Singing Turkey

Luisa Tetrazzini, a robust Florentine soprano whose career peaked in 1905-14, dazzled audiences with her chromatic scales, staccato trills, and other such florid effects. Her skill and taste in the delivery of simple melodies was universally admired.

Luisa’s great rival was Nellie Melba, an acclaimed Australian soprano with whom she had a bitter feud. (It’s a diva thing.) Escoffier, “the King of Chefs and the chef of kings” covered his ass by creating dishes for both Nellie–peach Melba–and Luisa –soufflé Tetrazzini. While the peach Melba is a froufrou standard (as is Melba toast, also an Escoffier innovation), Louisa’s all over the table with turkey tetrazzini, created for her by Ernest Arbogast, at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, where Tetrazzini resided for two years.

A spaghetti dish usually involving our Foremost Fowl, a tetrazzini usually has mushrooms and vegetables in a Velouté/Mornay sauce topped with Parmesan cheese and baked en casserole. You’ll see versions of it in the lunch buffet at Kroger, where you’ll never run into a peach Melba. For many such as me tetrazzini the default leftover turkey dish. Here’s a basic recipe from Fannie Farmer, but bear in mind the variations are endless. I use vermicelli rather than spaghetti, and sometimes I’ll simply ladle the turkey/sauce mixture over pasta with a sprinkling of cheese.

Cook 1/4 cup tablespoons flour in 1/2 cup butter until foam subsides. Add 2 cups chicken broth, about 1/2 cup heavy cream, a good slosh of dry sherry, and generous dash of nutmeg. Cook, stirring, on medium heat until thickened. To a half pound cooked spaghetti, add about 3 cups diced turkey (or chicken), 2 cups sliced sautéed mushrooms, and about a half cup each of sautéed celery and frozen green peas.

Mix very well with sauce along with about half a cup of grated Parmesan. Press mixture into a lightly oiled casserole, top with more Parmesan, and bake at 425 for about 15-39 minutes, until lightly browned. Toasted almonds are a nice touch.

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