Once the big holiday feast is over, you deserve a break from heavy cooking. But you’ve already had a turkey sandwich or three—and there are still a ton of leftovers. Luckily, you can transform any roast meat and cooked veggies into a new, elegant dinner in a few simple moves.
Nothing in this recipe should be considered a hard-and-fast rule. It’s more of a blueprint for how to reconstruct your holiday meal into a whole new form, making use of any bits and pieces left from your family’s table.
I used polenta here because it's something I make in big batches for dinner parties that often yields leftovers. But stuffing can also be pressed into patties and crisped up, and grilled cornbread would also be lovely.
Leftover polenta begs to be transformed; that just requires a tiny bit of forethought when you’re storing it. For the first meal, just use your favorite recipe for creamy polenta (I’m partial to Marcella Hazan’s "no-stir" recipe, with a generous scoop of ricotta mixed in) or follow the package instructions. Pour any extra polenta into a flat layer in a baking dish, cover, and refrigerate. As it cools, it will form into a thick, dense cake, which you can then easily slice into pieces. (Some grocery stores sell polenta prepackaged in this form.)
A saucy sauté makes a lovely textural contrast to the crispy polenta. Sweat some onions and mushrooms, then add in greens and any veggies you have left, along with shredded or diced pieces of a protein of your choosing. Here, I used the remainders from a grocery-store rotisserie chicken to mimic a holiday featuring roast turkey or another bird. (Need a roast chicken recipe? Try Josephine chef Andy Little's classic bird or Boka chef Lee Wolen's spin on it—not that we expect any leftovers here!—or any of the other options in our Recipe Search.)
I decided to look at one classic winter wine pairing and one alternative option. Chardonnay is a go-to for our holidays, as it's a crowd-pleaser that tends to work well with roasted turkey or chicken and many fall vegetables. We opened a California Chardonnay on this occasion.
Rosé still tends to get overlooked once Labor Day passes us by, but its place between red and white wines gives it the ability to pair easily with a wide spectrum of dishes, as we tend to have on the holiday table. So for our second bottle, we popped open a rosé from Corbières in the south of France.
This Chardonnay was round and tangy with ripe citrus and tropical fruit notes, balanced by hints of spice and a touch of dried herbs. It worked really well with the creamy gravy, as I had expected, as well as with the cornmeal flavor of the polenta.
In contrast, the rosé had bright acidity and a stony backbone, with a combination of tart strawberries and herbal and floral notes. This wine spoke to the sauté of mushrooms, greens and shredded chicken, and it was particularly refreshing. I have to admit that I expected the Chardonnay to easily win this match, but the rosé took the win for favorite wine of the night by a small margin.
Crispy Polenta with Chicken (or Turkey) and Vegetable Sauté
Prep time: 5 minutes
Approximate cooking time: 25 to 30 minutes
Total cooking time: 30 to 35 minutes
Approximate food costs: $21
- 4 squares of leftover polenta (or stuffing or cornbread), cut to roughly 4 inches by 4 inches and 3/4-inch to 1-inch thick
- 1/2 to 2/3 cups diced onions (about 1 small onion)
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 16 ounces sliced mushrooms
- 1/4 cup gravy, plus an additional 1/2 cup (or as desired) for serving
- 1 to 2 cups previously cooked vegetables of your choosing (I used roasted turnips and sweet potatoes)
- 5-ounce bag of baby spinach or other greens
- 1 1/2 cups shredded roasted chicken, turkey or other protein
- Cooking oil (such as olive, canola or corn)
- Parmesan, optional, for serving
1. Add a generous pour of oil to a pan and set on medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot and starting to shimmer, place the polenta squares in the pan. Cook for 4 to 8 minutes per side, depending on how browned and crispy you like it. Transfer to a platter and keep warm until ready to serve.
2. While the polenta is crisping, add a little oil to another pan on medium heat. Sweat the diced onions in the pan until they begin to soften, about 5 to 8 minutes. Stir in the minced garlic, followed by the mushrooms, and season with salt and pepper. Continue cooking over medium-high until the mushrooms have started to soften as well, another 5 to 8 minutes.
3. Once mushrooms are nearly cooked through, add in the 1/4 cup gravy, chicken and any previously cooked vegetables. Stir to combine. Add the baby spinach in a layer on top, cover the pan and continue to cook for another couple of minutes, until the chicken and vegetables are completely heated through and the spinach has begun to wilt. Lower the temperature if needed.
4. Reheat the 1/2 cup of gravy in the microwave or on the stovetop. Place a square of polenta on each of four plates. Spoon a couple of tablespoons of gravy on top of each polenta square, followed by a scoop of the chicken and vegetable mixture. Garnish with Parmesan cheese if desired and serve any additional gravy on the side. Serves 4.