A Thanks­giv­ing meal for those not cook­ing for a crowd

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - FOOD - By Sara Moul­ton

Let’s say that this year’s Thanks­giv­ing feast is go­ing to be a more in­ti­mate af­fair than the usual cast of thou­sands, yet you still want turkey. It can be done.

In­stead of cook­ing up a whole bird, why not go with a turkey breast? “Be­cause,” you rea­son­ably re­ply, “white meat turkey tends to turn out dry as card­board.” And in­deed, that’s cer­tainly a pos­si­bil­ity, es­pe­cially if you over­cook it, which is easy to do. Hap­pily, I’ve fig­ured out just how to have your turkey breast and eat it, too.

Work­ing on a cook­book sev­eral years ago, I came across an old Ital­ian recipe for roast chicken. It re­quired you to stuff a mix­ture of cheese and veg­eta­bles un­der the chicken’s skin be­fore roast­ing. In­trigued, I gave it a whirl and was ab­so­lutely flab­ber­gasted by the re­sults. Not only was the fla­vor a knock­out, but the meat — in­clud­ing the white meat — was the moistest I’d ever eaten.

It oc­curred to me that this scheme might work just as well with turkey as with chicken. Hav­ing fi­nally put this the­ory to the test, I can say that it trans­lated beau­ti­fully.

The se­cret, I think, is that the stuff­ing un­der­neath the skin in­su­lates the meat. My stuff­ing com­bines sauteed onion, gar­lic and shred­ded zuc­chini with Parme­san and ri­cotta cheeses, all bound to­gether with fresh bread­crumbs. But feel free to ex­per­i­ment, as I’m sure that any moist stuff­ing would do the trick.

Of course, it’s still im­por­tant to avoid over­cook­ing the bird. But you also need to make sure you cook the meat to a safe tem­per­a­ture. This is a bal­anc­ing act. Cook­ing the bird to 165 F is the best bet for safety, but that doesn’t mean you need to leave the bird in the oven un­til it reaches that tem­per­a­ture. Meat con­tin­ues cook­ing even af­ter you pull it from the oven. So if you leave it in un­til it hits 165 F, you’ll ac­tu­ally cook it to about 170 F.

My so­lu­tion is to pull it out of the oven at 160 F. As the meat rests on the counter (20 min­utes is ideal), it reaches 165 F. Rest­ing also al­lows the juices in the turkey to re­dis­tribute so that when you slice the bird the juices don’t all come stream­ing out, leav­ing you with dry turkey meat. And by the way, to get an ac­cu­rate read­ing when you take the bird’s tem­per­a­ture, be sure to insert the thermometer deep into the meat, not just into the stuff­ing, and not next to the bone.

When you fi­nally carve the breast, make sure that ev­ery slice has a lit­tle bit of stuff­ing and skin at the top. Also, while this turkey is won­der­fully de­li­cious as is, this is Thanks­giv­ing, af­ter all, and folks ex­pect gravy with their turkey. You can whip up some pan gravy while the breast is rest­ing.

ITAL­IAN-STYLE ROAST TURKEY BREAST

Start to fin­ish: 3 1⁄2 hours (1 1⁄2 hours ac­tive) Serv­ings: 8 2 medium zuc­chini (about 1 pound) Kosher salt 2 ta­ble­spoons ex­tra-vir­gin olive oil, plus ex­tra 1 medium yel­low onion, finely chopped 1 ta­ble­spoon minced gar­lic 1 ta­ble­spoon chopped fresh thyme 3 ounces finely grated Parme­san cheese 2 cups fresh bread­crumbs (made by puls­ing 4 slices firm white bread in a food pro­ces­sor or blender) 1⁄2 cup whole-milk ri­cotta cheese Ground black pep­per 5- to 7-pound bone-in turkey breast

Heat the oven to 325 F. Set a rack in the lower third of the oven.

Us­ing a food pro­ces­sor or box grater, coarsely grate the zuc­chini. In a colan­der, toss the grated zuc­chini with ½ tea­spoon of salt, then let it drain over the sink for 20 min­utes. A hand­ful at a time, squeeze out the zuc­chini to re­move ex­cess liq­uid. Set aside.

In a large skil­let over medium, heat the oil. Add the onion and cook, stir­ring oc­ca­sion­ally, un­til golden brown, 8 to 10 min­utes. Add the gar­lic and thyme and cook, stir­ring, 1 minute. Add the zuc­chini and cook, stir­ring, for 2 min­utes. Re­move the skil­let from the heat and stir in the Parme­san, bread­crumbs and ri­cotta. Sea­son with salt and pep­per.

Use pa­per tow­els to pat dry the turkey skin, then rub with a bit of oil and sea­son with salt and pep­per. Us­ing your fin­gers, a chop­stick or a grape­fruit knife (my fa­vorite), gen­tly sep­a­rate the skin from the meat on the breast, be­ing care­ful not to tear it and leav­ing it at­tached at the edges. Stuff the zuc­chini mix­ture evenly un­der the loos­ened skin of the turkey (this is a messy project; just do your best), then place the turkey on a rack set in a roast­ing pan. Cover the breast loosely with foil.

Roast the turkey breast for 1 hour. Re­move the foil and roast for an ad­di­tional 1 to 1 ½ hours, or un­til the turkey reaches 160 F. If the turkey starts to brown too much, cover it again with foil. Trans­fer the turkey breast to a plat­ter and let it rest at least 20 min­utes be­fore carv­ing.

Nu­tri­tion in­for­ma­tion per serv­ing: 630 calo­ries; 270 calo­ries from fat (43 per­cent of to­tal calo­ries); 30 g fat (9 g sat­u­rated; 0 g trans fats); 215 mg choles­terol; 690 mg sodium; 11 g car­bo­hy­drate; 1 g fiber; 3 g sugar; 74 g pro­tein.

Sara Moul­ton is host of pub­lic tele­vi­sion’s “Sara’s Week­night Meals.” She was ex­ec­u­tive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years and spent a decade host­ing sev­eral Food Net­work shows, in­clud­ing “Cook­ing Live.” Her lat­est cook­book is “Home Cook­ing 101.”

MATTHEW MEAD — AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Ital­ian-style roast turkey breast.

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