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Cheesy Leftover Turkey Casserole

Leftover turkey casserole should be a change from your typical holiday flavors. After all, isn’t this about making something new out of something…leftover? Make things feel fresh and flavorful with a creamy, cheesy main dish with an identity all its own.

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a dish of leftover turkey casserole with a scoop taken out

There are only so many ways you can recycle dressing, cranberry sauce and leftover turkey without it feeling like some kind of weird food denial.

You’re eating the same flavors over and over again in so many holiday leftover meals and telling yourself it’s something new.

Let’s do something different!

I love that this leftover turkey casserole has both ham and turkey in it for those of you who have both on hand. You can certainly leave out the ham if you would rather, but I think it gives a nice complexity to the flavor of the casserole.

And the creamy, cheesy sauce, the pasta, the fresh herbs and the buttery breadcrumbs…it’s a delicious combination!

How long is leftover turkey good for?

Leftover turkey is good for 3-4 days in the refrigerator and 2 to 3 months in the freezer. I freeze turkey and chicken in 1 cup portions for all sorts of recipes all year long. It’s easy to just take out what you need. Make sure it’s sealed well in an air tight container. Freezer Ziploc bags work fine if you push out most of the air.

Tips for the best leftover turkey casserole and swap ideas

  • If you don’t have turkey, use chicken. This casserole doesn’t have to have turkey to work. It’s great year round!
  • Use any fresh herbs you may have leftover. Fresh rosemary would be delicious.
  • Dig in to the leftover ham you have from the holidays or pick up a 1/4 pound from your local deli. I like a smoked ham here. Country ham would not be an appropriate swap.
  • Use any short pasta like rotini, penne, etc.
  • Swap the Swiss cheese for something bolder like pepper or habanero jack, or throw in some sharp cheddar too. Avoid using bland cheeses like mozzarella or Monterey Jack by itself.
  • Use plenty of salt to bring out the flavors–taste the sauce before it goes in the oven.
a plate of leftover turkey casserole with a fork

How to put this leftover turkey casserole together

Super easy. Melt butter in a skillet (you can use a really large one and just bake the whole deal in it if you want to). Add celery, onion and ham and sauté until the vegetables begin to soften.

a skillet with melted butter, ham, celery and onions

Add flour and cook 1 minute. Add milk, and reduce heat to medium. Add salt, thyme and vinegar. Simmer while stirring the whole time, 6 to 7 minutes until the sauce thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. With the heat off, add the cheese and stir to melt.

a skillet of cream sauce with a pile of cheese on top

Add the pasta and chicken and stir to coat. Transfer to another casserole dish or bake in your pan if it’s oven safe. Add buttered bread crumbs to the top before baking.

cream sauce in a skillet with past and leftover turkey piled on top

What to serve with leftover turkey casserole

You have almost all of your food groups in the pan so a simple salad would be all you need. Try:

a dish of leftover turkey casserole with a scoop taken out

Cheesy Leftover Turkey Casserole

This leftover turkey casserole will breathe new life into boring holiday leftovers.
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Course: Main Course
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Servings: 6 people
Calories: 688kcal
Author: Rachel Ballard

Ingredients

  • 2 cups short pasta measure dry
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup yellow onion diced in to 1/2" pieces
  • 1/2 cup celery diced in to 1/2" pieces
  • 3/4 cup ham smoked is good, any leftover works, diced in to 1/2" pieces
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 2 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon white wine vinegar red wine vinegar works too
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme
  • 2 cups Swiss cheese grated
  • 2 cups leftover turkey

For the breadcrumbs

  • 1 1/2 cups soft bread crumbs see note 1
  • 3 tablespoons butter melted
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme

Instructions

  • Cook pasta one minute less than the package directions. Drain, set aside.
  • In a large skillet, add the butter over medium high heat and melt. Add the onion, celery and ham. Saute until the vegetables soften, about 5 minutes.
  • Add the flour and cook one minute; stirring to incorporate the flour.
  • Add the milk and reduce the heat to medium. Add the salt, vinegar and thyme. Cook, stirring constantly but gently until the sauce thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon; 6 to 7 minutes. The sauce should gently simmer.
  • Turn off the heat and add the cheese; stir to melt.
  • Add the pasta and turkey and stir to coat. Transfer to an oven safe 9×13 casserole dish or bake in your skillet if it's oven safe.
  • In a food processor, pulse the bread slices to coarse crumbs. Add the melted butter and thyme. Sprinkle over the pasta.
  • Bake 25-30 minutes until bubbling around the edge.

Notes

Note 1: To make soft bread crumbs, run two or three slices of your favorite bread in a food processor or chop it finely with a knife. I used sourdough, but most breads will work. I don’t recommend regular white sandwich bread. 

Nutrition

Calories: 688kcal | Carbohydrates: 57g | Protein: 39g | Fat: 33g | Saturated Fat: 18g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g | Monounsaturated Fat: 9g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 135mg | Sodium: 1063mg | Potassium: 509mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 9g | Vitamin A: 909IU | Vitamin C: 3mg | Calcium: 478mg | Iron: 3mg

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