Opera. It’s considered by many to be the most theatrical of the Theatre Arts. And as a man with no small passion for Theatre, you’d no doubt expect me to be well-versed in its history, pieces, and technical needs. Well, you’d be wrong. Why? Good question. Why are we even talking about Opera? Also a good question. Let’s answer both of these very good questions, as I tackle Turkey Tetrazzini, a blast from my past.
“Teatro” is a word I’ve always wanted to be the name of a haircut.
First things first: what made Jon decide to start talking about the opera? Well, because it’s basically the only certain thing known about Tetrazzini: it was named after an opera singer. Lucia Tetrazzini was a huge name at the start of the 1900’s, a star of the opera in the same class of renown as Beyoncé holds today. There are people who, in 1912, missed her performances and said “This is the worst thing that has happened this entire year!”
In his defense, he said it in March. He couldn't have known.
She gave a performance in San Francisco that was attended by two hundred people. Wait, I’m sorry, that was two hundred THOUSAND people. THAT WAS HALF THE POPULATION OF SAN FRANCISCO AT THE TIME.
She was super loved in San Francisco, because it’s where she debuted in America, and also because, when she couldn’t perform in New York due to a legal issue, she announced “Then I will sing in San Francisco if I have to sing there on the streets, for I know the streets of San Francisco are free!” And trust me, American cities LOVE IT when you call them “free”, especially if you’re using it to imply other cities are fascist hellholes. It’s like, our thing.
Anywho, awesome opera chick was at a hotel, and a guy made a dish for her.
That’s…really all we got. Like, we know it consisted of meat and mushrooms in a cream sauce, at least slightly flavored by some form of alcohol, and topping/mixed with some kind of thin noodle. The Palace Hotel in San Francisco, where she lived for several years, claims to have done it, but so does the Knickerbocker Hotel in New York, a city which she eventually made up with after the whole “You’re a shithole and nobody loves you” comment. In New York, that’s practically flirting.
Now, I’m not one to call the city of New York a liar, but I will point out the dish was pretty definitely made around 1908, since that’s when Good Housekeeping magazine told people they could get it at a restaurant in SAN FRANCISCO. And she debuted in New York in 1908. So either San Francisco made it, or someone invented it a week after her performance at the Manhattan Opera House, and then someone TELEGRAPHED THE RECIPE to San Francisco in order for them to steal it and get featured in a MAGAZINE, you know, those things that take a couple months to put together? What I’m saying is, you’re a fucking liar, New York. And apparently so am I, because I said I wouldn’t say that.
But yeah, what meat goes in, what you top it with, a lot of the components change with this dish. I believe that’s because the idea is that really the SAUCE is the Tetrazzini: you’re taking a meat, and bathing it in the rich, warm tones of her impressive voice, sort of metaphor. I was going to call it the “warm coloratura of her voice”, but I have no idea if that’s the correct phrasing-actually, scratch that, I KNOW it’s the right PHRASING, but I have no idea if it’s the correct MEANING. Because I have no idea what “coloratura” is other than “a thing opera voices have.” Why? GLAD YOU ASKED.
SING FOR YOUR ANGEL OF MUSIC
So, like I said, a lot of people feel that opera is the most theatrical of the arts: there’s big sets, tons of super fancy costumes, everybody’s singing all the time, typically somebody dies and somebody else cries, its’ all right there in the “Things Theatre People Like” Book.
Oh no, how did these images get here?
But, here’s the thing: none of that was really touched on in my theatrical education. Why? Well, you see, years ago, the Theatre department of my college was run by a guy with a doctorate in Theatre. This was before the entire department was reduced to a smoldering crater by budget cuts. Anyway, he was married to a woman with a doctorate in Music, who headed the Music department. And in these, the halcyon days, music and theatre was aligned. And we learned to dance, and sing, and express ourselves, beings of light and sound, dancing wavelengths of joy.
Or so I’ve heard. By the time I got there, the two had long been divorced, creating a great rift in the very soul of art. You know, best laid plans of mice and men, and so on.
But that's a different story.
