Less than a month ago, many of us celebrated Halloween. But it may surprise you to learn that I sometimes think about Halloween again as Thanksgiving approaches.
Why? The answer is simple. Making smart use of leftovers from your Thanksgiving feast, just like coming up with the perfect Halloween costume, usually involves the art of disguise.
Incorporate that meat, however, it into a baked casserole with a delicious sauce, some vegetables, and a starch of some kind, and you have not leftovers but a brand-new dish that everyone can enjoy. The leftovers stop being just leftovers and simply play the role of your main ingredient.
Employing this strategy, I like to use leftover turkey in all kinds of different ways. I'll make a shepherd's pie: chopping up the meat finely; tossing it together with leftover vegetables; stirring well with leftover gravy, bottled tomato sauce, or a cream sauce (or, if you're really in need of that shortcut, even a canned creamy soup); spreading it in a shallow casserole or gratin dish; topping it with leftover or freshly made mashed potatoes, which I then sprinkle with breadcrumbs and drizzle with a little butter; and then baking it until bubbly and golden brown. Or I might combine chunks of the turkey meat and vegetables with a cream sauce, put the mixture in individual-serving casseroles or ramekins, top with store-bought pie dough, and bake into turkey pot pies.
Once you start thinking in this way, the possibilities for leftover turkey keep expanding. One of my favorite inspirations is to feature the turkey in individual lasagnas. I chop up the meat and moisten it with a good-quality tomato-based pasta sauce. (I especially like to use those that have a little spice to them, like my own brand of spicy Arrabbiata sauce.) Then, I layer that mixture with thinly rolled-out fresh pasta dough (easily homemade, following the recipe I include here, or bought from a gourmet shop or Italian deli), garlicky baby spinach leaves, creamy mascarpone or Philadelphia-style cream cheese; and some Parmesan and mozzarella.
The assembly takes a little time, but it won't seem like too much effort after the holiday marathon you've just been through. And you can also layer the lasagna ahead of time and refrigerate it until ready to bake. You'll be delighted by the results, but just hold back the urge to yell, "Trick or treat!" when you serve it the day after Thanksgiving!
LEFTOVER TURKEY LASAGNA
Pasta Dough (recipe follows)
All-purpose flour, for dusting
1 pound organic baby spinach leaves
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cups bite-sized pieces cooked turkey, all skin, bones, fat, and gristle removed
2 cups store-bought bottled tomato pasta sauce
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese