Once a year, on Thanksgiving Day, the dining room table of my childhood would be set to its edges with a cornucopia of dishes, each platter representing our large extended family, their culinary specialties, and the melting pot of flavors that my Filipino-American background adopted. Over time, the table would be graced by various specialties such as Pancit (noodles), Escabeche (a whole fried fish with a sweet and sour sauce), Lumpia Sariwa (fresh vegetable rolls made with a crèpe wrapper), Braso de Mercedes (a light meringue roll, filled with custard), and Sapin-sapin (a colorful dessert consisting of layered glutinous rice and coconut), to name just a few, alongside Mashed Potatoes, Chestnut Stuffing, and Turkey Gravy.
The concept of a cohesive Thanksgiving dinner menu never crossed anyone’s minds – this was a celebration of food, more so than flavor profiles or rigid tradition. Instead, “American” Thanksgiving standards would be seen alongside the cravings of the aunts and uncles, and was the perfect excuse to enjoy the complicated party dishes they missed most from the Philippines.
However, in the center of the table, there was one thing that we could all count on. A bronze-colored stuffed and roasted turkey. For all the fabulous dishes that would be presented, this was, afterall, Thanksgiving, and a turkey was requisite.
It was also the one time in the year when we would consume a turkey.
One day. Just once in that cycle of 365 days would we eat turkey. This infrequency made me associate the turkey with special importance – I grew up believing that the roast turkey, or any turkey in general, was a special occassion meat, to be enjoyed just once a year. Otherwise, it was chicken, beef, pork, and seafood.
Years later, I met friends whose families prepared turkey on days other than Thanksgiving (gasp!). And when my husband and I were newly married and building a cooking repertoire together, he would often ask for various turkey dishes that his own family would serve throughout his childhood. I was intrigued and slowly incorporated this protein into my diet.
Thankfully, I have learned to enjoy turkey in more ways than one, and one of my favorite dishes is a Turkey Roulade with Pilaf, Pancetta and Spinach. The first time I made this, my husband loved it so much, he declared that next Thanksgiving, we would forgo the large turkey and have this instead. I could see why he might appallingly suggest this, since it is like having a full turkey dinner in a neat roll, but I could never imagine a Thanksgiving without the traditional roast turkey. You see, I have become rather rigid with my traditions. But on any other day, I can give thanks with this.
Turkey Roulade with Pilaf, Pancetta and Spinach
- 4 boneless, skinless turkey breast tenders
- salt and pepper to taste
- poultry seasoning
- 4 oz pancetta, cubed
- 1 small onion, minced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- ⅓ cup frozen chopped spinach
- rice pilaf, prepared (see recipe below)
- 3 cups chicken broth
- 1 Tbsp butter
- 1 tsp corn starch
- ¼ cup wine, such as a good Cabernet Sauvignon
- Olive Oil
- Flat-leaf Italian parsley for garnnish
Pound turkey fillets to ¼ inch thickness between two pieces of plastic wrap. Season both sides with salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning. Set aside in refrigerator.
In a nonstick skillet, brown pancetta. Add and saute onion and garlic. When onions are translucent, add spinach. Season with salt and pepper. When cooked, set aside. Wipe out skillet.
Take fillets and divide the filling, spreading evenly. Place a tablespoon of rice on each fillet and spread. Roll and tie with kitchen twine. Drizzle with olive oil.
Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in the skillet. Place turkey roulades seam side down. Brown for 6 minutes per side. Set aside.
Melt butter in pan. Add wine and cook off the alcohol. Prepare a slurry with cornstarch. Add chicken broth and bring to a boil. Slowly whisk in slurry until reach desired thickness. Season with salt and pepper. Return turkey to the pan, cover and simmer on low heat till fully cooked.
Serve over remaining rice pilaf. Garnish with parsley.
This is a simple pilaf, however if pressed for time, go ahead an substitute with a boxed rice pilaf (I won’t tell anyone).
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- Olive oil
- 1 shallot, finely minced
- 1 cup long grain rice
- 1/3 cup orzo
- 2 cups chicken stock
In a sauce pan, melt butter in a drizzle of olive oil over medium heat. Add shallots and sauté until transparent. Add rice to pan and stir until coated and the rice begins to lightly brown. Stir in orzo and chicken stock, bring to a boil. Lower heat to a simmer and cover. Cook for 20 minutes. Fluff before serving.