Mary Beth Clark

Culinary Educator · Consultant · Author

How to Make Great Tetrazzini. Silken, Supple, Luscious. Baked Turkey and Ham Tetrazzini.

If you are one of the thousands of cooks taking pride in serving roast turkey for the holidays then using the leftovers, making turkey tetrazzini is definitely one of those right-of-passage dishes for holiday cooks. This main dish is special, using all parts of the leftover roast from making homemade broth to studding the pasta sauce with savory chunks of turkey. Perhaps mixing in some side dishes in a way that does not emphasize leftovers is good, too. Tetrazzini is a wonderful dish in its own right – when prepared well.

Named for the Italian opera star Luisa Tetrazzini, who resided in San Francisco's Palace Hotel in the early 1900's, this American culinary creation is attributed to the hotel's chef, Ernest Arbogast, as well as to the Knickerbocker Hotel in New York City. Adding chicken to tetrazzini was made famous by Chef Louis Paquet. With no universal standard for this dish, additions and substitutions are part of the recipe. Basically tetrazzini consists of cooked turkey/chicken/seafood in a cream sauce flavored with wine or sherry, plus sauteed sliced mushrooms and grated hard cheese. Usually it is served as a sauce tossed with spaghetti, linguini, or similar thin pasta strands. More popular is baking this mixture as a casserole with a breadcrumb, nut, or chopped parsley topping.

Sorry spaghetti-lovers, but some of the worst tetrazzini versions are made with spaghetti! Long, narrow extruded pasta is exactly the wrong cut of pasta for this dish because it simply cannot hold the creamy sauce on its surface. The sauce "bottoms out" providing opportunity for the oven to dry out whatever lies on top of the sauce – in this case, dry, crunchy spaghetti. Another favorite is linguini, only slightly less dry than spaghetti. Please save these cuts for other sauces.

A flat cut of pasta, such as tagliatelle or fettuccine, even curly egg noodles, makes a much better dish than dried-out strings. The flat cuts hold the creamy sauce and provide a bed for juicy morsels. A lot of effort goes into removing the leftover turkey, making the broth, making the sauce, so why not take a little extra time and read the information below?  Since I cannot be in your kitchen with you, imagine we're having a conversation now filled with good cooking tips. I want you to carry your Baked Tetrazzini casserole to the dining table and present it with as much pride as you presented your Holiday Roast Turkey.

Do not be put off by the long explanation; it is here to guide you so your tetrazzini is the best it can be. Many versions are sticky masses but not this one. For your convenience, amounts are written for quantity or weight, as well as volume, if you do not have a scale or prefer using measuring cups. Tetrazzini should be Silken, Supple, Luscious. Here is how to make great tetrazzini, one that La Signora Tetrazzini would be very proud of.

Invite La Signora to your table:

Baked Turkey and Ham Tetrazzini

Make this dish a delightful surprise, not a disappointment. Add smoked ham or bacon, plus roasted chestnuts, and a fresh vegetable, such as asparagus. Combine it with Chestnut or Classic Egg Tagliatelle or Fettuccine. If you make or buy Roast or Rotisserie Chicken for the holidays, leftovers are outstanding in this recipe. If omitting the smoked ham or bacon, substitute with more turkey or chicken.

Formula for one 9-inch x 13-inch x 2-inch (23-cm x 33-cm x 5-cm) baking dish: 12 cups (2.84 liters) volume tetrazzini mixture.
6 cups (1.42 liters) volume solids + 6 cups (1.42 liters) volume sauce + 1 cup (237 ml) volume grated/diced/shredded cheese + 6 cups (1.42 liters) volume boiled flat-cut pasta = 12 cups (2.84 liters) volume tetrazzini mixture. Following this formula and techniques written below, the finished tetrazzini should be very moist, creamy, and luscious.

6 to 8 servings. Sauteing time is 10 to 15 minutes, boiling pasta is 5 to 7 minutes. Baking time is 45 to 50 minutes in a preheated oven at 375 F/190 C/Gas Mark 5. Allow to set for 5 minutes before plating. Quantities are for one 9-inch x 13-inch x 2-inch (23-cm x 33-cm x 5-cm) baking dish, adjust as needed for a different size baking dish.

Tetrazzini: Becomes 6 cups (1.42 liters) volume solids after cooking
1 tablespoon (15 ml) sunflower, safflower or grapeseed oil
1 medium leek, white part to light green, thinly sliced
1 peeled whole garlic clove, to be removed or finely chopped if included
10 ounces (283 g) sliced fresh mushrooms (3 1/2 cups or 828 ml volume raw slices)
8 peeled roasted chestnuts, break into large pieces, optional
Salt to taste
1/2 cup (4 ounces or 118 ml) white wine
Fresh thyme leaves (or marjoram or sage leaves)

4 medium (4 ounces or 113 g) fresh asparagus spears, trimmed, diagonally sliced pieces (1 cup or 237 ml volume pieces)
1 cup chopped Black Forest ham or other lightly smoked baked ham (6 ounces or 170 g), optional
OR 6 strips fried bacon, crumbled, optional
12 ounces (340 g) bite-sized pieces of roast turkey or roast/rotisserie chicken, skinned, deboned (2 cups or 473 ml volume)

Sauce: Makes 6 cups (1.42 liters) volume of sauce
4 ounces (113 g) unsalted butter
2 ounces (57 g ) “00" or all-purpose flour (use about 5 tablespoons)
1 cup (8 ounces or 237 ml) chicken broth
3 cups (24 ounces or 710 ml) whole cow’s milk, warmed
3 tablespoons (44 ml) medium-dry sherry, rainwater madeira, dry marsala, or dry vin santo wine, optional
1 cup (8 ounces or 237 ml) heavy cream
Salt to taste
Freshly grated nutmeg to taste
OR Grated zest from 2 small lemons
Dry mustard to taste, optional
1 cup (8 ounces or 237 ml) sour cream – add when sauce has cooled down – is really good
Salt to taste

Cheese: 1 cup (237 ml) volume cheese
2 ounces (57 g) aged 3-6 months Asiago cheese (1/2 cup or 118 ml volume, diced or grated)
2 ounces (57 g) aged 24 months Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (1/2 cup or 118 ml volume, grated)
Salt to taste

Pasta: 6 cups boiled tagliatelle or fettuccine
12 ounces (340 g) chestnut or classic egg tagliatelle or fettuccine

Topping – Baking:
1 1/2 tablespoons (0.75 ounce or 21 g) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Topping – Plating:
Freshly grated zest from 1 medium lemon
Fresh coarsely ground black pepper

Tetrazzini Preparations: Asparagus: Trim and cut asparagus into pieces. Bring lightly salted water to a rolling boil. Immerse the asparagus and blanch for 1 to 2 minutes. Remove. Drain, then put under cold running water to stop cooking and turn brighter green. Drain well. Reserve.

Sauteing Tetrazzini Mixture: In a non-stick pan, warm the oil over low-medium heat. Add the sliced leeks and whole or chopped garlic and saute until the leeks soften and are cooked halfway but not browned, about 3 minutes. Add the sliced mushrooms. Season with salt to taste to extract their juice and stir well. Saute for a few minutes until the juices are drawn out and the mushrooms soften and become fragrant. Add the chestnut pieces and stir. Increase the heat to high, pour in the white wine. Deglaze for a few minutes without stirring until the wine reduces by more than half volume. Stir in the fresh herbs. Remove from the heat. Remove the whole garlic clove if included. Cool mixture a little.

Making the Sauce:
1. In two different pots over low heat, warm the broth and warm the milk for a few minutes until almost steaming, remove from the heat and reserve. Meanwhile, in a different deep, non-stick pot over low heat, melt the butter and stir in the flour with a whisk or heat-resistant spatula until they combine into a smooth thick paste. Continue to stir and cook the butter-flour mixture for about 1 minute without browning.

