For families that have always favored a traditional white-bread stuffing, this side dish will seem both familiar and exotic. The Italian sausage provides a savory note that goes great with the fresh fennel (if you've never used it, think of it as celery with pizzazz). The optional toasted pine nuts are rich and buttery, but mild enough not to interfere with the other flavors.
Slice the bread into 3/4-inch cubes and allow to air-dry for several hours (or dry in a 350º oven for about 10 minutes). Transfer the bread to a very large mixing bowl and set it aside.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Poke each sausage several times with a fork and drop into the boiling water. Boil for 13 to 17 minutes, until the center of the sausage is no longer pink. Transfer to a bowl and cool. Score the casings and peel them off. Quarter the sausage lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 1/4-inch pieces. Set aside.
Melt the butter in a very large sauté pan. Stir in the onion, fennel, carrot, and bay leaf and sauté over medium heat for 8 minutes, stirring often. Stir in the mushrooms and sausage. Cover and sauté 3 to 4 minutes more. Remove from the heat.
Remove the bay leaf and add the sautéed mixture, fresh herbs, and toasted pine nuts (if desired) to the bread. Gently toss the mixture and add the chicken broth, 1/4 cup or less at a time, until the bread seems moist but not soggy. Taste the stuffing, adding salt and pepper. Add the eggs and mix gently. To stuff your bird, see the Herb-roasted Turkey recipe. Makes 10 servings. Test Kitchen Tip: To cook the stuffing on the side, spoon it into a large, shallow, buttered baking dish. Cover with buttered tinfoil, buttered side down, and bake in a 350º oven for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 15 minutes, until crusted over.