Last week, I was saddened by the death of one of the Met’s divas, Licia Albanese. She was 105 when she died, a long life indeed. Yet her longevity does not diminish the sense of loss I feel. She was, after all, the first soprano in the first opera I ever heard at the Metropolitan Opera. It was at the old house, and she was singing the role of Violetta in Verdi’s La Traviata. Granted, her voice was not in its prime; and probably nearing 50, she may have been a little too old for the role of a Parisian courtesan. Nevertheless, she commanded the Met’s stage with a presence that only true divas possess.
Now, you might be asking, what does this have to do with food? Well, last night I prepared Chicken Tetrazzini, a dish named for another great diva of the past, Luisa Tetrazzini, who actually made her famous debut in 1907 at London’s Covent Garden as Violetta.
Most sources date the origin of the dish, perhaps originally prepared with turkey, between 1908 -1910 and attribute its creation to Ernest Arbogast, who was chef at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, a city where Tetrazzini resided for quite some time.
Last night, as we sat down to dinner, we raised a glass to Licia Albanese and were reminded to be grateful for the exceptional sopranos we have today who follow in her footsteps at the Met.
My recipe for Chicken Tetrazzini is from the Food Network’s Giada de Laurentiis. Although the list of ingredients is rather long, it’s a relatively simple dish to prepare. It’s also decadently rich with loads of butter, cream, and cheese. But like all indulgent fare, it can be enjoyed guilt free—when consumed in moderation.
Rather than using the recipe’s called for skinless breasts, I skipped the cooking and used the meat I pulled from 1/2 of a left-over rotisserie chicken. I think you could do the same with leftover turkey.
Chicken Tetrazzini Adapted from Giada de Laurentiis
9 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts (I substituted the meat from a half of a rotisserie chicken.)
2 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 1/4 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 pound white mushrooms, sliced
1 large onion, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups whole milk, room temperature
1 cup heavy whipping cream, room temperature
1 cup chicken broth
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg (I used at least a 1/4 teaspoon.)
12 ounces linguine
3/4 cup frozen peas
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
1 cup grated Parmesan
1/4 cup dried Italian-style breadcrumbs
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
Spread 1 tablespoon of butter over a 13 by 9 by 2-inch baking dish. (I did not grease the baking dish and nothing stuck to it.)
Melt 1 tablespoon each of butter and oil in a deep large nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the chicken with 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Add the chicken to the hot pan and cook until pale golden and just cooked through, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer the chicken to a plate to cool slightly. Coarsely shred the chicken into bite-size pieces and into a large bowl. (As I mentioned earlier, you can make this dish with leftover chicken or turkey pulled or shredded into bite-size pieces.)
Meanwhile, add 1 tablespoon each of butter and oil to the same pan. Add the mushrooms and sauté over medium-high heat until the liquid from the mushrooms evaporates and the mushrooms become pale golden, about 1-2 minutes. Add the onion, garlic, and thyme, and sauté until the onion is translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the wine and simmer until it evaporates, about 2 minutes. Transfer the mushroom mixture to the bowl with the chicken. (It took me much longer to brown the mushrooms, at least 10 minutes. I also cooked the onions for about 6 minutes before adding the garlic to cook for the final 2 minutes.)
Melt 3 more tablespoons butter in the same pan over medium-low heat. Add the flour and whisk for 2 minutes. Whisk in the milk, cream, broth, nutmeg, remaining 1 3/4 teaspoons salt, and remaining 3/4 teaspoon pepper. Increase the heat to high. Cover and bring to a boil. Simmer, uncovered, until the sauce thickens slightly, whisking often, about 10 minutes. (I added a 1/4 of the cheese (1/4 cup) to the sauce during the last two minutes of cooking.)
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the linguine and cook until it is tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 9 minutes. Drain. Add the linguine, sauce, peas, and parsley to the chicken mixture. Toss until the sauce coats the pasta and the mixture is well blended. (The linguine should be cooked a minute or two less than the package’s recommended time for al dente. Remember the pasta will continue to cook during baking.)
Transfer the pasta mixture to the prepared baking dish. Stir the cheese and breadcrumbs in a small bowl to blend. Sprinkle the cheese mixture over the pasta. Dot with the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter. Bake, uncovered, until golden brown on top and the sauce bubbles, about 25 minutes.
Read more and view a video of the preparation at:
Wine Pairing: Chardonnay