I am usually not allowed to make casseroles at my house. This is a longer story for a different time, but let’s just say that my lovely husband was essentially tortured with casseroles as a child, and the very act of watching someone pull a Pyrex baking dish out of the oven gives him hives.
Since I’m not generally a casserole person myself, this is never much of an issue. But every once in a while, one has need of a casserole. And for me, that time is after Thanksgiving. When I was growing up, leftover Thanksgiving turkey meant turkey tetrazzini, which is one of my favorite things in life (and I am totally fine with that). But a few years ago, facing down my Thanksgiving leftovers, and having neglected to purchase the requisite tetrazzini ingredients, I created a casserole of a different sort. And I have to say, while it hasn’t eclipsed my love of baked pasta and turkey in a creamy sauce spiked with sherry and laden with parmesan, it has at the very least matched it.
Working off the traditional seven-layer format, I assembled what was essentially a layered shepherd’s pie, and the results were terrific: a whole Thanksgiving meal in a format you can put in a bowl and eat in front of the TV. The various strata of carbs, condiments, and turkey are as perfectly balanced in this dish as they were on your plate. It’s salty and sweet and savory and tart and creamy and umami all in one fabulous dish.
I won’t say that my husband gives it a total hall pass on the casserole moratorium, but he does call for a brief cease-fire and has even been known to indulge in seconds.
Thanksgiving Leftovers Shepherd’s Pie
Arrange your leftovers to see what you have. Grab a dependable baking pan and spray it with nonstick spray. Leftover stuffing goes down first; think of it as a bottom crust. Press it in well to get a tight layer so that you can get slices out of the casserole at the end. On top of this, spread a layer of cranberry sauce. (It doesn’t matter what kind you served; anything will work.) Then chop or shred your leftover turkey meat and mix it with leftover gravy to make sort of a loose pulled-turkey sort of thing and spoon it over the cranberry sauce. If you don’t have leftover gravy, you can mix the turkey with the cranberry sauce, or just pile the shreds on top. Top this with leftover vegetables. Green bean casserole, roasted Brussels sprouts, creamed spinach—whatever’s green, throw it on there. Now add your sweet vegetables if you had them; sweet potatoes, braised onions, roasted root veggies, and glazed carrots all work for this layer. Seal the whole thing up with your leftover mashed potatoes and bake in a 350-degree oven for 40-50 minutes until heated through.
Have a houseful of guests? Assemble this the night of Thanksgiving as you are packing up leftovers and cleaning up and stash in the fridge. Bake it off in the morning and serve for brunch with or without a poached egg on top.