One of the best things about Thanksgiving is the leftovers. Roasting a turkey is a big commitment to have the whole thing over in one big meal, especially if you’re doing the cooking. I don’t know about you but when I have a lot of people to feed, I can barely taste what I’ve prepared because I’m so busy thinking about what I need to do next. Dishing up some leftovers the next day, it’s almost as if I get to be a guest. The work is mostly done, then I can truly savor every bite.
This year I’m not even cooking on Thanksgiving Day but I roasted a turkey this week anyway. It’s all about the leftovers — turkey sandwiches, turkey soup, turkey risotto, turkey casserole. We’ll eat as much as we can stand and then freeze the rest. Everybody knows that a turkey sandwich made with real roasted turkey is miles beyond the sliced turkey you can buy in the deli. Lots of mayo, lettuce, maybe a bit of leftover cranberry sauce. Definitely one of my favorites but a turkey grilled cheese with mushrooms is equally as tasty.
And then there’s the turkey soup. Don’t you dare throw that carcass away without making turkey stock. It’s such an easy and rewarding process not to mention how nutritious and delicious whatever you use it in will be. Find a big pot, throw in the bones (I usually remove the skin). Cover with cold water. Throw in a few seasonings — an onion, a carrot, celery leaves, bay leaf, some thyme sprigs — and simmer for several hours. Salt & pepper, added to taste, either at the end or along the way. You can tell it’s “done” when it tastes rich and flavorful. Strain and let it cool completely before storing in the fridge or freezer. You now have the broth. You can add cooked turkey, sauteed veggies, noodles, rice, whatever. It’s the best comfort food ever.
This year I also used turkey leftovers and my homemade broth in a Brown Rice Risotto with Winter Squash from Mark Bittman. I’ve made this recipe several times without the meat as a side dish but with a little protein added, it becomes a great one-dish meal and a good way to use up some of your leftovers. We eat brown rice so often that I’ve started buying it in 12lb. bags. I never even thought about using it instead of arborio rice for risotto but it works just as well and gives it a nutty flavor. The winter squash cooks down and adds to the creaminess.
Brown Rice Risotto with Winter Squash
Ingredients: 1 cup short grain brown rice (I like Lundberg organic)/ 3T olive oil or butter/ 1 medium onion or large shallot, chopped/ 1 winter squash (about 2 cups), peeled and cubed/ 1/4 cup dry vermouth (or dry white wine)/ 4 cups homemade stock, I used turkey stock/ 1 cup bite-sized pieces of leftover meat, I used turkey/ 1/2 cup grated parm or pecorino/ 1/2 chopped parsley/ Salt & pepper to taste.
Directions: Bring medium pot of water to boil and salt it/ Stir in brown rice. Let it cook for 10-15 minutes without stirring, until it starts to become tender/ Meanwhile heat the oil or butter in a large deep pot/ Add onion or shallot and saute until it softens, 3-5 minutes/ Drain rice and add to onion, cooking until it’s glossy and coated with oil, about 5 minutes/ Sprinkle with salt and pepper, add the squash and the vermouth/ Stir and let the liquid bubble away.
Begin to add the stock, about 1/2 cup at a time, stirring after each addition and every couple of minutes/ When stock is just about evaporated and absorbed, add more/ When rice is tender and liquid is mostly added, add pre-cooked meat/ When it’s done, the rice should be soft and creamy, it should be moist but not too soupy/ Add chopped parsley, grated cheese and taste for salt & pepper.
If you have other precooked leftover vegetables, such as mushrooms, add them at the end along with the meat. I’ve made this dish for a dinner party up to the final addition of broth before the guests arrived, then completed it just before eating so that I could sit by the fire and have cocktails. If your guests are hanging out in the kitchen while you cook, you can stir and visit, right up until it’s done instead.