A healthier use of Thanksgiving leftovers
Published: November 29, 2013 01:34PM
Updated: November 29, 2013 01:34PM
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Turkey Tetrazzini with Butternut Squash Sauce. (Deb Lindsey/For The Washington Post)

One of the wonderful things about Thanksgiving is that you can extend the festivities by getting creative with leftovers in the days following the big feast.

In fact, the food that you worked so hard to prepare will taste better when you are hungry again.

Turkey is no exception. Although turkey breast meat is a healthful source of protein when you remove the skin and keep the gravy on the side, portion size is still key. When filling up your plate, keep in mind the Agriculture Department’s recommendation is 5-6 1/2 ounces of meat or other protein source per day for adults who aren’t getting the recommended 30 minutes of moderate physical activity per day (that’s more than half of us).

As you look for ways to use turkey leftovers, remember that there’s more out there than that boring turkey sandwich. Try this rich and creamy casserole that has been given a guilt-free makeover. It features leftover turkey and butternut squash. Select white meat over dark if you are looking to cut back on calories and saturated fat. (Dark meat is higher in fat, but it provides important nutrients such as iron, zinc and several B vitamins.)

Traditional turkey tetrazzini is loaded with butter, cheese, heavy cream, refined flour and bread crumbs. This recipe skips those ingredients and focuses on the white-meat turkey and loads of vegetables including mushrooms, peas, onions and butternut squash.

The squash is especially important, providing a creamy, thick sauce that one expects with turkey tetrazzini. Butternut squash has the word “butter” in it for a reason! Though decadent, it also packs a lot of nutrients including fiber, potassium, magnesium and vitamins A and C.

Turkey Tetrazzini With Butternut Squash Sauce

This is a lightened-up, guilt-free version of traditional turkey tetrazzini that calls for cooked, white-meat turkey and lots of vegetables including mushrooms, peas, onion and butternut squash.

The sauce, made from the squash, skips the usual butter and cream yet it provides flavor and a velvety texture throughout.

Kosher salt

5 ounces dried brown-rice or whole-wheat spaghetti

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 cup diced sweet onion

6 white button mushrooms, cleaned, stemmed and sliced (a scant 1 cup)

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 or 2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped

1 medium shallot, coarsely chopped

1 cup cooked butternut squash pieces

1/4 cup plain unsweetened almond milk (may substitute other dairy milk substitute)

1/4 cup dry white wine (may substitute sherry)

1/4 cup no-salt-added chicken broth

1 cup frozen peas

2 cups cooked, cubed white-meat turkey

1 cup diced red bell pepper (optional)

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a medium casserole dish with cooking oil spray.

Bring a large pot of water to boil over medium-high heat. Add a generous pinch of kosher salt and the pasta; cook according to the al-dente package directions. Drain.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the onion, mushrooms, half the sea salt and half the black pepper, stirring to coat. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally; the onion should be translucent and the mushrooms should have released their juices. Remove from the heat.

Combine the garlic (to taste), shallot, squash, almond milk, wine, broth and the remaining sea salt and black pepper in a food processor. Pulse until well incorporated. With the motor running, gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup of oil, to form a smooth, emulsified sauce.

Transfer to the saute pan with the onion-mushroom mixture; add the cooked pasta, peas, turkey and red bell pepper, if using, stirring to incorporate and coat evenly. Spoon into the casserole; sprinkle with the cheese on top, if using.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until lightly browned on top.

Serve right away.

4 to 6 servings

Make ahead • The baked casserole be refrigerated for up to 2 days. For optimum food safety, use a food thermometer to make sure leftovers are reheated to 165 degrees.

Nutrition • Per serving (based on 6): 320 calories, 18 g protein, 29 g carbohydrates, 14 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 30 mg cholesterol, 65 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 4 g sugar

From • Elaine Gordon, a master of public health professional and a master certified health education specialist, is creator of the healthy recipe site EatingbyElaine.com.