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~Gobble Gobble: Get Tangled Up in Turkey Tetrazzini~

IMG_5965When one writes a cooking blog long enough, one learns that sharing vintage recipes is as important as sharing trending, innovative new ones.  Experience has taught, "what's old is always new to someone", and cooks of all experience levels appreciate learning about it.  Experience has also taught: "what's old has often been lost to someone", as many times, these retro classics, which evoke fond memories, have sadly, been lost (grandma never taught it, shared it, or worse, never wrote it down), or tossed (instead of being handed down from generation to generation).

 About vintage recipes:  What's old is always new to someone,  and sadly,  what's old has often been lost to many. 

I know this to be true because by the time I was in my thirties, Tetrazzini had been around for a long time but I had never had the opportunity to taste it made the right way.  Mom didn't make it because dad wouldn't eat anything in a cream sauce.  Yea, I don't get it either, but that's that, "you're father won't eat that".  By the time I was in my thirties, the mid-1980's, the manufacturers of canned soup, cream cheese and mayonnaise had had a couple of decades to bastardize Tetrazzini recipes to the point of detestable, inedible glop.  The concept was so bad, I never had any desire to waste one moment trying to untangle the mess they made of this classic recipe.  

Then we went to a small wedding at The Toftrees Resort here in Happy Valley, PA.  Back in their day (the '80's and '90's), this was a swanky, upscale place with a highly-paid creative chef, a well-trained tuxedo-wearing waitstaff, and, an incredibly talented handsome guy who played the grand-piano.  After the champagne toast, the first course, pasta, arrived in small, classic-white, shell-shaped plates.  As the plates were placed in front of us, the waiter announced: "Seafood Tetrazzini".  Just wow, and I was inspired to embrace and make this dish in my own kitchen.

IMG_5973Tetrazzini is named after Italian opera star Luisa Tetrazzini.

A bit about Tetrazzini (teh-trah-ZEE-nee):  Tetrazzini is a rich dish combining cooked, stranded pasta (usually angel hair or thin spaghetti) tossed with chards of tender, cooked poultry (usually all-white chicken or turkey breast) or pieces of succulent seafood (never red meat) enrobed in a sherry-cream Parmesan-cheese sauce.  Lightly sautéed mushrooms (a requirement for the dish) get tossed in, along with some optional steamed peas and carrots too.  Each individual-sized dish, or the entire casserole, gets sprinkled with sliced almonds and additional grated Parmesan, then broiled (individual dishes) or baked (a casserole) until a crunchy, bubbly and golden top forms. The airy combination of almonds and Parmesan (not heavy breadcrumbs) causes strands of exposed pasta to crisp up too, which makes this super-rich dish all the more charming.

IMG_5989All food historians agree that even though the dish contains pasta it is not Italian.  It is an all-American concoction.

All food historians agree on one thing: this dish is not Italian, it is an American concoction named after the Italian opera star Luisa Tetrazzini.  It is said to have been invented for her in 1908-1910 by chef Ernest Arbogast at The Palace Hotel in San Francisco, CA, where it is said she was either a regular guest or a long-time resident of the hotel.  I can find no specific documentation to say the dish prepared for her was made with poultry, as seafood, which is common to San Francisco, would make more sense.  A follow-up to this story is:  Luisa then gave the recipe for Spaghetti Tetrazzini to Louis Paquet, chef de cuisine at The McAlpin Hotel on Harold Square in NYC (the largest hotel in the world when it opened in 1912), who made famous a chicken-based version. To muddle the dish's history up a bit, in October of 1908, Good Housekeeping magazine made references to Tetrazzini being served "in a restaurant on 42nd street" -- The Knickerbocker Hotel in NYC, located on the corner of Broadway and 42nd Street claims the rights to the recipe as well.

Tetrazzini = Stranded Pasta (Spaghetti) NOT Egg Noodles.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c7081bb6970bUnfortunately, Tetrazzini took a slow downhill slide after that.  Spin-offs started turning it into a casserole made of of leftover poultry or canned tuna, which is totally, completely understandable, as we Americans love our casseroles.  I have no ax to grind with that, it's tasty and family-friendly, but it was not what the elegant Ms. Tetrazzini had in mind.   Read on, because the worst was yet to come.  The cream of mushroom soup, cream cheese and mayonnaise versions that replaced the silky sherry-cream Parmesan-cheese sauce:  they were the death of the iconic dish.  

One last item:  Tetrazzini is made with stranded pasta/macaroni (any width will do but angel hair or spaghetti is most common), not egg noodles.  Egg noodles (a different product) = a noodle dish or a noodle casserole (example:  tuna noodle casserole) -- it's not Tetrazzini.  Got it? Good.

Tetrazzini is prepared in separate stages on the stovetop.

All white-meat turkey Tetrazzini is, perhaps my favorite version, with chicken or shrimp Tetrazzini coming in at a close, creamy second and third.  I don't make my Tetrazzini using leftovers of any kind, but,  if it's turkey Tetrazzini you grew up eating and are craving after Thanksgiving, by all means, use your leftover turkey (I won't call the food police), but try to stick to the tender, white breast meat.  That said, I really hope you'll give my method for making this dish a try.  It gets made in five very easy parts:  boiling pasta; oven-roasting or poaching turkey tenderloins; sautéeing vegetables; making sherry-cream Parmesan-cheese sauce, and; topping and baking.

