs, then add the stock, pesto and beat to combine. Pour this over the stuffing mix and stir well to combine thoroughly. Leave for 10 minutes to allow the bread to absorb the stock. Butter a large, deep baking dish, one that will leave enough stuffing exposed to become crispy but also stay soft underneath. Add the stuffing mix, cover with foil and place in the oven and bake for 40 minutes. Remove the foil and check that the centre of the stuffing is piping hot. Turn the oven up to 185 and place back in the oven for a further 10 to 15 minutes, so that the outside of the stuffing becomes crisp and then serve.