Thanksgiving has come and gone. For someone who claims the self-appointed title of Food Blogger, I took very few photos of the kitchen extravaganza that was Tuesday-Thursday of last week. I was too busy cooking. But I’m pleased to report that I survived the annual harvest-festival-turned-uber-feast with my whits about me and my sanity intact. There were no disasters, thanks in large part to my father-in-law, who did most of the heavy lifting. He made the turkey and gravy in a tried-and-true process of brining, roasting, butter-basting, roux-making, and stock-preparing. The turkey was beautiful and bronzed — worthy of the cover of Martha Stewart Living or Bon Appetite. In fact, I defy even Martha herself to produce a more beautiful turkey. If only it had occurred to me to take a photo.
For me, turkey becomes a vehicle for sides on Thanksgiving: mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce. Not to mention butternut squash, green beans, and a broccoli gratin I invented on the fly on Thanksgiving morning. With apple pie and pumpkin pie for dessert, I was relatively certain I’d never want to eat another meal ever again. But lo and behold, I was hungry for breakfast the next morning. I ate pumpkin pie.
The pie, eaten straight out of the pie plate, was stop #1 on my leftovers odyssey. Unless one lives in a family of competitive eaters, there will be abundant leftovers after Thanksgiving. While some of my own family members attempted feats worthy of Coney Island, and the rest of us overate credibly, I had heaps and heaps of leftovers in my fridge. But this is part of the glory of Thanksgiving, is it not?
My brother and his sweetheart took the traditional Thanksgiving Sandwich on the road for their drive back home. The sandwich is a feat of engineering that defies tidy eating. Everything goes in: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce.
My own sweetheart and I did a little variation on the Thanksgiving sandwich theme. Because it can be unwieldy to eat, we squashed it panini style. We used a grill pan with a heavy cast iron skillet on top of the sandwich for weight. A slice or two of cheese on the top and bottom glued the whole thing together. It worked beautifully, and tasted even better. And the heat helped to revive the leftovers, which can tend toward dryness as the post-feast days wear on. We found that too much cranberry sauce caused trouble for the sandwich, but otherwise the panini style allows you to pile on the leftovers and still achieve a sandwich of a comfortably eatable size.
While repeating the Thanksgiving meal in various formats is part of the fun of the days after, eventually my husband and I tired of eating Thanksgiving over and over again. Once our house full of guests were gone home, we were left to face our overabundance of food on our own. Cooking magazines and cooking shows tend to hail the virtues of turkey tetrazini, but my beloved and I despise mushrooms. So that was out. I made a turkey pot pie last year, to great success, but my pie plates were still full of pie. And I wasn’t in the mood for more pie in any case. I considered the turkey noodle casserole and its once-fashionable but now questionable use of condensed mushroom soup. Again, mushrooms. Yuck.
What I really wanted was something that would not only use up the leftover Turkey, but would also make use of all the extra fixings and ingredients I had hanging around. Thanksgiving requires an almost unfathomable amount of groceries. I needed to use up what I had. Assessing my fridge and pantry, I found amid the fray: a half carton of chicken stock, a whole carton of turkey stock, a heap of parsley, a lemon, a bag of onions, leftover turkey, and 3/4 of a bottle of white wine.
That sounded like the start of a beautiful risotto to me. I always have arborio rice in the pantry and peas in the freezer. All I needed was parmesan cheese and lettuce for a green salad. Now that was a two-item grocery list I could live with in my post-holiday recovery mode. And the resulting risotto was really good. It’s the kind of American/Italian food hybrid that is the stuff of dreams (says the Italian-American).
The recipe for my Turkey Risotto follows. It’s really just a variation on a basic risotto. Once you’ve mastered the seemingly fussy but alarmingly simple process, risotto is a flexible canvas for all sorts of kitchen artistry. This turkey risotto is just a parmesan-and-pea risotto that I make frequently, with turkey added. But really, if you have no turkey, just leave it out and you’ll have parmesan-and-pea risotto. Or use leftover ham instead after a Christmas or Easter feast. If you want a vegetarian risotto, leave out the turkey and switch the stock to veggie stock. See what I mean? Totally flexible. Here it goes:
TURKEY RISOTTO with PARMESAN and PEAS (or, sans turkey, PARMESAN AND PEA RISOTTO)
6 cups of chicken stock or turkey stock
2 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 c. finely chopped onion
1 1/2 c. Arborio rice
3/4 c. dry white wine
1 c. frozen peas
1 1/2 c. turkey, chopped into bite-sized pieces
zest of one lemon
2/3 c. parmesan cheese, grated
1/4 c. chopped parsley
salt and pepper, to taste
First, the rules of risotto. Follow these, and you’ll find risotto fulfillment:
1. The rice must be short-grain. Do not use regular long-grain rice here. Arborio is the most common, and it’s easy to find in grocery stores.
2. Keep the stock hot, but not boiling.
3. Add liquid gradually
4. Stir, stir, stir.
Okay. Onward. As usual, pour a beverage–in this case, a glass of wine from the bottle that will go into the risotto–and turn on the cooking tunes. I cranked the Christmas music and set to work. ‘Tis the season.
To begin, get all of the ingredients together. This is important for risotto. Once the process starts, you need everything to hand and ready to go. I have wonderful little purple nesting bowls for such tasks. In fact, I have an obsession with nesting bowls. An addiction, really. But that’s another post.
Pour the stock into a small saucepan. Heat until it is just shy of simmering. You want it hot, but not boiling (it will boil down, which is not what you want). Set the saucepan next to a large, heavy pot, like a dutch oven.
Heat the oil over medium-high. Add the onions and saute until they are soft, 3-4 minutes. Do not salt the onions. The stock and cheese will add saltiness, so season at the end.
You can use butter instead of oil if you’re feeling fancy, but post-Thanksgiving, more butter was the last thing I wanted to consume.
Add the rice, cook, stirring, for 1-2 minutes until the rice is translucent. The idea here is to get every grain of rice coated in oil and heated thoroughly.
Add the wine. It should simmer straight away if the pan is appropriately hot. Simmer, stirring constantly, until the wine is fully absorbed. And remember: only cook with wine that is worth drinking. It doesn’t need to be expensive, but it does need to be good. I used an $8 bottle of Middle Sister Smarty Pants Chardonnay. But pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc would also work well. I like the Middle Sister Smarty Pants because I am the middle sister and my siblings have long referred to me, lovingly, as smarty pants. I am unashamed to say that I shop for wine primarily by title and label.
Now comes the time-consuming part. Add the stock, 1-2 ladles full at a time. Cook, stirring more-or-less constantly. Let each addition of stock fully absorb before adding another. The process is: add a scoop of stock, stir until it’s absorbed, then add another, then stir, and so on until the rice is cooked. This takes around 20 minutes. So settle in and enjoy the meditative calm of risotto making.
There will likely be 3/4 of a cup or more of stock leftover in the saucepan. That’s okay. Different brands of rice cook differently, so you may need more or less stock depending on how your rice cooks. And you’ll want a little hot stock on standby to thin things out as the turkey will absorb a fair bit of liquid when it goes in.
How do you know when the rice is ready for more stock? When you pull the spoon across the bottom of the pan, a path will remain without liquid rushing to fill it in.
When the rice is cooked, add the turkey, peas, lemon zest, and parmesan. Add more stock, a tablespoon at a time, if needed to adjust the consistency. You do not want the risotto to seize up on you. Risotto must have the right texture. It isn’t hard to achieve, but it is important. No one wants gummy or watery risotto.
The finished risotto. Post-Thanksgiving perfection.
Happy Holiday Feasting!