Ladle in the warm broth, whisking continuously to prevent lumps, until creamy smooth, about 30 seconds. Then, pour in the warm milk, one or two ladles at a time, incorporating the milk with the roux by whisking continuously to prevent lumps, then repeat with the next ladle of milk. At first, it looks like smooth potato purée, and adding more milk, it thins out and looks like heavy cream.

2. Increase the heat to medium. Continue heating for 4 to 5 minutes, stirring and scraping the bottom and sides of the pot with a heat-resistant spatula since flour tends to settle on the pot. If adding sherry, madeira, marsala, or vin santo, add now.

Bring the sauce to a boil. As the flour thickens, the sauce looks similar to buttermilk. This actually makes it light in texture and removes the raw flour taste. Remove from the heat. Pour through a fine strainer to catch any small lumps. While warm, taste and add more salt if needed.

3. Cool the sauce to room temperature before adding it with the other ingredients. Season with optional flavoring of freshly grated nutmeg or grated lemon zest, and/or dry mustard if you wish. As this sauce cools, a thin skin forms on the surface. Simply pick it up with a fork and discard. Alternatively, dot the surface with tiny bits of butter, which melt and prevent the skin from forming – OR – press cling wrap directly onto its surface, and this prevents any skin from forming. (If making in advance, cool completely, cover and refrigerate up to 2 days before using. Remove from refrigeration about 30 minutes before tossing with the other ingredients.)

Add 1 cup (237 ml) sour cream and stir into the cool sauce before adding to the mixture.

Boiling the Pasta: In a deep pot, bring lightly salted water to a rolling boil. Add the pasta, stirring occasionally to prevent the pasta from sticking together. Boil the pasta until firm al dènte, because it continues cooking with the other ingredients when baked in the oven. Drain. Run cold water over the pasta to stop the cooking, drain well.

Prepare the Baking Dish and Preheat the Oven to 375 F/ 190 C/ Gas Mark 5: Liberally oil or butter the interior of the baking dish. Cut the butter into small pieces for topping.

Mixing Ingredients in a Broad Bowl: Even mixing the tetrazzini components is better when following this method: If using a deep narrow bowl, the sauce goes to the bottom. So use a broad bowl. Keep picking up the mixture with tongs and turning it over while filling the baking dish.

Put the sauteed mixture of leeks, mushrooms, and chestnuts in the bowl. Add the drained blanched asparagus, chopped ham or bacon, and turkey or chicken. Add the sauce, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and Asiago. Toss until all ingredients are thoroughly coated. Add the drained boiled pasta and toss until all ingredients are thoroughly coated – and the mixture is very sloshy* – you will hear it slosh. (* Very important because ingredients absorb much liquid during baking. If the mixture is dry before baking, it will be really dry after baking, so keep it sloshy.)

Baking Tetrazzini: Preheat the oven to 375 F/ 190 C/ Gas Mark 5.
1. Add the tetrazzini mixture and level. On top, intermittently place the small butter pieces about every 1 1/2 to 2-inches (3.81 to 5.08-cm).

2. Place in the center of the preheated oven. Bake for 40 minutes, turning around halfway after 20 minutes, for even baking. Check the surface. The tetrazzini along the baking dish’s edge rim should be bubbling, with a few light golden brown touches. The center of the tetrazzini should look moist with a bit of sauce on top. Continue baking for another 5 or 10 minutes, then remove. * The top center of the baked tetrazzini should look moist. (If the entire top looks golden brown and dry, it is definitely over-baked.)

Look at the moisture in the center of the Baked Turkey and Ham Tetrazzini casserole. It is time to remove it from the oven.

3. Allow the tetrazzini to set for 5 minutes before serving so it is easier to plate and the pasta remains coated with sauce and vegetables, it retains heat well. (If served immediately from the baking pan, sometimes the sauce and vegetables drop to the bottom of the plate or bowl.) Optional: Garnish with freshly grated lemon zest and coarsely ground black pepper on top. Enjoy pure lusciousness…Che Brava!




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