This recipe for chicken tetrazzini has been a favorite of mine for years, and I'm surprised I haven't written about it yet. I've entertained gentlemen callers with it (tip: make this together for a moderately fun activity that will make your date appreciate the amount of labor that goes into all of those great dishes that you just magically have ready for him whenever he pops by). I've made it in other people's kitchens, including my sister's, who loves it and says it's her favorite. One time I gave it, unbaked, to a friend whose husband was in Iraq, and she told me that when she had it in the oven, her little kids skipped around the room saying, "It smells like The Olive Garden in here!" Jeff and I even served it at our rehearsal dinner nearly three years ago, and we ate the leftovers during our first week as a married couple.
It's that kind of dish, and I love how this recipe turns a homey, microwave entree staple into something luxurious and celebratory, and it feeds an army.
It's also a whole lot of work. You will be in perpetual motion for at least an hour and probably more as you juggle the tetrazzini's various components. The dirty dishes it generates will fill up your dishwasher. Do not make it at the end of a work day. Instead, start making it on a low-key weekend morning at around 10:00 and plan on a noon-ish meal, and then you can pick at it throughout the afternoon as it cools. I've successfully made it ahead, frozen/thawed it, and baked it with no difference in deliciousness. Once cooked, the tetrazzini can be cut up into squares, frozen, and microwaved as needed.
The recipe is from Giada de Laurentiis, from her book Giada's Family Dinners, the one where she's on the cover looking very happy about the thing she is eating. I'm not sure what the thing is, but it may be fried dough.
My notes are in italics.
6 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
2 1/4 teaspoons salt, plus more for pasta
1 1/4 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 pound white mushrooms, sliced
1 large onion, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups whole milk, room temperature
1 cup heavy whipping cream, room temperature
1 cup chicken broth
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
12 ounces linguine <-- i.e. 3/4 of a pound box
3/4 cup frozen peas
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
1 cup grated Parmesan
1/4 cup dried Italian-style breadcrumbs
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Giada's recipe actually says to heat it to 450, but that seems too harsh in my opinion. Do that if you want the parm/crumb topping to get really brown. I also think you could wait until you add the onions to the mushrooms before you turn on the oven. It's summertime, and who needs all that extra heat in the kitchen?
Spread 1 tablespoon of butter over a 13 by 9 by 2-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 put into a large bowl. Your biggest bowl.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Since this will take a long time, I'm having you do this early in the recipe. Add the linguine and cook until it is tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 9 minutes. Drain. Add the linguine to the big bowl with the chicken and mushroom mixture (below).
Sometime during this paragraph, turn on the oven and heat to 400. Add 1 tablespoon of butter to the same pan. Add the mushrooms and saute 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 saute until the onion is translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the wine and simmer until it evaporates, about 2 minutes. Transfer the mushroom mixture to the bowl with the shredded chicken.
Melt 3 more tablespoons of 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 1 3/4 teaspoons salt, and remaining 3/4 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.
OK, I've tried to do it that way a few times, and the milk always boils over and/or burns on the bottom of the pan. What I do now is increase the heat to more like medium-high and stir/whisk constantly until it boils. It takes about 25 years for this to happen, but it will boil at some point. Then you'll need to keep that sauce moving for one or two more minutes. It should start to seem like a creamy soup rather than some kind of gloppy pudding. Do not wait for it to become gloppy pudding because that's too thick and it probably won't happen anyway.
Add the sauce, peas, and parsley to the chicken mixture. Toss until the sauce coats the pasta and the mixture is well blended.
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. Bake, uncovered, until golden brown on top and the sauce bubbles, about 25 minutes. For some reason, I always have more tetrazzini (a cup?) than I can fit in my baking dish. I load it as full as I feel is sane. I've never had this bubble over, but as you can see from the photo above, it's getting there. You might want to place the baking dish on a cookie sheet before you bake it.
Let it cool for about 10-15 minutes before serving if you don't want a lot of sloppiness when you cut it up. Or go ahead and dig in like I did! (Sorry the photo at the top isn't very rectangular-looking. I was just really hungry.)