Let’s be honest. The only thing we look forward to more than the Thanksgiving dinner itself are the leftovers.

Whether it’s one’s personal recipe for the perfectly constructed turkey sandwich or the mashed potatoes transformed into potato pancakes, it’s all about the leftovers.

When my kids walk in the door they ask two things, “Is the stuffing ready to taste?” and “Did you make enough for leftovers”? Truth is, they already know the answer. Otherwise, they would not have arrived with a bag filled with empty plastic containers.

I don’t believe the excitement created by leftovers has anything to do with not being wasteful. My theory as to why the leftovers hold such a lofty position is because we really don’t want Thanksgiving to end, and having these edible reminders to transform keeps the holiday going. This thought is what keeps me from rolling my eyes when the meal that took me two days to prepare is devoured in the blink of an eye.

On that rare occasion when our family enjoys Thanksgiving away from our home, we have, honestly, prepared our own turkey and stuffing at home, for the sole purpose of having at least the turkey leftovers, and we all know our own stuffing recipe is the one we crave all year long. Besides, my personal recipe for the perfectly constructed leftover turkey sandwich requires some of “my” stuffing.

Thanksgiving day recipes are sacrosanct, but with leftovers we can experiment. This is when the fun begins. These are the recipes I get requests for each year. “What do I do with leftovers”? Here is where I break with ritual and tradition, and try to come up with a new idea each year.

The Turkey Tetrazzini recipe below is not the well known recipe you may know. The original Tetrazzini recipe, created in the early 20th century by Auguste Escoffier (aka “the emperor of chefs”), was named to honor renowned Italian opera singer Luisa Tetrazzini.

Escoffier’s recipe is luxurious and rich with a sherry infused cream and cheese. For me, it’s lovely but a bit heavy in the days following feasting.

Back in the 1970s, there was an easy-peasy, fun version made with catsup and cheddar cheese. My recipe is also easy-peasy, but with a peasant Italian twist.

Our Thanksgiving table also includes a classic glazed bone-in ham. Once all slices and larger portions are enjoyed, there is still an abundant amount of sweet, savory, juicy and tender meat around the bone. I encourage you to take the time to cut away these pieces of meat and try my absolute favorite casserole. I make this one anytime there is leftover ham. I guess it’s become another holiday tradition. Easiest recipe ever.

I wish this recipe had a fancier name to entice you to try it, but I’ve just always called it simply “Leftover Ham Casserole.” It’s definitely comfort food.

Oh, and remember that you can make a great stock using the ham bone. Ham stock is not something we hear about that often, but it’s terrific for use in soups, bean dishes, Southern cooking, gravies, meat sauces and more. Simple add veggies, as you would for other meat stocks, and prepare in the same manner.

Mangia Bene and Happy Thanksgiving

Turkey Tetrazzini

2 Tbsp. butter

7 cups chicken broth

1 red or yellow bell pepper, cored, seeded, finely chopped

1 large yellow onion, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 lb. dried spaghetti

1 lb. skinless boneless roasted turkey, torn into large chunks (approx. 3 cups)

2 cups frozen peas, thawed

1 sm. can tomato paste

8 oz. sliced mushrooms

2 cups grated Provolone cheese

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup sliced green olive with pimento

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 11 by 13-inch casserole dish with 1 tablespoon of butter. Combine broth, peppers, onions, garlic, salt and pepper to taste in large pot. Bring to a boil. Add spaghetti in broken pieces, reduce heat to medium, and boil gently. Stir often, until spaghetti is al dente, approximately 12–14 minutes. Remove from heat, add remaining 1 tablespoon of butter, turkey, peas, tomato paste, mushrooms, salt and pepper to taste and fold together.

Transfer spaghetti mixture to casserole dish, cover with grated cheeses and top with sliced olives. Bake until golden and bubbly. Approximately 30 minutes. Set casserole aside to let cool slightly. Serve.

Serves 8

Diane’s Leftover Ham Casserole

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 cup chopped yellow onion

3/4 cup diced green pepper

3/4 cup uncooked white rice

1 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. pepper

1—1 lb (12 oz.) can crushed tomatoes including the juice (no seasoning)

2 1/2 cups bite-sized ham pieces

1 standard can pitted black olives, cut in half

1 small bay Leaf

Mix ingredients in large bowl. Pour into buttered or sprayed casserole dish

Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Remove bay leaf and serve.

Serves 6-8

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