This baked pasta favorite will liven up your leftovers
It’s November, so there may be turkey in your future. Which means turkey leftovers. Give them a home in this traditional pasta dish and no one will complain about eating remakes.
And you don’t need to stop with turkey. Tetrazzini works with chicken too. Not to mention seafood and ham.
You may even want to save some leftovers and make this dish for dinner guests. That’s our favorite kind of recycling.
Recipe: Chicken or Turkey Tetrazzini
Tetrazzini dates back to around 1908. There’s some controversy about its origin (see Notes), but the dish is widely credited to chef Ernest Arbogast, who worked at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco. It was named in honor of an Italian opera diva, coloratura soprano Luisa Tetrazzini, who was living at the hotel around that time.
There is no agreed upon “authentic” recipe for Tetrazzini, at least as far as we know – it’s a dish that has evolved over time. More about recipe variations in the Notes.
There are several steps involved in making this dish: Cut up leftover chicken or turkey. Sauté mushrooms and onions. Cook pasta. Make a Mornay sauce (this is basically a white sauce – béchamel – with cheese added. BTW, we give only barebones instructions for making it here. For more detailed step-by-step guidance, see our post on Old-School Macaroni and Cheese.) Once all the ingredients are ready, you’ll mix them together and pour them into a casserole dish, then top everything with breadcrumbs and more cheese. Bake until the casserole is hot and bubbling.
Prep time for this dish (which includes making the sauce) is about 30 minutes. Add another 5 minutes for assembling the dish, plus 25 to 35 minutes for baking it. BTW, you can prep and assemble Tetrazzini a couple of hours ahead, then pop it into the oven shortly before you want to serve it (just cover it with shrink wrap and refrigerate until you’re ready to heat it).
This recipe makes enough to fill a 3- to 4-quart casserole dish. Or you can divide the Tetrazzini among several individual casserole dishes (as we’ve done in some of the pictures). Leftovers keep for a few days if refrigerated in an airtight container.
- 3 to 4 cups cooked chicken or turkey
- 16 ounces of mushrooms (may reduce to 8 to 12 ounces if you prefer)
- 1 onion
- 3 cloves garlic (optional)
- 3 tablespoons butter
- ~½ teaspoon kosher salt (to taste; see Notes)
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme (twice that amount if using fresh)
- ~4 ounces grated parmigiano-reggiano or pecorino romano cheese, divided (about 2 cups, grated; the first is traditional in this dish, but we prefer the flavor of the second)
- 12 ounces thin spaghetti or linguine (or to taste; see Notes)
- additional salt for seasoning the pasta water
- ~12 ounces frozen peas (optional)
- 4 tablespoons butter for making the sauce
- ¼ cup flour
- 2 cups cream
- 2 cups milk (may substitute 1 cup milk and 1 cup chicken stock)
- additional salt to taste (maybe ½ teaspoon kosher salt)
- black pepper to taste (half a dozen grinds for us)
- additional dried thyme to taste (about ½ teaspoon for us)
- a few pinches of cayenne pepper or a few shakes of hot sauce (very optional and not traditional, but good)
- additional tablespoon of butter for greasing the casserole dish
- 2 to 3 tablespoons breadcrumbs
- parsley for garnish (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
- Cut or tear the cooked chicken or turkey into chunks of about ½ inch. Add to a large mixing bowl. Set aside.
- Wipe off the mushrooms with a damp cloth, then cut them into slices. Set aside.
- Peel the onion and cut it into thin slices or dice of about ¼ inch. Set aside.
- Peel the garlic and cut it into thin slices or mince it finely. Set aside.
- Place a large frying pan (preferably nonstick) over medium stovetop heat. Add 3 tablespoons of butter. When the butter is melted, add the mushrooms. Season with salt to taste. Add the thyme and stir. Cook for 5 to 6 minutes. Then push the mushrooms to the edges of the pan and add the chopped onions to the middle. Add more salt to season, if desired, and sauté for 5 minutes. Add the chopped garlic and cook for 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat and pour the contents over the chicken/turkey pieces (from Step 2).
- While the mushrooms and onions are cooking, grate the cheese. Divide the grated cheese in half and set aside.
- Half-fill a 4-quart cooking pot with water and place it over high heat. When the water comes to a boil, break the pasta strands into halves or thirds. Add salt to season the water (about 1 tablespoon of kosher salt), then add the pasta. Cook until the pasta is al dente. During the last minute of cooking, add the frozen peas (if using). Drain the pasta and peas, then set them aside briefly (to drain fully). Then stir the pasta and peas into the chicken and mushroom mixture (from Step 6).
