Thursday, October 29, 2009

Big Fat "Turkey" Tetrazzini

When I was a little girl, one of my favorite games was "school" (as opposed to "house," which is also fun, but different), and if no human playmates were available, I conscripted stuffed animals as my hapless students. Well into my adulthood, my mother told the story of the autumn afternoon when I began teaching at the university level. I lined up my bunnies, puppies, kitties, etc. for their first lesson, the text for which was my own composition: "Big fat turkey, gobble, gobble, gobble." This anecdote followed me, yea, even unto graduate school and beyond; only a few months ago, my sister wished me luck on a conference paper via a text reading: "Don't forget 'Big Fat Turkey.'"

I'm reminded of that first whiff of academia's rarefied, ivy-scented air as November draws near and images of those strange yet oddly noble birds begin appearing - especially since I'm mired in mid-term obligations and want nothing more than to escape into the kitchen. You see, singing sophisticated, turkey-related songs puts me in mind of Thanksgiving, which inevitably leads to thoughts of food, and thence to (Oxfordian, perspiring) dreams of casseroles. If you are anything like me, nothing says autumn-shading-into-winter like a beautiful pan of baked carbohydrates, and so today I offer a reimagining of that classic Thanksgiving leftover dish: (big, fat) turkey tetrazzini.

This casserole has everything you could possibly want: noodles, mushrooms, creamy sauce, and crunchy topping; all without harming our feathered friends. Best of all, it was only about 90 minutes between the time I started chopping vegetables and my family's first appreciative yummy sounds. So what are you waiting for? Pop this baby in the oven, belt out a rousing chorus of "Big Fat Turkey," and enjoy a dinner like Mama used to make; only so much better, healthier, and kinder.

Gobble, gobble, gobble!

Big Fat "Turkey" Tetrazzini
~ 1 lb. pasta, cooked and drained according to package directions (I like fusilli)
~ 4-5 cups plain, unsweetened soy milk
~ 1 tbsp. vegan "chicken" bouillon (I swear by Better Than Bouillon)
~ 2 bay leaves
~ 2 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 yellow onion, chopped
~ 1 tbsp. garlic, minced
~ 3 cups mushrooms, sliced
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, thyme, sage, parsley, marjoram, paprika
~ Fresh black pepper
~ 1-2 tbsp. flour
~ 1/2 cup vegan parmesan or nutritional yeast, divided
~ 1 package Trader Joe's or Gardein "chickenless" strips, cut into 1/2" pieces
~ 3/4 cup frozen green peas
~ 1 cup finely crushed Ritz crackers
~ 1 tbsp. melted Earth Balance (or other vegan margarine)
~ 1/2 tsp. each: parsley, paprika

~ Preheat the oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit, and coat a large baking dish with cooking spray.
~ In a large beaker, combine the soy milk, the bouillon, and the bay leaves. Cover and microwave until hot but not boiling (you can also do this in a pot on the stove; just keep an eye on it so it doesn't boil over). Set aside.
~ In a large, deep skillet or wok, saute the onions and garlic in the oil over medium-high heat for 5-7 minutes.
~ Add the mushrooms and dry seasonings; cook about 10 minutes, until the mushrooms have released their liquid.
~ Add the flour and 1/4 cup of the parmesan or nooch, and stir for a minute or two.
~ Fish out the bay leaves from the soy milk/bouillon mixture, and begin adding in half-cupfuls, stirring constantly until combined.
~ Add the "chicken" and the frozen peas, mix thoroughly, and cook another minute or two until the peas are bright green. Remove from heat, add in the cooked, drained pasta, and transfer the whole business to your prepared baking dish.
~In a small bowl, combine the cracker crumbs, melted margarine, paprika, parsley, and remaining 1/4 cup of the parmesan or nooch; sprinkle evenly over the top of the casserole.
~Cover with foil and bake at 400 for 20 minutes, then remove the foil and bake another 15-20 minutes until browned (watching carefully to be sure the topping doesn't burn).
~Allow to set up for about 10 minutes before serving.

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