So, yeah. I learned about lighting, sound design, play-writing, directing, acting, I even learned dance, but I never took a music class. I could have, certainly, as an elective. But I was busy taking philosophy, so I could one day look back on taking philosophy, and realize all the wisdom of the ages is worth nothing compared to the power to uplift men’s spirits through song. THANKS FOR THAT LESSON, PHILOSOPHY.
Striding ever onward through the smoldering ruins of the aforementioned crater of my education, and the as-of-yet unmentioned crater that was once my hopes and dreams, we do find that my connection to the opera isn’t completely void: I was actually paid to work for several operatic performances, spending an entire performance of Don Giovanni hidden under the stage, to ensure the smooth appearance of Satan in the last act. I was literally an assistant to the Devil. So that’s something. Also, my brother had season opera tickets for like, 2 years, because he's a bougie old man in a young man's body. Though I'll note that his old man hat is mine, and he just stole it.
He just leaves it sitting out in the open, too. Taunting me with his theft.
Wasn’t I supposed to be talking about something?
THE TURKEY COMETH
Oh, yeah, Tetrazzini. This is actually the second time I’ve made turkey tetrazzini. I made it years ago for the cast of the first play I wrote that was produced, along with cannoli. I honestly thought I made a post about it at the time, because let me tell you, THAT was a catastrophe: I overfilled the casserole dish, so it overflowed into the oven, and it turns out you need special metal tubes for Cannoli, so I made slap-dash ones out of tin foil wrapped a broom handle that poured hot oil on the floor... Good times. Well, bad times, but you get the idea.
Anywho, I was so upset to have embarrassed myself in front of a pair of young, beautiful, intelligent and funny women like that, (I don’t KNOW that they read the blog, but better safe than sorry, yeah?) that I crushed the phone with the pictures on it in a car door, like Wilson Fisk after a bad date.
YOU EMBARRASSED ME!
Nah, I actually just don’t know where it is. I’ve entered what I call a “death spiral” of cleaning: where I misplaced something 2 weeks ago, and “cleaned” my room to find it, the newly rearranged space ends up obscuring some other object, like freshly tilled soil burying the tender shoots of the next row of seedlings, causing me to rearrange everything again to find THAT, and so on and so forth into infinity, until I burn my house down with my trusty flamethrower “Budget Cuts.”
This version of tetrazzini started as an effort to destroy that which was not wanted, through ignorance and confusion, which is really how most weekends should start. It took place a little after Thanksgiving, with my mother calling me to ask “Hey, we’ve still got like, 6 pounds of turkey left over, right?”
“Yeah,” I replied, only half-listening. I was leaving the next day to stay a month in Leavenworth, so I had to get my things organized and packed. “Unless Nate had a HUGE breakfast burrito.”
These are gallon bags, so it would be a MONSTROUS burrito.
“Then let’s have turkey tetrazzini for dinner. You know how to make that, right?”
“Well, Ree Drummond should have a recipe for it. Tell me what ingredients we need, and I’ll pick it up on the way home.”
I nodded, a useless gesture when talking on a phone, said aloud “Sure Sure” and said goodbye.
I later flipped through all my mother’s Ree Drummond books, and found that, if she had a recipe for Turkey Tetrazzini, she’d apparently never liked it enough to WRITE IT DOWN. But I found it online, and dutifully reproduced it. After I had been working on it for 90 minutes, my mother noted it was so much faster on the TV show, and used more canned products. Eventually, we determined that she had actually wanted me to make King Ranch Chicken Casserole, a dish whose name is so completely different, we can only assume my mother had some sort of momentary bout of insanity.
Mix it Up Baby Now
So, how do you make this dish of turkey and cream? First off, you sauté some garlic and mushrooms. And I’ll admit, part of the length of the recipe is my fault: plenty of people are happy with mushrooms cooked for 3-5 minutes. Me, I prefer the small dark mushrooms that take 10-12 minutes to cook.
Yes, that's more like it.
Then you add white wine, and wait for it to reduce by half. This took longer than anticipated, because wine hates me, after I made one too many Welch’s comments near it. I’m noting all these lengthening issues, because as written, this recipe supposedly takes 1 hour start to finish, but, again, ours took closer to 2.
