Legendary Classic

Chicken Tetrazzini…

Chicken Tetrazzini – the classic pasta dish made with mushrooms, creamy sauce and chicken – sounds quintessentially Italian. The casserole meal was named after an opera soprano born in Florence, Italy, but it has as much to do with Italian cuisine as a hot dog.

Delicious? Yes. A perfect weekday meal the whole family will love? Absolutely. Italian? Not unless you think San Francisco is in Italy. The history behind the name is a fascinating tale that takes us back to early 20th century in the City by the Bay.

Luisa Tetrazzini was an opera legend and sang all over the world – usually staying in only the finest hotels and enjoying some the culinary creations of the top chefs of the day. She loved San Francisco – and the city loved her back. Her fame inspired one of the city’s top chefs to create a dish in her honor.

Tetrazzini was staying at the prestigious Palace Hotel, and chef Ernest Arbogast wanted to honor the scintillating soprano. Arbogast combined some of Tetrazzini’s favorite ingredients – chicken, mushrooms, cheese and pasta – and named the dish “Chicken Tetrazzini” as a tribute.

The creamy concoction quickly became popular among the hotel’s guests and eventually spread to other restaurants and households in the city and surrounding region. Today, Chicken Tetrazzini is considered a classic American dish and can be found on the menus of many restaurants across the country.

It should be noted here that New Yorkers have a conflicting version of culinary history. According to some East Coasters, the dish made its debut at the famed Knickerbocker Hotel. It’s almost impossible to sort out the truth, but the book “San Francisco: A Food Biography” actually pinpoints the actual date Arbogast first prepared the dish: March 6, 1905, about a year before the Great Quake
of 1906.

Luisa Tetrazzini loved San Francisco so much, she returned to the city in 1910 and serenaded 300,000 San Franciscans on Market Street on Christmas Eve.

March is the perfect month to treat yourself and your family to this comfort-food classic. This recipe is inspired by Italian-American celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis. •

Chicken Tetrazzini

Servings: 8
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour, 10 minutes

• 9 T (1 stick) butter, separated
• 2 T olive oil, separated
• 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
• 2¼ tsp. salt, separated
• 1¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper, separated
• 1 lb. white mushrooms, sliced
• 1 large onion, finely chopped
• 5 cloves garlic, minced
• 1 T chopped fresh thyme leaves
• ½ cup dry white wine
• ⅓ cup all-purpose flour
• 4 cups whole milk, room temperature
• 1 cup heavy whipping cream, room temperature
• 1 cup chicken broth
• ⅛ tsp. ground nutmeg
• 12 ounces linguine
• ¾ cup frozen peas
• ¼ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
• 1 cup grated Parmesan
• ¼ cup dried Italian-style breadcrumbs

Step 1: Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Step 2: Spread 1 tablespoon of butter over a 13x9x2-inch baking dish. 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.

Step 3: 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 12 minutes. Add the onion, garlic, and thyme and sauté until the onion is translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the wine and simmer for about 2 minutes. Transfer the mushroom mixture to the bowl with the chicken.

Step 4: 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 1¾ teaspoons salt, and remaining ¾ 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.

Step 5: 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.

Step 6: 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.

About Terry Olson

Terry loves culinary arts, adult beverages and hiking in the North State wilderness. You may find him soaking up the sun at one of our area’s many state or national parks or sitting on a barstool sipping on a cold locally brewed craft beer.

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