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Pasta is great for leftovers

Pasta with greens and tomatoes (Photo provided — Yvona Fast)

The guests have gone. The big day is over. You’re left with lots of food.

Many say that leftovers are the best part of the holiday. But even if you love turkey sandwiches with cranberry sauce and gravy, they get boring after a while.

It is fun to find creative ways to use what is left after the feast! Turkey meat can be used for so much more than sandwiches, and Mashed potatoes have more uses than Shepherd’s Pie. The best ideas are born by asking, “How can I create a flavorful dish with what I have on hand?”

Pasta to the rescue! The blank slate of noodles easily combines with leftovers. And noodles are easy to prepare: just boil water, pour in the pasta, and cook.

Load up your pasta dish with leftover vegetables from your holiday feast. Add a little turkey for protein, cover with a light sauce — which can be as simple as olive oil and herbs — and you’ve got dinner. When the weather is chilly, pasta is warm and comforting — and it is one of America’s favorite comfort foods.

Pasta with greens and tomatoes (Photo provided — Yvona Fast)

Rotini, ditalini, fettuccine, linguine … most of us know pasta by its myriad Italian shapes. That is because the English “discovered” pasta in Italy — where simplicity rules. However, pasta evolved all around the world: in China, in the Middle East and in southern Europe. The Hebrew Talmud from the 5th Century AD has the first written record of noodles cooked by boiling. Middle Eastern Arabs invented dry noodle products suitable for long desert journeys; the Arab historian Al Idrisi described dried pasta in 1138. British colonists and Italian immigrants brought pasta to America. The invention of mechanical drying machines in 1800 meant pasta could be manufactured anywhere, not just in the coastal climatic regions.

A low-fat, high-carbohydrate food, a half-cup serving — think the size of a tennis ball — of cooked pasta contains 99 calories, less than half a gram of fat, and less than 5 milligrams of sodium. Made from enriched flour, it provides B vitamins, iron and protein.

Today, gluten-free pasta made from beans, rice or quinoa is sold alongside the traditional wheat kind. And whole grain pasta with more fiber and nutrients is more common, replacing the white flour, nutritionally inferior traditional pasta.

When cooking pasta, be sure to reserve some pasta water for your dish before draining the noodles. This is a time-honored Italian tradition that helps create a creamy, starchy sauce that sticks to the pasta. Salty and starchy from the cooking noodles, this cooking liquid is great added to sauces, whether tomato, cheese or creamy alfredo. Simply scoop some out with a cup or mug when the pasta is almost done.

As soon as you drain the noodles, wash the pan with cold water; no soap needed. This simplifies cleanup.

Pasta and turkey is a great way to liven up those leftovers. (Photo provided — Yvona Fast)

Vary the sauce depending on what you’re putting in it. Olive oil with some sautéed herbs and veggies can make a simple, delicious sauce. Mashed sweet potatoes or winter squash are wonderful stirred into your favorite mac & cheese recipe. If you’re adding meat and dark green veggies like kale or broccoli, a tomato sauce or a can of diced tomatoes is a good fit. Light cheeses (ricotta, cottage cheese or farmers’ cheese) melt and meld into a creamy sauce that coats noodles and veggies with delightful deliciousness. Sharper, hard cheeses like feta, cheddar, parmesan or pecorino romano enhance the flavor of your dish.

Pasta, Turkey and Veggie Skillet

Ingredients:

Pasta and turkey is a great way to liven up those leftovers. (Photo provided — Yvona Fast)

1 / 2 pound rotini or fusilli pasta

1 1 / 4 teaspoon salt, divided

1 – 2 teaspoons cooking oil

1/2 onion

1 to 2 cups leftover turkey

1 teaspoon dried basil

1 can diced tomatoes (14.5 oz.)

2 cups leftover broccoli (or another veggie)

1 clove garlic

Directions:

In a large saucepan with boiling water, cook pasta with half a teaspoon of salt according to package. Drain and place in serving bowl.

While pasta is cooking, coat the skillet lightly with oil. Peel and dice the onion; sprinkle with salt and cook about 5 minutes. Add the turkey, broccoli and tomatoes with their liquid to the same skillet. Add a little pasta water if too dry. Sprinkle with basil, cover, and cook until warmed through, about 5 minutes.

Mash the garlic with the remaining half teaspoon of salt. Stir into the cooked pasta, along with a little olive oil. Add contents of skillet and stir to combine. Serve warm. Sprinkle with freshly grated parmesan or fresh herbs, if desired.

Serves 3 – 4.

Hungarian-Style Turkey and Veggie Skillet

Ingredients:

1 / 2 pound pasta

1 teaspoon salt

1 Tablespoon cooking oil

1 onion

8 oz. Portobello mushrooms (can also use white mushrooms)

3 cups green beans (can also use broccoli or another veggie)

3 cups leftover turkey meat

1 / 2 to 1 cup sour cream or plain Greek-style yogurt

2 teaspoons paprika

Directions:

Put the water on to boil. When it comes to a boil, add a little salt, noodles and cook according to package directions. Drain.

While noodles cook, peel and dice the onion. Clean and slice the mushrooms.

Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and mushrooms; cook 5 to 10 minutes, or till onions are translucent. Add green beans, reserved turkey, cooked noodles and a half-cup pasta water. Cook about 5 minutes, or until heated through. Remove from heat; stir in sour cream and paprika, adjust seasonings, and serve.

Pasta with Greens and Tomatoes

Ingredients:

6 to 8 ounces tubular pasta, such as ziti

2 to 3 slices bacon (or 1 to 2 Tablespoons cooking oil)

3 cloves garlic, minced

salt and pepper

2 to 3 cups cooked greens

1 can diced tomatoes (14.5 oz.)

1 to 2 cups diced cooked turkey (or ham)

Grated sharp cheese

Directions:

Cook pasta according to package directions.

Cook bacon in a deep, straight-sided frying pan until crisp. Remove to drain on paper towels. Peel and mince the garlic, add, and cook about a minute. Add the cooked (leftover) greens, a splash of pasta water, turkey and diced tomatoes with their liquid. Season with salt and pepper. Serve over pasta, sprinkled with reserved bacon and / or grated sharp cheese.

Author of the award-winning cookbook Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market, Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be reached at yvonawrite@yahoo.com or on Facebook as Words-are-my-world.