Sunday, January 07, 2007

Radagast and SO's Turkey Casserole

In an attempt to eat all of our Christmas turkey, my SO and I whipped up a turkey casserole shortly after Christmas. I know that the world really doesn't need another turkey casserole recipe (how many variants of turkey tetrazzini are there?), but since part of the reason I'm writing my end-of-the-week recipe blogging posts is to share (and document) the food that my SO and I eat on a regular basis, the world is going to get another turkey casserole recipe. Sorry.

This casserole is straight down-home American cooking: bits of turkey and vegetables are slathered in a white sauce, mixed with pasta, and then baked with a crunchy breadcrumb topping. It's creamy and savory, with just a hint of spice, and it's a great use for that extra pound of Thanksgiving turkey. Note, however, that if you like our more heavily spiced dishes (e.g., Moghul braised chicken, Jambalaya, Thai curry, and many of the rest of our recipes), you may find this a bit bland. Both my SO and I enjoyed this casserole so much that we made a second one this past week, and thus it's this week's end-of-the-week recipe blogging post.

Casserole base:
8 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
1/2 cup flour
4 cups milk, warmed
1/4 pound grated English Coastal Cheddar cheese (~1 1/2 cups)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
~4 good sprinkles cayenne pepper (~a pinch to 1/4 teaspoon)
1 sprinkle nutmeg (a small pinch)
~1 1/2 cup frozen peas (defrosted and drained)
~2 cups frozen corn (defrosted and drained)
1 pound cooked turkey, chopped (we used a mix of dark and light meat)
1/2 pound dry fusilli, cooked and drained (but not rinsed)

~2 cups fresh breadcrumbs (a few slices of fresh bread)
~3 tablespoons butter, melted, for the breadcrumbs

To make this casserole you'll need to make the casserole base, add it to a buttered 9x13" baking dish, and then sprinkle the topping on top.

Making the casserole base:
0a. Before making the casserole ensure that you will have cooked turkey and pasta ready by the time they're needed in the recipe (step 9). Cook the pasta in salted water until it's al dente; drain it, but do not rinse it.
1. Melt the butter in a large saucepan (or wok) over medium-high heat.
2. Add the onions and cook, stirring constantly, until they turn clear and begin to brown at the edges (~5 minutes).
3. Add the garlic, and cook until the onions and garlic are both golden (~5 minutes).
4. Add the flour, and cook until golden and nutty-smelling (~3-5 minutes).
5. Remove the pan from the heat, and let rest (stirring occasionally) until the roux stops bubbling (~ a minute or two).
6. Add the warmed milk, whisk to mix, and return to the heat. Continue whisking (nearly constantly) until the sauce thickens (~5 minutes).
7. Reduce the heat to low, add the cheese, and stir until it is completely melted and mixed in.
8. Add the salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, and nutmeg, and stir to mix.
9. Add, stirring after each addition, peas and corn, turkey, and pasta.

Making the topping:
1. If your bread is not yet breadcrumbs, tear it into pieces and process it in a food processor until it is coarse breadcrumbs. Variation in the size of the breadcrumbs is fine.
2. Drizzle the melted butter on top of the breadcrumbs, and mix with a fork until the breadcrumbs are evenly moistened.

Assembling the casserole:
0. Preheat the oven to 375F.
1. Lightly butter the bottom and sides of a 9x13" baking dish (or similarly sized casserole dish).
2. Pour the casserole contents into the dish, spreading them evenly.
3. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs on top of the casserole.
4. Bake at 375F for 30 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbling and the breadcrumbs are golden brown.
5. Let cool 15 minutes before serving.


This is an extremely flexible recipe; use whatever ingredients you like, in whatever amounts you like. Feel free to use whatever vegetables, meat, spices, and cheese(s) sound good to you. If you don't have English coastal cheddar, any cheddar or other good melting cheese should do just fine (we've made the dish with store-brand medium cheddar cheese, and it was very good).

If you change the amount of sauce, but want to keep the same consistency of sauce, change the butter, flour, and milk proportionally to each other (keeping the ratio of 2 tablespoons butter : 2 tablespoons flour : 1 cup milk). If you want a thicker sauce, use more butter and flour (keeping the 1:1 ratio of butter:flour) in proportion to the milk; if you want a thinner sauce, use more milk (but again keep the 1:1 ratio of butter:flour).

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