MAY IT PLEASE THE PALATE: Turkey Tetrazzini

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I never minded school cafeteria food. Maybe because my mother was (what we then called) a cafeteria lady? In those days the food was made in house from scratch; nowadays it’s prepared in a central commissary and reheated after transport. My favorites had names like Johnny Marzetti and Turkey Tetrazzini.

After a holiday dinner, faced with several pounds of leftover smoked turkey, conversation turned to fond nostalgia for Turkey Tetrazzini, which featured turkey in a cream sauce with mushrooms, topped with cheese and bread crumbs.

The dish is named for Italian opera star Luisa Tetrazzini. On Christmas Eve in 1910, clad in a white gown, she serenaded an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 San Franciscans from a platform set up at the corner of Market and Kearny, near Lotta’s Fountain.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the word “zaftig” was affectionately used to describe this “larger than life” performer. Local chefs loved her, and it is said that one such restauranteur created this insanely rich and delicious casserole in her honor.

This is the version I made, from delish.com. You can substitute chicken, tuna, or salmon with excellent results.

INGREDIENTS:
Cooking spray
1 lb. spaghetti
6 tbsp. butter, divided
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. sliced baby bella mushrooms
1/2 c. white wine
1/4 c. all-purpose flour
2 1/2 c. low-sodium chicken broth
1 c. heavy cream
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 lb. leftover roast turkey, chopped (about 3 cups)
1 c. shredded white cheddar
1 c. frozen peas
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 c. panko
1/2 c. freshly grated Parmesan
 
DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350° and grease a 9”-x-13” baking dish with cooking spray. In a large pot of boiling salted water cook spaghetti according to package directions. Drain.

In a large skillet over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, 1 minute. Add mushrooms and wine and cook until most of wine is absorbed and mushrooms are soft, 5 minutes.

Add remaining 4 tablespoons butter to skillet, then whisk in flour and cook until golden, 3 minutes. Slowly add broth and cream and whisk until no lumps remain. Simmer until thickened, 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Add turkey, cheese, peas, and oregano and toss until combined. Add cooked spaghetti and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper.

Transfer mixture to prepared dish and top with panko and Parmesan. Bake until top is golden and cheese is melty, 25 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes before serving.

A few helpings of this, and you too will want to belt out a few arias - most likely from your front porch in your dressing gown for a handful of curious neighbors.
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Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht & Roumel PC, a firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment and civil rights litigation. He has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and wrote a food/restaurant column for “Current” magazine in Ann Arbor. Follow him at Twitter @nickroumel or Instagram @nroumel, or see fortyyearsacrossamerica.blogspot.com.