- While the pasta is cooking, make the Mornay sauce: Add 4 tablespoons of butter to a 2-quart saucepan. Melt the butter, then add the flour. Stir continuously with a whisk or wooden spoon for at least 2 minutes (3 is better). Add the cream a bit at a time, whisking continuously to avoid lumps (it’s easiest if the cream you use is warmed or at room temperature; see Notes). Then add the milk a bit at a time (it should take about a minute total to add the cream and the milk). Whisk until the liquid comes to a simmer, then season to taste with salt, black pepper, and thyme. Stir in the cayenne pepper or hot sauce, if using. Add about half the grated cheese and stir to combine. Then remove the saucepan from the heat and stir the contents into the chicken, mushroom, and pasta mixture (from Step 8). Stir until all the ingredients are well combined.
- Grease a large casserole dish with a tablespoon of butter (or use smaller, individual casserole dishes). Add the chicken, pasta, and sauce mixture. Top the dish with a layer of breadcrumbs and sprinkle on the remaining grated cheese. Bake until the casserole is hot throughout and the cheese is browned on top (25 to 35 minutes). If the top of the casserole isn’t browned to your satisfaction, you can run it under the broiler for a minute or two.
- Dish up the casserole, adding a garnish of chopped parsley if desired. Serve and enjoy.
- Technically, the name of this dish is just “Tetrazzini.” But it’s become common to add the specific protein that’s being used (thus, Turkey Tetrazzini, Shrimp Tetrazzini, and so on).
- Which pasta to use for this dish? Thin spaghetti is traditional, though linguine is a common substitute. You could even use egg noodles if you want. We stick with spaghetti or linguine, though – the shape just works better.
- Some cooks like to add more pasta than we specify (say, 16 ounces rather than 12). We think that makes the dish too pasta heavy, but you may disagree.
- When making the sauce for this dish, we generally bring the cream and milk to room temperature before using (or warm them briefly in a saucepan). We find this helps prevent lumps from forming in the sauce. But if you whisk or stir constantly as you add the liquid – and don’t add too much at one time – you should remain lump-free even with cold cream and milk.
- Some cooks don’t add cheese to the sauce as we do in Step 9. Instead, they prefer to sprinkle all the cheese over the top of the dish (and sometimes omit the breadcrumbs). But we like the flavor that cheese adds to the sauce, and it’s easy to add.
- BTW, if you skip the cheese and make the sauce with only chicken stock (no cream or milk), as some recipes call for, you have a velouté sauce.
- In the 1950s and 60s, many home cooks made this dish with canned mushroom soup instead of homemade sauce. That’s actually an acceptable substitute if you’re in a hurry (use 2 to 3 cans of soup, mixed with 1 to 2 cups of milk or cream). But, no surprise, homemade sauce does taste better. Much better.
- We typically add a bit of cayenne pepper or hot sauce to this dish because we like a touch of heat. You may disagree.
- Peas aren’t traditional in this dish, but we think they add nice flavor and color. So we add them. But you can skip them if you wish.
- We use kosher salt in cooking. It’s less salty by volume than regular table salt (the crystals are larger and more irregular, so they pack a measure less tightly). If using table salt, start with about half as much as we suggest. But always season to your taste, not ours.
- Some Tetrazzini recipes call for layering the ingredients into the casserole dish (first pasta, then slices of chicken or turkey, then mushrooms, sauce, cheese, and so on). Other recipes say add the pasta to the casserole dish, make a well in the middle, pour the chicken/mushroom/sauce mixture into the well, and cover with cheese. Both are interesting, but we prefer our method (which, as the recipe has evolved, is now probably the most common way of making the dish).
- Most food writers accept that Ernest Arbogast invented this dish (although he probably used shrimp as the protein, not chicken or turkey). But some credit it to Louis Paquet, who served as chef at the McAlpin Hotel in New York City. Others say it was invented at New York’s Knickerbocker Hotel (in 1908, Good Housekeeping magazine published what appears to be the Knickerbocker recipe for Turkey Tetrazzini).
“Magnifico!” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “Worthy of Luisa Tetrazzini herself.”
“I hear she was quite the diva,” I said. “Not to mention quite the pasta scarfer.”
“Yes, she once sang on a street corner in San Francisco as a publicity stunt,” said Mrs K R. “Wearing a gorgeous white gown, of course. And only after having a stage platform erected. Plus giving lots of advance warning so her adoring fans had time to show up.”
“I’d expect nothing less of a vocal goddess,” I said. “That’s operatude.”
“Which she kept all her life,” said Mrs K R. “Even at the end, she would always say, ‘I am old, I am fat, but I am still Tetrazzini.’”
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