Chow Town

Chef Jasper goes retro, seeks out Tetrazzini recipe for Thanksgiving leftovers

It’s Thanksgiving weekend and we have all had our share of turkey, dressing, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie and the other 50 side dishes served at our family table. However, there is only so much reheating you can do with turkey and gravy.

Everyone loves pot pies and of course a delicious turkey sandwich. Lately, I have seen Thanksgiving sandwiches become popular on menus where everything but the kitchen sink is placed between two slices of bread.

Sometimes I feel bad for the person who eats this, but hey, who am I to judge?

This year, I’m going retro! That’s right, a blast from the past. I’m going back to the culinary archives and preparing one of my favorite old-school dishes with my leftover turkey from Thanksgiving.

The dish is named after Italian opera star, Luisa Tetrazzini, the “Florentine Nightingale” Italian opera star. It is widely believed to have been invented between 1908 — 1910 by Ernest Arbogast, then chef at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, California, where Tetrazzini was a long-time resident.

There is no doubt that Luisia Tetrazzini loved to eat. She was very unapologetic about her figure and once said, “I am old, I am fat but I am still Tetrazzini!”

The Palace Hotel in San Francisco had a habit of creating recipes to honor its celebrated guests. Green Goddess salad dressing was named after George Arliss, Lobster Newburg after Ben Wenberg, and Eggs Benedict for LeGrand Benedict.

Turkey Tetrazzini is said to have been one of the most popular dishes of the 20th century. Turkey, mushrooms, sherry, pasta, cream, and cheese all topped with breadcrumbs and baked — indeed a classic recipe.

Casseroles were popular at this time, especially for home cooks who loved to prepare comfort food. Remember, money was scarce at the turn of the century and leftovers were always welcome in the kitchen.

I remember back in the late '60s and early '70s when my father featured Turkey Tetrazzini on our lunch menu at Jasper’s. It was a favorite and I still recall eating the leftovers in the pan after working the lunch shift. For some reason, I always enjoy the crispy edges after the pasta is baked.

This past week, I went to work in my culinary lab and decided to change the traditional recipe by using some different cheeses and perhaps even a different kind of pasta. Take out the sherry wine and substitute an Italian wine? No way! At one point I even thought of making a dish low-calorie but nixed that recipe immediately. Perhaps some different herbs and seasonings? I don’t think so.

After a few different experiments, I decided to go back to the classic recipe itself. I mean seriously, why mess with success or try to re-create a recipe that has been passed down for over a century? There are some dishes that just need to be left alone, served as they were originally intended. Iconic and authentic, that is what this chef is all about.

Here is a recipe for Turkey Tetrazzini from James Beard that I really like and seem to keep going back to every year. The recipe appears in several of his cookbooks.

In my opinion, you’ll be singing the praises of Luisia Tetrazzini after just one taste. Mangia bene!

James Beard’s Turkey Tetrazzini
3-1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter, chopped into small pieces, plus more for greasing the pan 3 tablespoon flour 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 cups turkey stock or canned chicken broth 1/2 pound spaghetti 1 red bell pepper, julienned Salt and Pepper to taste 1/4 cup dry sherry 1/2 cup heavy cream 1 pound roast turkey meat, chopped (about 2 cups) 1/4 cup bread crumbs 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for the pasta and preheat the broiler. Butter an 8-inch-by-8-inch baking dish. Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter over low heat in heavy saucepan. Stir in the flour. Continue stirring until the mixture turns a light golden color, about 5 minutes (it should sizzle a bit).

Gradually whisk in 1-1/4 cups stock until incorporated. Bring to a simmer then cook for 5 minutes, whisking occasionally. Meanwhile, begin cooking the pasta to al dente. In a small saucepan, melt the remaining 1/2 tablespoon butter. Add the chopped pepper and saute until tender, about 4-5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Add sherry to the sauce and simmer briefly to cook off the raw alcohol flavor. Stir in the cream and season to taste with salt, pepper. Add the turkey meat and cooked peppers to the sauce and keep over very low heat to warm the turkey while you drain the pasta. At this point, you can thin the sauce with another 1/4 cup or so stock, if needed.

Place the pasta in the prepared baking dish. Pour the sauce over and sprinkle with bread crumbs and Parmesan. Place under the broiler until browned, about 5 minutes.

Chef Jasper J. Mirabile Jr. of Jasper’s commands the helm of his family’s 59-year-old restaurant, consistently rated one of Kansas City’s best Italian restaurants. In addition to running the restaurant with his brother, Mirabile is a culinary instructor, founding member of Slow Food Kansas City and a national board member of the American Institute of Wine and Food. He hosts many famous chefs on his weekly radio show Live! From Jasper’s Kitchen on KCMO 710 AM and 103.7 FM and sells a line of dressings and sauces.