When Il Gatto chef Jim Christiansen was growing up in Eden Prairie, the Thanksgiving leftover vehicle of choice was the turkey BLT. "It was white bread -- nothing fancy, it has to be cheap -- plus mayo, iceberg lettuce, tomato slices and bacon," he said. "Then cold turkey, with lots of salt, since turkey tastes like nothing, especially the next day."
But he also likes the idea of a turkey pasta, seasoned with sage and finished with dehydrated stuffing, "for texture and flavor," he said.
It's easy. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread a half-inch layer of stuffing across a baking pan and bake, stirring it occasionally, until the mixture is dry and becomes the texture of bread crumbs, about 20 to 25 minutes.
Next, prepare a long noodle ("Spaghetti, or bucatini, or linguine, whatever you're most familiar with," he said). While the pasta is cooking, melt butter in a large pan. Add dry or fresh sage and then shredded turkey and a little of the pasta water. Season with plenty of freshly ground black pepper and cook until the turkey is hot. Drain noodles and toss them with the turkey mixture and some grated Parmesan or pecorino cheese. Transfer the pasta to a serving platter, crumble the stuffing bread crumbs over the pasta and serve.
"Most people don't eat turkey with pasta," said Christiansen. "But this is kind of a play on Cacio e Pepe, a black pepper and cheese pasta. It's super traditional, and for me Thanksgiving is about nostalgia and tradition and the foods I grew up eating."
A turkey BBQ with slaw
Ben Pichler, chef of the Grand Cafe, loves the idea of a Carolina-style pulled turkey sandwich, with a cranberry-flavored barbecue sauce and an apple-Napa cabbage slaw. "One of the reasons why it's fun to make your own barbecue sauce is because you can tweak it until it's to your liking," he said. "It's easy."
Here's how: In a saucepan, combine 2 cups ketchup and 2 cups cranberry sauce ("Not the Ocean Spray stuff from the can, but the sauce you make with real cranberries," he said) and a can of Coca-Cola. Whisk in 2 tablespoons each cider vinegar and brown sugar, 1 tablespoon each Worchestershire sauce and whole grain mustard and a shake of Tabasco sauce. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until "the sauce is nice and thick," said Pichler, about 15 minutes.
Shred turkey with a fork, add it to the sauce and cook until the turkey is heated through.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together a splash of cider vinegar, mustard, olive oil and Tabasco sauce, plus a pinch of sugar and some freshly chopped tarragon. Chop an apple and some Napa cabbage into a fine julienne and toss with the cider vinegar mixture. Spoon the turkey mixture into a bun or on a slice of bread, top with the apple-cabbage slaw and serve. A bun is ideal, but leftover dinner rolls will more than do the trick.
"We have a 3-year-old daughter," said Pichler. "Which means that, at our house, we use dinner rolls for everything."
A simple wrap with a twist
For Ann Kim, chef/co-owner of Pizzeria Lola, Thanksgiving leftovers are all about lettuce wraps.
"Pick your favorite lettuce," she said. "We would use Bibb, or red leaf." The key ingredient is ssamjang, "basically a fermented soybean chile paste," she said, often available in the Asian foods aisle of supermarkets and widely available in Asian supermarkets.
It's an uncomplicated formula. Swipe some ssamjang on the lettuce leaf, add a spoonful of short-grain rice ("Growing up, we never made lettuce wraps without rice," said Kim) and top with turkey, torn into pieces. "In a Korean household, you would also add any condiment lying around," said Kim. "It could be kimchi, or thinly sliced scallions or garlic, or pickled peppers." That's it. "You wrap it up and eat it," she said. "It's a nice way to utilize leftover turkey without being too heavy. And aside from the rice, you don't have to cook anything."
Kim also recommends a Vietnamese version. "You start with the lettuce and, along with the turkey, you could add Thai basil, mint, cucumbers, thinly sliced carrots, serranos, really whatever you have on hand, plus a squeeze of lime," she said. Wrap it up and finish it with a dipping sauce. "A simple Vietnamese version would be equal parts sugar, water, rice vinegar and lime juice, with a bit of fish sauce and garlic to taste, and a splash of chile oil," she said. "It's a fresh, light and aromatic next-day thing to eat."
Beth Fisher, chef at the Wise Acre Eatery, has one word for Thanksgiving leftovers: Crêpes. "You smear them with some of the sweet potato purée you made, then maybe a little cranberry relish and some shredded turkey," she said. "They're warm and delightful, sort of like a wrap, without so much bread."
Fisher has been using Julia Child's basic crêpe recipe for as long as she can remember. She likes to prepare the batter in advance (it makes about 10 eight-inch crêpes), and refrigerate it.
In a blender, combine 1 cup flour, 2/3 cup cold whole milk, 2/3 cup cold water, 3 eggs, ¼ teaspoon salt and 3 tablespoons melted butter. When ready to cook, heat a nonstick frying pan over medium heat. Brush with melted butter, give the batter a stir, pour 2 to 3 tablespoons of batter into the center of the pan and tilt the pan in all directions to evenly coat the bottom.
Cook until browned, about 1 minute. Flip crêpe and cook until browned. Remove from the pan, fill with desired ingredients, fold and serve.
"It's foolproof, and it's a great recipe to play around with," Fisher said. Right now she's adding a few fresh basil leaves to the batter, "which turns it a pretty pale green and gives the crêpes some of that basil sweetness, without adding sugar," she said.
Another suggestion: Add finely chopped basil (or rosemary, thyme, sage or other fresh herb) after you've mixed the batter, which speckles the crepes with color.
There's dessert, too. "There's nothing stopping anyone from rolling pecan pie and pumpkin ice cream into a crêpe," said Fisher with a laugh. "That's the thing about crêpes. They're a really interactive thing to do with the family. We love when we do 'crêpes night.' They're fun to make, and they're really fun to flip. All you need to do is fill bowls with a variety of ingredients, and have everyone make their own."
Dessert from a vegetable
"If you did a butternut squash as a part of your Thanksgiving dinner, it's very easy to turn it into a pot de crème," said Don Saunders, chef/owner of In Season.
A spare can of puréed pumpkin works well, too. Saunders was inspired by the spiced pumpkin pot de crème that's currently on his menu, one that's sweetened with maple syrup and seasoned with ginger, clove, cinnamon and nutmeg. Eggs and cream -- the basic custard formula -- constitute the base.
Start with a medium saucepan over medium heat. Combine 1 cup of squash or pumpkin with 11/2 cups heavy cream, 1/2 cup maple syrup, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon and a 1/2 teaspoon each of ground ginger, ground cloves and freshly ground nutmeg. Bring the mixture almost to a boil. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together 10 egg yolks.
Slowly pour the hot mixture into the egg yolks, whisking vigorously. Let the custard cool to room temperature. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Pour custard into oven-safe ramekins or espresso cups. Place ramekins in a roasting tray, fill tray with water until water is halfway up sides of cups. Cover pan with foil and bake until custards set, about 20 minutes.
Remove pan from oven, carefully remove cups from water and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
"It's a cool way to take a savory side dish and turn it into a sweet dessert," said Saunders. "It's taking something savory and rustic and turning it into something sweet and elegant."