There is something about opera singers that sends chefs scurrying to their stoves. It happened in 1892, when Auguste Escoffier, chef extraordinaire at the Savoy Hotel in London, was so taken with Australian soprano Dame Nellie Melba that he created Peach Melba, an ice cream sundae with peaches and raspberries.
It happened again in Baltimore in 1987, when Luciano Pavarotti was in town to sing with the Baltimore Opera Company. At the tenor’s request, Mimmo Cricchio, late chef/owner of Da Mimmo in the city’s Little Italy, tossed together a tortellini dish with roasted peppers and dill. Pavarotti loved the dish, and whenever he was in town, he booked a table at the restaurant to eat Tortellini Pavarotti.
Chicken Tetrazzini, too, is connected to a singer. Food historians say the dish was created in San Francisco and named for Luisa Tetrazzini, an enormously popular soprano in the early 20th century. It’s a real crowd pleaser of a casserole with a layer of spaghetti covered with creamed chicken and mushrooms and topped with a generous sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.
Although the dish was named for Luisa Tetrazzini, it’s not clear that she ever ate it. She once wrote, “I like the plainest food . . . consoling myself with fruit and fresh vegetables.” It’s possible Madame Tetrazzini didn’t know what she was missing.
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 (8-ounce) package sliced mushrooms
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 (14-ounce) can low-sodium chicken broth
1 1/3 cups half-and-half
3 tablespoons dry sherry (optional)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
3 cups (1 pound) cooked boneless, skinless chicken, cut into strips
1/2 pound spaghetti, broken in half and cooked according to package directions
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1. Preheat oven to 425F.
2. Melt butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms; sauté 4 minutes or until browned. Sprinkle with flour and toss to combine. Add broth and half-and-half; cook, stirring often, until mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Stir in sherry (if using), salt, pepper and nutmeg. Remove from heat and stir in chicken.
3. Combine spaghetti and chicken mixture; toss gently and spoon into a 13 x 9-inch baking dish or shallow 3-quart baking dish; sprinkle with cheese. Bake 20 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly.
Per serving: 320 calories, 14g fat, 65mg chol., 2-g prot., 28g carbs., 2g fiber, 250mg sodium.
Recipe by Jean Kressy.
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Photo credit: Mark Boughton Photography / styling by Teresa Blackburn