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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Stroganoff-Style Leftover Beef
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Bacon Macaroni and Cheese
Pasta alla Norma
Real-Chili Chili Mac Casserole
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Can you believe I've actually never had this dish?! It looks super and I'm going to try it this year with our leftover turkey!!
Hi Amy, you gotta try this. You gotta! It's really good, and such a natural way to use up turkey leftovers. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I have never had a tetrazzini...looks very tasty and a perfect way to use up some roasted chicken leftover. Thanks for sharing, John.
Hi Angie, this dish is a wonderful way to use leftover roast chicken. Or turkey. :-) Never had it with ham, but I think that would be wonderful, too. Thanks for the comment.
It's been far too long since I last had tetrazzini. It looks wonderful.
Hi Pam, sounds like it's time to make it again! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Thinking along the same lines earlier this week, I posted a recipe for chicken/turkey enchiladas that could use up leftovers. I remember making Tetrazinni for a post-Thanksgiving potluck years ago. Really good idea.
best... mae at maefood.blogspot.com
Hi Mae, Tetrazinni used to be hugely popular, then fell out of favor. Too bad, because it's a good dish (although really rich). Thanks for the comment.
Love this! I recently made some but yours looks better! Can't wait to give this one a try!
Hi Abbe, isn't this a wonderful dish? Homey. Comforting. Delish. :-) Thanks for the comment.
With a few simple swaps this could and will be a delicious after Thanksgiving meal! Thanks
Meals like this are my favourite, so yum!☺
Saving this recipe for all those turkey leftovers!
Hi Anne, neat thing about this dish is you can tinker around with the ingredients to fit your preferences/desires/needs. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Natalia, good, huh? :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Ashley, we always need more recipes for turkey leftovers! :-) Thanks for the comment.
I was very happy to receive an 'actual' food recipe from you, rather than one for a cocktail, which you have been posting recently. This dish sounds incredible, even though it will take quite a bit of time & ingredients to put together. It sounds well worth it to m, so I'll be mking it very soon. Thanks.
Hi Anonymous, we DO like our cocktail posts, but do quite a few more food ones ('cause we eat more than we drink!). This is a good one -- enjoy. And thanks for the comment.
Don't know if I can wait until I have Thanksgiving Turkey leftovers for this one. Might do it sooner with chicken I happen to have leftover from last night. What a comforting and delicious looking dish! :-) ~Valentina
Hi Valentina, bet your leftover chicken would LOVE to be used in tetrazzini! :-) Thanks for the comment.
How stunning, I have seen a Chicken Tetrazzini recipe before but never even read through the method. Now I can see this is classic and full of wonderful, earthy flavours, one to cook one the whole family is home, a great holiday dish. Thanks so much for this recipe and the background on Tetrazzini as well :D
This is a really great meal and a solid way to uses up leftovers. We usually do it with turkey but your right, it is great with chicken too.
Hi Merryn, isn't this a nice dish? And Tetrazzini, the singer, was a really interesting person. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Dahn and Pat, we like this with either turkey or chicken. And really need to try it with ham one of these days! Thanks for the comment.
*smile* Oh, I do not think I have made this since the 70s or 80s probably because I do not use cream in cooking these days. Rarely prepare turkey but cooked chicken there may be quite often in the fridge . . . mushrooms and cheese are both favourites with pasta which tends to be usually Asian in origin these days . . . so variations and permutations are possible tho; the hallowed name probably should not be used !
Hi Eha, this dish used to be pretty popular but it's been some time since we saw it on a restaurant menu (and haven't made it in ages). It's good -- deserves a comeback. And I bet an Asian-style version of this dish could be excellent! Thanks for the comment.
Oh this is one of my favorites for turkey leftovers and there are so many different veggies you can to it. I do love your selection with the mushrooms and peas. Great looking dish John!
Hi MJ, you can play with this dish so much, can't you? So many different flavor highlights. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I used to make a very close version of this including peas, when my children lived at home,to use up leftover chicken and fill them up, back when I wasn't watching calories. It is delicious, and who knew it had such a flash name and interesting history. Wonderful. You have inspired me to make it again, forget about the calories. Thanks for sharing, Pauline
I adore tetrazzini! and I'm surprised about that 1908 thing. Seems like it would have been an invention of the convenience food revolution of the 1950's - 1960's created by "cream of" canned soup companies.
I never had this dish and I live near San Francisco. I think it’s a great recipe for turkey leftovers.
Hi HRK, isn't this SO good? Not something we'll have often (it's really rich!), but it's nice now and again. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Lea Ann, I think the convenience food folks just took over a lot of dishes as a way to sell their products. :-) Those "cream of" soups aren't all that good as soups, but actually aren't bad as sauce-like ingredients. They do have some flavor, at least. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Gerlinde, definitely worth trying at least once! But be warned: the flavor is pretty addictive. :-) Thanks for the comment.
