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After the Turkey . . . : Light Meat and Dark Meat and Drumsticks Without End : Leftovers: With turkey, it's what you do with what's left of the big meal that counts.

November 23, 1990|RICK RODGERS | Rodgers is the author of "The Turkey Cookbook," published this month by Harper Perennial. and

Wherever a big, beautiful turkey is roasted for a family get-together, there is usually a worried cook wondering what to do with leftovers. On the other hand, I know one family in California that loves leftover turkey sandwiches so much that Mom doesn't bother cooking a traditional Thanksgiving meal anymore. Instead of toiling away over endless side dishes, she simply serves her turkey with sandwich fixings and relaxes in front of the television football game with her sports-minded gang.

My favorite old-fashioned turkey and hot gravy sandwich includes a layer of leftover stuffing and a dab of cranberry sauce. This concoction will always hold a place in my heart . . . and around my waistline.

But I also enjoy updated versions of the traditional turkey sandwich. Try a grilled Cheddar cheese sandwich on whole-wheat toast, but add slices of roast turkey and tart green apples. For a great brunch dish, make French toast "sandwiches" stuffed with white meat turkey slices and serve with Grand Marnier-spiked cranberry sauce.

Turkey salad, prepared either as a sandwich or with fresh vegetables or fruit on a cold platter, is another way to make leftovers disappear. To save calories, I recommend using half low-fat plain yogurt instead of all mayonnaise.

As many people are turning to low-fat, low-calorie turkey to replace the red meat in their diets, I offer Turkey Muffaletta. The traditional dish is usually made with cholesterol-packed pork salami. My version of this New Orleans specialty can be quite a mouthful--it's most often made on an entire round of French bread with a spicy layer of tangy olive salad.

Then there is the old leftover out: the casserole. Cheesy Tomato and Turkey Bake, for instance, is a tasty, homespun timesaver--you don't even have to simmer up a tomato sauce. Some of the casserole recipes in your files (turkey divan, turkey croquettes or turkey a la king) may call for a classic white sauce. These can be lightened up by replacing half of the butter called for in the white sauce with oil. Or you could use all margarine, and substitute low-fat or skim milk for any cream in the recipe.

Since the Aztecs domesticated the turkey hundreds of years ago, it makes sense to use your leftover turkey for Mexican dishes. Turkey in mole sauce is one of the glories of Mexican cuisine. And imagine how easily you could whip up turkey tacos, enchiladas, burritos or tostadas.

Another solution is to go Asian: Stir-fry a batch of Chinese vegetables, then, just at the last minute and only to heat through, toss in leftover turkey that is cut into strips.

CHEESY TOMATO AND TURKEY BAKE

1 pound tubular pasta (elbow macaroni or penne), cooked

2 cups cooked turkey, cut into 1-inch cubes

1 (35-ounce) can peeled Italian tomatoes, drained and chopped

1 pint low-fat cottage cheese

1 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese

4 green onions, chopped

1 teaspoon dried marjoram

1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into tiny pieces

Toss together cooked pasta, turkey, tomatoes, cottage and Cheddar cheeses, green onions, marjoram, salt and red pepper flakes in lightly buttered 13x9-inch baking dish. (Casserole can be prepared up to this point, covered and refrigerated, 4 hours ahead.)

Sprinkle bread crumbs over top and dot with butter. Bake at 350 degrees until casserole is bubbling and top is lightly browned, about 30 minutes. Makes 6 servings.

TURKEY MUFFALETTA

1 cup pimiento-stuffed green olives, coarsely chopped

2 medium celery stalks, finely chopped

1 small sweet red pepper or 1 (7-ounce) jar roasted red peppers, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon capers, coarsely chopped

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1/4 cup chopped parsley

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning

1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 (10-inch) large round Italian bread or 4 large crusty rolls

8 slices cooked turkey (about 1 pound)

4 ounces provolone cheese slices

Combine green olives, celery, sweet red pepper, garlic, capers, vinegar, parsley, olive oil, Italian seasoning and red pepper flakes in medium bowl. Mix well. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour, preferably overnight.

Cut bread in half lengthwise. Scoop out about half of soft center from both top and bottom. Brush bread with some of olive salad marinade. Place turkey slices on bottom of bread. Spoon olive marinade over turkey. Place cheese on top and press bread firmly over filling. Cut into wedges to serve. Makes 4 servings.

Note: Muffaletta can be made up to 4 hours ahead, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerated. Bread will soak up dressing, giving new but wonderful texture to sandwich.

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