by | Nov 25, 2016 | Gayle Lynds, The Writer's Life | 8 comments

This is NOT my turkey carcass, Or my kitchen.

By Francine Mathews

I cooked a sixteen pound turkey this year. That may or may not sound like a lot, depending on the nature of your holiday gatherings. Mine was eight and a half–meaning, eight adults and one five year-old who could be counted on to eat less than a chihauhau. I have a lot of turkey left over.

Growing up in a household of six daughters and extended relations who invariably relegated me to the Kids Table at holidays, I never considered the problem of leftovers. One of my cherished Thanksgiving memories is of my mother making gravy. She had beautiful hands–elegant, slender, fine-boned. As she aged her hands grew knobbier, the veins and knuckles more pronounced, but always adorned with her emerald-cut tourmaline ring and matching bracelet at special family dinners. Her nails were always polished. She was an expert gravy maker, and once while home from college I stood by and watched her swirl the pan juices into flour, cooking a roux, before adding her stock and caressing the dark brown velvet sauce until it shimmered. I remember thinking: When she is gone, I’ll remember her hands doing this.

She has been gone six years. I see those hands when I sleep.

And so today, the day after Thanksgiving, I will probably do what I remember my mother doing every Black Friday of my life. I will strip the turkey carcass of meat and set it aside. I will set the bones to making turkey broth for soup on the stove and I will throw together the simplest of comfort food from the remains of our Thanksgiving feast: my mother’s go-to recipe. Trend-setting foodists would have you rush out again to the grocery and buy lemon grass or rice vermicelli and turn the turkey into pho. My mother wasn’t entering a grocery store the day after Thanksgiving. She grabbed what was already on the shelf–and nobody argued.

Betty Barron’s Turkey Tretrazzini
I have to give you this recipe in narrative form, because it has never been written down.

Clean and thinly slice about ten medium-sized baby bella mushrooms. Saute them in a tablespoon each of olive oil and unsalted butter until they are limp and darkened and have given off their juices. Set aside.

Make a bechamel: Melt two tablespoons unsalted butter and when the foam subsides, mix in two tablespoons flour and heat the roux, stirring constantly, until it has turned golden in color about two minutes. Pour in two cups of warm milk and whisk over medium heat until thickened and coating the whisk, about 5-10 minutes. Remove from the stove and whisk in half a cup of grated Parmesan, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, and 1/8 teaspoon cayenne.

Cook 8 ozs of pasta until al dente and drain. My mother used spaghetti, but you can use any shape pasta you like. Fusilli works well.

Assemble the tetrazzini: Place half the pasta on the bottom of a casserole dish, top with half the mushrooms, about one cup shredded turkey leftovers, and pour half the bechamel over all. Repeat the layers. Top the second layer of bechamel with another half cup of grated Parmesan. 

Bake at 350 for about half an hour, or until the cheese is melted and the casserole is bubbling.

Happy Black Friday!

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  1. S. Lee Manning

    We always had turkey left over and always pondered what to do with the remainder. Thanks for the recipe. Can't wait to try it.

  2. Karna Bodman

    Oh Francine, that recipe sounds terrific. In fact, I just printed it out…and isn't it wonderful to keep those memories of your Mother front and center, especially on the holidays! Thanks for posting!

  3. Francine Mathews

    Karna, I considered posting links to the recipes for turkey pho, which is very healthy, and turkey coconut curry, which is quite fun, but went instead with family comfort food. happy holidays!

  4. Sonja Stone

    Francine, thank you for the recipe! And thank you for the nostalgic glimpse into your Thanksgivings. It's my favorite holiday–the one that celebrates food and family, two of my favorite things!

  5. Jamie Freveletti

    I'm already tired of the left overs! Thanks for the recipe!

  6. Chris Goff

    What a nice post. The recipe will be tried, but I was most touched by your story about your mom's hands. My mother also had beautiful hands. In fact, before I was born and while she worked as a junior editor for Vogue in Chicago, she was actually a hand model. It's been my wish to look at my own hands and see my mother's. But, alas, they've skipped a generation–as have her rings, which are so tiny they only fit thin, long fingers. That said, my mother only ever cooked three meals a year–Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. My dad was the chef of the McKinlay clan. Good thing he was a good cook.

  7. Francine Mathews

    Yes, Chris, my ring sizes are 4 – for my ring finger – and 2 – for my pinkie. As a result I can rarely by costume jewelry rings. It's a sad burden. 🙂

  8. Chris Goff

    Well, some of us have to wear diamonds and gems.