"Authentic" or not, I like your version very much! Really, poultry, mushrooms, mornay, pasta, peas--I can't NOT be happy!
Hi Jean, yup, those ingredients are a recipe for yumminess. :-) Thanks for the comment.
The leftovers are seriously the best part of the meal. Love this comfort food dish to use up that turkey or chicken. Delicious!
This is our go-to post Thanksgiving meal!!! I'm going to tweak our recipe with some of your ideas! We love tetrazzini, too.
Hi Balvinder, we're BIG fans of Thanksgiving leftovers. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Liz, such a great dish, isn't it? Really addictive stuff. :-) Thanks for the comment.
One of our favorite ways to dress up turkey leftovers. Love all the mushrooms, peas and creamy sauce. That is one delicious bite. Hope you are doing well. Take Care
this looks like a hearty and tasty dish KR. i was just reading a blog today where she made milk gravy, and i wondered what it was? and it seemed to be basically a bechamel sauce. and now i see another one here on your post. funny how that happens where you end up seeing lots of similar ideas on many blogs! i still remember that 'white sauce' was the first thing my mum taught me to make. i used to sit on a stool so i could stir it:-) cheers sherry
Oh yeah, there's turkey in our future and we love the leftover recipes as much as the original. It's funny to me how debates can rage about where a recipe originated, folks get quite serious about it sometimes. I also agree with you about the pasta ... less it better in this dish, for sure. :)
Hi Bobbi, really good stuff. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Sherry, yup, milk gravy is basically béchamel. Funny all the different names we have for basically the same stuff. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Judy, some of those debates can get quite intense! Me? I just want to eat good stuff, whatever its origin. :-) Thanks for the comment.
We both love Tetrazzini much more than the plain turkey. Go figure! But I never thought to do it with ham or seafood. brilliant! Thanks, John - enjoyed the write up so much. Great history!
Hi David, we DO like plain turkey, but leftovers are a ton of fun. Tertrazzini is one of the best -- wonderful flavor. :-) Thanks for the comment.
As familiar as I am with the name of this dish, I've never actually had it! I never see it on restaurant menus, so I guess I'll just have to make it at home if I'm going to try it. I already know I'll love it, becuase I love everything you put in it - and this cold weather has me craving a hot casserole! Thanks for the recipe!
Hi Jeff, you're right that this isn't featured on restaurant menus these days. Too old-timey, I guess. Too bad, because it's totally worth having. I'm betting you'll really like this -- the flavor is extremely good. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Oh yum, John! What a fantastic dish! Definitely planning to make this the day after Thanksgiving! Creamy baked pasta dishes are so cozy and delicious! I was already excited for Thanksgiving. Now I'm excited for the day after! Thanks!
Hi Kelly, Thanksgiving is our favorite holiday -- love the traditional dinner. But love the leftovers even more! SO many good ones, and this is one of the best. Maybe THE best. :-) Thanks for the comment.
As much as I love Thanksgiving, I almost look forward to the leftovers MORE than the actual feast on the holiday. This is a classic way to have your turkey the next day -- and enjoy it in a whole new way.
Hi R, yup. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Carolyn, we're the same way -- love the dinner, but REALLY love the leftovers! Thanks for the comment.
Oh it's been a while since I had some delicious tetrazzini. Your recipe looks so good. Definitely want to swap 1 cup for ham since you mentioned it.
Hi Evelyne, ham is SO good with this kind of sauce! :-) Thanks for the comment.
I used to keep a file of recipes in a little 'recipe box' (with the little index cards) back in the 1970s. Turkey Tetrazinni is definitely in there and yes, it does include Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup for the base! (OH, those were the days)! Those recipes never go out of fashion, but let's do away with the Campbells Soup stuff!
Hi Fran, this blog is slowly becoming our recipe file. :-) The soup version of this isn't bad, but this version is much, much better. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I don't think I have ever had tetrazzini, which is a shame because it sounds delicious! Definitely remembering this one for any upcoming turkey leftovers.
Hi Caroline, this is such good stuff -- kinda addictive. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Oh, I have never heard of tetrazzini, but love the sound and the look of it...especially that can be made using leftover chicken or turkey...thanks for the recipe John...this recipe will be very handy.
Have a wonderful week!
Hi Juliana, you'll love this -- such wonderful flavor. :-) Thanks for the comment.
This a great way to use leftover turkey. Sounds delicious!!
Hi Dawn, it's wonderful! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Tetrazzini is one of our favorite family meals, I always make it with chicken but this will be perfect for leftover turkey this season. Thanks
Hi Amira, I think chicken is most common, but turkey is really good. :-) Thanks for the comment.
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