Part One:  Boiling the Spaghetti

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c7082826970bFor the pasta:

1  pound spaghetti, broken in half

1 tablespoon sea salt, for seasoning pasta water

6  tablespoons salted butter

6  tablespoons finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

3/4  teaspoon coarsely-grind or cracked black pepper (not fine "table" ground)

~ Step 1.  In an 8-quart stockpot bring 5 quarts of water to a boil and add the 1 tablespoon of salt to the water.  Break the pasta in half and add it it to the boiling water.  Give pasta a quick stir.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c7082916970b 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c708296f970b 2~ Step 2. Cook spaghetti until slightly less than al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain well and return to stockpot.

~ Step 3.  Add the butter, Parmesan and pepper.  Toss until butter is melted and pasta is evenly coated. Transfer to a large bowl & set aside.

Transfer pasta mixture to a large bowl & set aside:

IMG_5919Part Two:  Oven-Roasting or Poaching Turkey Tenderloins

IMG_5784While we're all familiar with whole, bone-in turkey and whole bone-in turkey breast or breast halves, we're not all as familiar with turkey breast tenderloins.  Weighing anywhere from 8-ounces to 1-pound each, these 7 1/2"-8" long, plump pieces of turkey are the tenderest part of the turkey. I love them, and use them occasionally, because, quite frankly, an entire turkey or a turkey breast all-to-often yields more turkey than needed, or takes more time to cook than I've got.  There's more. Trust me when I tell you, a poached or roasted turkey tenderloin served with mashed potatoes, gravy, a green vegetable and cranberry sauce is as wonderful as any oven-roasted turkey dinner.

IMG_5803 IMG_5803 IMG_5803Step 1.  Poach (photo #1) or roast (photo #2) 1 1/2-2 pounds turkey tenderloins according to my directions provided in the links, cool until meat can be handled comfortably with the hands, then pull it into bite-sized pieces.  The alternative is to use turkey breast leftover from your Thanksgiving feast.

Add the pulled turkey to the pasta mixture & set aside:

IMG_5923Part Three:  Sautéing the Vegetables

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c7083aa2970bFor the vegetables:

4  tablespoons salted butter

1  pound white mushroom caps, sliced

3/5  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoons sea salt

2  cups frozen peas and diced carrots combo, unthawed

~ Step 1.  Slice the mushrooms as directed.  In a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the sliced mushroom caps.

IMG_5925 6a0120a8551282970b0240a4c670ad200d~ Step 2. Add garlic powder & salt, increase heat to medium-high & cook until 'shrooms are losing moisture & mixture is juicy, about 6 minutes.  Add frozen vegetetables.  Cook until almost no moisture remains, 5-6 minutes. Toss into the pasta mixture and set aside.

Add the sautéed veggies to the pasta mixture, toss, &, set aside:

IMG_5931Part Four:  Making the Sherry-Cream Parmesan-Cheese Sauce

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c708b7d7970b4  tablespoons salted butter

4  tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  teaspoon cayenne pepper

3  cups heavy cream + up to 1/2 cup whole milk, to control consistency

2  cups finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

2-4  tablespoons dry sherry

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d0926750970c 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c7085833970b~ Step 1.  In the same chef's pan, melt butter over low heat. Increase heat to medium and add the flour, salt and cayenne pepper. Using a large spoon or a small whisk, stirring constantly, cook until mixture is thick, smooth and bubbly, about 30 seconds.  It happens fast.

Add the cream, in a slow stream, stirring constantly the entire time.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d0927021970c 6a0120a8551282970b01b8d0927055970c~ Step 2. Continue to cook until sauce is smooth, thickened and drizzly, about 2 minutes.  Turn off the heat.

Sprinkle in the Parmesan. Stir until mixture is smooth and ribbonlike, adding milk if necessary.  Add the sherry, 2-3-4 tablespoons, to taste. You will have 3-3 1/2 cups sauce. Add and toss into pasta mix.

Add Parmesan-cheese sauce to pasta mixture & toss thoroughly:

IMG_5939Part Five:  Topping and Baking the Tetrazzini

IMG_59493/4-1  cup sliced almonds

3/4-1  cup finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

IMG_5946~ Step 1. Transfer mixture to 13" x 9" x 2" casserole that's been sprayed with no-stick. Without pressing down on top, use a fork to evenly distribute mixture.  Sprinkle  sliced almonds evenly over top, followed by the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

IMG_5951~ Step 2.  Bake, uncovered, on center rack of preheated 350º oven 25-30 minutes.  Top will be a nice golden brown and casserole will be slightly-bubbling around the sides. Do not overbake or casserole will dry out, meaning:  all ingredients have been fully-cooked, all it needs is a reheat. Remove from oven and allow to rest 5-10 minutes prior to serving.

Portion into individual bowls or au gratins & serve ASAP: 

IMG_5969Gobble Gobble:  Get Tangled Up in Turkey Tetrazzini:  Recipe yields 12-16 servings.

Special Equipment List: 8-quart stockpot; colander; microplane grater; cutting board; chef's knife; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight deep sides, preferably nonstick; nonstick spatula; salad servers, or two large spoons, for tossing pasta throughout recipe; 13" x 9" x 2" casserole.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a49be360200cCook's Note: Turkey divan is a spin-off of chicken divan -- an all-American casserole invention. At this time of year, with Turkey Day just around the corner, it is, obviously, a very tasty use for leftover turkey. That said, by using quick-to-cook stovetop-poached or oven-roasted turkey tenderloins, it is a truly wonderful alternative if you want to serve turkey in a non-traditional way for a more laid-back or take-to-a-potluck feast.  Make no mistake, we're not talking "cream of canned any kind of soup" thrown into a casserole dish.  This dish is indeed creamy, comforting and divine.  Try my recipe for  ~ Gobble Gobble: Divine Parisian-Style Turkey Divan ~.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)


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