March 1, 2006
Florentine Turkey Casserole

FlorenCass.jpgThis is an unusual post in that although I can tell you how I made the dish and how it smelled and how it looked...I'm not actually able to tell you how it tasted. That's because this one falls in the category of bonne action, or Good Deed of the Day. I gave it away.

A few weeks ago there was a message from the English speaking mothers group I belong to in Paris, MESSAGE. Were there any volunteers for the Helping Hands program, which arranges for meals to be delivered to new mothers in Paris? Well, heck. I can't actually claim this was a proper Good Deed, because frankly any excuse to go see a newborn and talk to his or her mom is good for someone like me. I don't think I'm alone. From the nine months before you give birth until heaven knows how long after, once you've become a propsective or accomplished mother you are a complete sucker for babies. And birth stories. (Especially ones about babies born on the quais of the Seine in the back of a Clio.) And a quick casserole and a jaunt across the city is a small price to pay for the privilege. So I volunteered.

I had forgotten about the matter actually, when the first call came for help. The organizer of Helping Hands was about to leave on holiday and so she put me in contact with the mother directly so we could settle a day and a dish. I started making lists and called the mother.

The problem with me and casseroles (well and many dishes to be honest) is that I find it difficult to make them healthy and fat free. I can get a load of tasty vegetables into them and I can make sure meals are well balanced...except for the fat content. The new mother told me she preferred poultry over fish (fine) and that something not too cholesteral-heavy would be good (gulp).

So this was my pathetic attempt to keep the cholesteral down. I hope it was tasty; it smelled and looked just fine. And the spinach will help her to keep her iron up and find her energy after nine months of playing second fiddle to Baby. (Did I say nine months? Oops, I meant the FIRST nine far as I'm aware it never ends.)

I used a pasta I'd never seen before that I found in a gourmet grocery store I frequent a lot because it has exactly this kind of overpriced but interesting items: Casarecce. A little googling has revealed that Casarecce means "home-made" in Italian, which is ironic as I've only ever seen it in a store. The shape is a bit as though you started to roll a rectangle of pasta in one direction and then decided to roll the other side in the opposite direction, making it look like two rolls of macaroni stuck together and slightly twisted. This looked like a great shape for a casserole as it has lots of nooks and crannies for the sauce to seep into and is thick enough so that it won't fall apart. In a casserole you need pasta that isn't flimsy and won't fall apart after being boiled and baked.

Florentine Turkey Casserole

150 grams pasta - Casarecce or macaroni, something sturdy
2 slices of turkey breast
1 cup home-made turkey broth (low salt canned if you don't have any home made stuff)
1 cup milk
2 Tbs flour
2 Tbs/30 grams butter
50 grams Comté cheese, grated or cut in small pieces
2-3 Tbs grated Parmesan, grated finely
2-3 Tbs fine bread crumbs
1/4-1/2 a nutmeg, grated (I like nutmeg A LOT, but I went easy this time, not knowing the recipients' tastes)
a few big handfuls of spinach
Butter for greasing the dish and salt and pepper to taste

Cook the pasta until al dente or even not quite al dente and drain. In the meantime, wash the spinach and put it in a pan with just the water clinging to its leaves. Cover and cook over a low heat for a few minutes until wilted. In a saucepan, bring the turkey broth to a boil and add the breasts. Let them cook for a few minutes and then turn off the heat. Leave them in the hot broth for five minutes or so in order to let them cook through. Then remove them to a cutting board and cut them in thin strips. Reserve the broth.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter. When it begins frothing, add the flour and stir for a few moments. Add a little of the hot broth and stir like mad with a whisk or a fork to get rid of the lumps. Continue adding the broth until it's all incorporated. Turn down the heat and gradually stir in the milk. Add the comté and stir until it has melted. Add nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste. It's important to taste for salt after adding the cheese as some cheeses are saltier than others.

Pour about half the cheese mixture into the pan with the drained pasta and stir well. Butter a shallow baking dish and spread the pasta over the bottom of it evenly. Arrange the wilted spinach over the pasta. Arrange the slices of turkey over the spinach. Then pour the remaining cheese sauce over the whole thing. I used an oval dish about 30 cm in length and the turkey fit perfectly in one layer and the sauce covered everything just right. Sprinkle the bread crumbs and Parmesan over the dish. You might also want to sprinkle a little salt on top; I find it makes the crusty top much tastier but it's not so very healthy.

Bake at 180c/350F for 40 minutes or until the top is browned and the sauce is bubbling and the whole dish is obviously heated through. If you are serving right away, allow it to cool for ten minutes or so (the time to make up a quick healthy salad?) so that it's not too hot to eat and has set a bit.

Or put it in the fridge and wrap it up well so that you can go baby-visiting the next day.

The baby, by the way, was gorgeous with a lot more dark hair than our boy had and a cute little button nose. He's not going to be tasting any casseroles soon, though...

Posted by Meg in Sussex at March 1, 2006 10:13 AM Print-friendly version

I hope we'll get a review from the recipient. That's quite a story about the Clio.

Posted by barrett on March 1, 2006 at 8:01 PM

I sent her a link in case she wants the recipe. However, I wouldn't count on her making this a priority. With a four week old baby on her hands she's fully occupied...which is why I was bringing the casserole in the first place!

Posted by Meg on March 2, 2006 at 2:32 AM

"once you've become a prospective or accomplished mother"

Ha! After almost 9 years at being called a mother, I am not sure that you ever feel accomplished! Every day s a new challenge. I am guessing that I will feel like I am winging it more often than not, for a very long time. But by the second one, I am more confident :)

Posted by Alisa on March 2, 2006 at 7:35 AM

Alisa, I meant "accomplished" in the sense of "having in fact become a mother" not necessarily talented or well-practised!!

Posted by Meg in Paris on March 2, 2006 at 10:13 AM
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