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It’s Time to Turn Your Thanksgiving Leftovers Into Lasagna

Get out the pasta sheets and embrace the magic

A hearty slab of Thanksgiving lasagna sits on a metal spatula. Illustration. Heedayah Lockman/Eater

At the beginning of the pandemic, like many young-ish people, my partner and I moved back in with my mom and stepdad for a few months while we figured some shit out. It was a soft landing after an international relocation — soft because my parents are two remarkably chill people who also happen to have a pool. Except for my stepdad, we all also love to cook, so even if we wouldn’t be going anywhere for a while, at least we’d be eating well.

Soon after Sam and I moved in, a trend emerged among the four of us. An hour or two after we’d dispersed throughout the house to work, one person would begin texting our group chat about the plan for dinner that night. “We have stuff to grill,” a text from my mom would say. “Can run out and get potatoes for potato salad?” Sam would write. “Should I make a peach pie? Or blueberry?” I’d ask, always eager to throw dessert into the mix. By the end of the afternoon, simple dinner plans had turned into four-course meals that required someone to run out to get ingredients, someone else to start chopping vegetables, and someone else to roll out pie dough. All before 4 p.m. on a Wednesday. It was like hosting a kind of Thanksgiving dinner a few nights a week.

By midsummer, we were regularly making clam bakes and elaborate charcuterie boards and sometimes two desserts in one night. We started planning dinner for Thursday night on Tuesday night. When there were birthdays or otherwise vaguely celebratory occasions, it was all we talked about for weeks, texting recipes back and forth and comparing notes. For Sam’s birthday, we planned a Spanish feast with gazpacho, pork shoulder, pintxos, and flan, and ate it all on the porch with flamenco music on the speaker. Eventually, we dropped my stepdad — the person who uncomplainingly ate and cleaned up dinner every night — from the text thread in order to relieve him from what we had started calling “triangulation.” It was a joyful, delicious, and ultimately preoccupying game of one-upmanship that made living at home during a sad period of time feel more purpose-driven. For the three of us, planning and cooking together became a conscious comfort, something to look forward to and anticipate like the days leading up to a Thanksgiving feast.

Then, in October 2020, Sam and I got back on our feet and moved out, just like we knew we eventually would. Ironically, we celebrated by eating hot dogs and hamburgers at the local custard stand, choosing not to cook anything at all. Shortly thereafter, the triangulation text thread started to languish.

But we still spent lots of time at my parents’ house (see: pool), and one random weeknight a few months later, we walked into our former crash pad to the smell of oregano and melting mozzarella. We hadn’t triangulated on dinner plans that night — we were merely coming over as invited guests. My mom was pulling an enormous tray of what looked like lasagna from the oven. But when she put the tray down on the table, we looked at its construction, slightly confused. “I ran out of lasagna sheets, so halfway through I started making eggplant parm,” she explained, her tone between proud and “fuck it.” The tray was like a Tetris board: two-thirds of it was arranged in layers of lasagna, and a few circles of eggplant parmesan occupied the remaining third. It looked wild. And it was not the kind of dish three diligent triangulators — had they been working together on another elaborate menu — would have abided. One of us would have run out for lasagna sheets! We would have made the lasagna sheets, to be honest. And probably an eggplant parm on the side, too.

I remember looking at the lasagna-eggplant-parm and laughing at how chaotic it was, then taking a bite and instantly regretting my haughtiness. My mom is an absolutely stellar cook and had improvised with what she had. It was a far cry from the days when we planned out every last detail, collaborating and brainstorming and cooking so much that by the time we sat down to eat we were sometimes too tired to enjoy it. As a distraction from what was going on around us, triangulation had served us well more often than not. (Wait until you hear what our Christmas Eve dinner menu was.) But as I ate every bite of my slice of chaos lasagna, I realized that sometimes I wanted to not think about what to cook. I wanted some ingredients to be slapped together in a baking dish, and to eat what I was given. If the result was somehow funny and undignified-looking, that was just an added bonus.

Thanksgiving is a holiday of triangulation. Magazines start publishing Thanksgiving recipes more than a month in advance of the holiday; you can buy themed decor as early as September. There can be entire days of prep leading up to the day of Thanksgiving itself. And then by Friday, it’s all over, as if you hadn’t spent all that time conspiring to make it happen. Your fridge is stuffed with mismatched Tupperware, the bits and pieces of all that labor now again fragments of a whole. Thanksgiving is the overthinker’s favorite holiday.

Usually, people will make Thanksgiving sandwiches with those fragmented leftovers, which is a logical endpoint when you’re too tired to brainstorm even one more iteration on Thanksgiving food. But allow me to suggest something more fun and with better staying power for your day-after triangulating. In honor of the Tetris eggplant-parmelasagna, embrace an attitude of both pride and fuck-it and make Thanksgiving leftovers lasagna, an ingenious recipe Sam brainstormed with leftovers from a long-ago turkey day while living in Boston, land that is territory of the Massachusett, Pawtucket, and Naumkeag peoples. The process is simple: Layer gravy, cranberry, turkey, Brussels sprouts, and stuffing (or really, whatever you have) in between boiled lasagna sheets, then top the whole thing with mashed potatoes and grated sharp cheddar. Bake, covered with tin foil, in an oven preheated to 375 for 30 to 40 minutes. Remove the foil and broil the top. Eat straight from the oven, no matter how it turns out. And while you eat — enjoying the spoils of your riches from yesterday and today, along with your skill for both coordinating and freestyling — start planning what’s on the dinner menu tomorrow night.

Heedayah Lockman is a Glasgow-based illustrator and designer.