I love Thanksgiving. As someone who loves to cook, it’s my favorite holiday. Notwithstanding the difficult facts about the early history of our country and the false mythology that evolved around it, I feel a special sense of gratitude when we gather for a special meal with an extended group of loved ones.
But not this year. I am sure I am not the only one saddened that there will be fewer chairs at the table.
Still, I love turkey! My kids love turkey, stuffing, and gravy so much that when they were young I would sometimes make it for a random Sunday dinner, which was always a good plan for a busy week ahead yielding leftovers for subsequent meals. So this year I will, indeed, make turkey, stuffing, and gravy, and some other sides, but surely I will have more leftovers than usual.
For lunch on the day after Thanksgiving, my first leftover meal, every single year, is a turkey sandwich with stuffing (bread on bread!), cranberry chutney, and some mayonnaise. As much as I love the big meal itself, I dream of this sandwich!
When the family tires of sandwiches or wants something more substantive for dinner, I like to make a shepherd’s pie with Thanksgiving leftovers using turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, and cranberry. You can even include leftover vegetables you served at Thanksgiving. Although the version pictured here uses regular mashed potatoes, I’ve also made it with leftover sweet potato casserole.
My family likes stuffing so much that in addition to what goes in the bird, I make more in a large glass baking dish (which should technically be called dressing). But that sometimes means I have too much left over. You can freeze squares of stuffing to serve another time with a roast chicken or pork chops. But a bread-based stuffing (regular bread, not cornbread) can also stand in for the stale bread normally used in the classic Tuscan soup, ribollita.
This soup in its original form can be vegetarian or even vegan. My stuffing includes sausage and chestnuts which works with the flavors here, but vegetarian stuffing would work just as well.
Even though our gatherings will be smaller this year, I hope we can all still find moments of gratitude to enjoy a special meal with ample opportunities for delicious leftover creations!
THANKSGIVING SHEPHERD’S PIE
Serves 3-4 – Can be doubled!
1 tablespoon canola oil, plus more, or cooking spray, for the pan
1 small onion, chopped fine, about 1/2 cup
Pinch of salt
A few grindings of black pepper
2 cups leftover turkey, chopped fine
1 cup gravy
1/2 cup leftover vegetables, such as peas, green beans, or root vegetables, chopped if necessary
1/2 cup cranberry sauce or chutney
2 1/2 cups leftover mashed potatoes or sweet potato casserole
1 tablespoon cold butter, cut into small pieces
Preheat oven to 400 F.
In a medium sauté pan, heat the canola oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the onion with a pinch of salt and a few grindings of black pepper, and sauté until the onion is softened and beginning to brown on the edges, about 5 to 8 minutes.
Add the chopped turkey and cook, stirring, just until it gets warm and incorporated with the onion. Add the gravy and your leftover vegetables, and mix to combine. Remove from the heat.
Prepare a square 8-by-8-inch baking dish with a little more canola oil or cooking spray. Spoon the turkey mixture into the pan, scraping out all the gravy with a spatula. Carefully spread a thin layer of cranberry on top of the turkey mixture. Top with the mashed potatoes or sweet potato casserole. If the potatoes have gotten thick in the refrigerator, scooping small spoonfuls over the top will be easier. Smooth the top of the potatoes or sweet potato layer and dot the top with butter.
Bake for 30-35 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.
RIBOLLITA WITH LEFTOVER STUFFING
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
4 ounces pancetta (1 thick slice), chopped (omit for vegetarian or vegan)
2 cloves garlic, one minced, one whole
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 quart chicken, turkey, or vegetable stock, homemade or store-bought
One 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
One 15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 pound frozen chopped spinach
1 bay leaf
1 piece Parmesan rind, optional (omit for vegan)
3 to 4 cups leftover bread stuffing, or torn stale bread, loosely packed
Grated Parmesan cheese for serving
Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion, carrot, pancetta, garlic, salt, and pepper. Sauté until the onion becomes golden, about 8-10 minutes. Add tomato paste and stir to cook for a minute or two. Add the herbs and stir to moisten and release the flavors.
Pour about 1/2 cup of broth into the pot and stir to scrape up any browned bits stuck to the bottom. Add the rest of the broth, tomatoes, beans, spinach, bay leaf, and Parmesan rind (if using). Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove the Parmesan rind, bay leaf and whole garlic clove. The soup can be made to this point and kept in the refrigerator for another day.
If the soup has been in the refrigerator, heat on the stove or in the microwave before adding the stuffing. Add the stuffing and stir so it can absorb the soup. If heating a single bowl, you will use about 1/2 cup of stuffing, loosely packed, per serving.
Serve with grated Parmesan cheese.