Wednesday, December 16, 2009

in defense of casseroles

Some people think that dinner parties have to be fancy, formal affairs. You know, candelabras, tuxedoed waiters, lobster bisque, and baked Alaska for dessert. In my book, dinner parties include barbecues in the backyard, pizza nights, church potlucks, picnics at the beach, sandwiches shared among friends. If a group of people is gathered around a table for dinner, it counts. Sometimes I may even serve said people a casserole...made with leftovers.

Last week, our friend Tom was in town for work, so we hosted a small gathering of his friends at our place for dinner. It was a Sunday night, the group was primarily (loud, obnoxious) guys, and I had almost half a turkey in the fridge left over from Thanksgiving. Turkey Tetrazzini seemed like the perfect plan. I crossed my fingers that no one would be sick of eating turkey.

Casseroles get a bad rap for everyday, weeknight eating, let alone for company. How can you not think of gluey canned soups, frozen vegetables in unnatural shapes, and canned fried onions (which I secretly like)? It's not exactly something people ooh and ahh over. But when you make a good old fashioned casserole from scratch it's a different animal entirely.

Working from a Joy of Cooking recipe, I started by making something called "creamed turkey." Yum yum! Basically, this is your Campbell's subsitute: shredded turkey in a thick, creamy roux made with stock, butter, flour, cream, and a drop of sherry. This mixture is tossed with egg noodles, sauteed mushrooms, parmesan and more butter, then baked in the oven until golden and bubbly. The recipe also calls for sliced almonds, but that sounded awfully strange to me, so I added breadcrumb topping instead. I also tossed in a handful of chopped parsley to add a bright, fresh touch.

Served up with mustardy French green beans and roasted cauliflower, everyone really did ooh and ahh and then scraped their plates clean. Not only are casseroles the type of homey food people appreciate, they're ideal for dinner parties because they can be made ahead. And according to The Joy of Cooking, Turkey Tetrazzini was originally created by legendary French chef Auguste Escoffier in honor of an opera star named Luisa Tetrazzini. So who says casseroles aren't fancy?

Sunday supper for Tom

Deviled eggs
Turkey Tetrazzini
French bean salad
Roasted cauliflower
Pound cake

Turkey Tetrazzini

(Serves 8 to 10 people)
4 cups diced turkey (white and dark meat)
1/3 cup flour
2 cups turkey or chicken stock
1 1/2 cups heavy cream, light cream, or whole milk
2 to 3 Tbsp. sherry
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 pinches of gorund nutmeg
8 oz. mushrooms, washed and sliced thinly (about 2 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup parsley, minced
5 1/2 Tbsp. butter
8 oz. egg noodles
1 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
Olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Butter a 13 by 9-inch baking pan or baking dish.

To make the creamed turkey, melt 4 Tbsp. butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Whisk in the flour until it is smooth. Continue whisking for 1 minute, remove the pan from the heat and add the stock. Whisk until smooth. Whisk in the cream or milk. Bring the heat up to medium and return the pan to the stove, whisking constantly to get rid of any lumps. Bring to a simmer and cook for one minute. Add in the turkey and the sherry. Stir to combine. Cook for one minute more, then add the lemon juice, and nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

In a medium skillet, heat 1 1/2 Tbsp. of butter until melted, then add the mushrooms. Cook, while stirring, for about 5 minutes. Stir the mushrooms into the creamed chicken. In a large pot of boiling water, cook the noodles until they are tender. Drain the pasta and stir it into the chicken mixture with the parsley. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour into the pan. In a small bowl, combine the parmesan and the breadcrumbs. Drizzle with olive oil and stir so the breadcrumbs are moist. Sprinkle them over the casserole and bake for 25 to 35 minutes, or until it is golden brown and bubbly.

French bean salad
I love this recipe, from Jamie Oliver, so much. It's the best way to eat green beans, which can be kind of boring.
(Serves 4 to 6 people)
4 handfuls of French beans, stalk ends removed
2 to 3 heaped tsp. good French mustard, to taste
2 Tbsp. good-quality white wine vinegar
7 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 medium shallot, peeled and finely chopped
optional: 1 Tbsp. capers
optional: ½ a clove of garlic, finely grated

Bring a pan of water to a boil. Add your beans, put a lid on the pan, and cook for at least 4 to 5 minutes. Meanwhile, put the mustard and vinegar into a bowl and whisk it together, then slowly whisk in the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and add the shallot and capers and garlic, if using. When the beans are cooked, but still firm, drain the water and put the beans back in the pot. Pour the dressing over the hot beans. Serve immediately.


Anonymous said...

Your (secret) wish for French's onions is about to be fulfilled when you come back to potluck heaven :)

Unknown said...

thanks for the bean salad recipe. I get tired of cooking them up with garlic and olive oil all the time.

The Italian Dish said...

I totally agree about casseroles. And I love Turkey Tetrazzini!

Cindy Rowland said...

hooray for casseroles. i love em. retweeting this.

Lisa said...

Anony: Oh, will they be on the menu at Christmas??

Tender Branson: Me too! Although garlic and olive oil is really good.

The Italian Dish: Thank you! Glad to see so much casserole love.

Cindy Rowland: Me too. Thanks for the RT!

Daniel said...

Why don't chef seems to invent new dishes named after famous people anymore? What would be the modern equivalent of a turkey tetrazzini? Bobby Flay's Turkey Fergie? David Chang's pork belly ala Gaga?

Lisa said...

Daniel: Turkey Fergie?!?! Hahaha


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