Once the wine is in and reduced, you hit it with a bunch of flour, to make a roux.
"Roux" is of course the French word for "Mess".
Then you dump on chicken broth, and add a secret creamy ingredient. While many tetrazzini recipes use milk, or heavy cream, this one just drops a brick of cream cheese in, and calls it a day. I respect that level of indifference.
Once your sauce is creamy, and looks nothing at all like some sort of foul swamp water, it’s time for the rest of the ingredients. Chopped turkey goes in, as does bacon, as well as Frozen Peas!
The recipe did not say THAWED Frozen Peas, so this is technically correct.
Stir in two cups of cheese, Monterey Jack and Parmesan, salt and pepper, and you’re ready! To ACTUALLY COOK THIS. That feeling of exhaustion and despair you just felt? Try feeling it when you know you’ve already lost an hour and a half of packing time, and that your laundry is stuck while you’re working up here.
Luckily, the next step is actually the easiest: mix in cooked spaghetti, dump everything in a casserole dish, top with bread crumbs, and throw into a hot oven. If you didn’t cook spaghetti or preheat your oven beforehand, then I guess it’s just time to cry yourself to sleep. I know that I used the 30 minutes of baking time to flop onto a couch, staring unseeingly at the ceiling, worn from my exertions. Actually, I only did that for 10 minutes, and then I got up and made a side dish for the Tetrazzini that I’ll share next week.
After 30-40 minutes, the casserole is bubbly and gold-ish on top, so you decide to eat it. Dig deep in the corner with a spoon, and plop out a portion on your plate.
It’s actually pretty good. Is it the kind of moving, emotional experience they write operas about? No. But it’s warm, creamy, and is pretty perfect for a cold winter evening. Which ain’t half bad. And it’s a good thing it was, because I failed to pack like, 6 things because I was busy cooking. I totally left Budget Cuts at home! THAT would have been a nice way to keep warm during the winter.
If you want to help Jon buy fuel for his flamethrower, which are strangely legal to own in America, consider supporting us on Patreon. IF you’d just like to laugh at his pain with your friends, isn’t that what Facebook was built for? In any case, thanks for reading, and we’ll see you THURSDAY.
THURSDAY: CHESTNUTS ROASTING ON AN OPEN FIRE. EXCEPT ALMOST NONE OF THOSE THINGS.
MONDAY: JON SPICES UP THE EVENING WITH A SALAD WITH SOME KICK. BECAUSE A HORSE IS A HORSE OF COURSE OF COURSE, UNLESS THE HORSE IS A RADISH.
1.5 lb Spaghetti, noodles broken in half
4 tbsp Butter
4 cloves Garlic, Minced
1 lb White Mushrooms, Quartered
1/2 tsp Salt
1 cup White Wine
1/3 cup Flour
4 cups Turkey (or, more likely Chicken) Broth
1 - 8 oz block Cream Cheese
3 cups Cooked Turkey, Shredded Or Diced
1-1/2 cup Frozen Green Peas
4 slices Bacon, Fried And Crumbled
1 cup grated Monterey Jack Cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan Cheese
Salt And Pepper, to taste
Extra Broth For Thinning
1 cup Bread Crumbs
1. Cook pasta al dente according to package instructions and set aside.
2. In a large pot, heat butter over medium-high heat. Add garlic and saute for a couple of minutes. Add mushrooms and salt, then saute for a couple more minutes. Pour in the wine and allow it to cook with the mushrooms for several minutes, or until the liquid reduces by half.
3. Sprinkle in flour, then stir the mushrooms around for another minute. Pour in the broth and stir, cooking for another few minutes until the roux thickens. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
4. Reduce heat to medium low. Cut cream cheese into pieces and add it to the pot. Stir to combine (there may be little cheese blobs for a while; it'll melt eventually) Add the leftover turkey, the peas, the bacon, and the cheeses. Stir to combine, adding salt and pepper as needed.
5. Add the cooked spaghetti and stir to combine. Splash in more broth as needed; you want the mixture to have a little extra moisture since it will cook off in the oven. If it's a little soupy, that's fine! Add up to 2 more cups of liquid if you think it needs it.
6. Pour the mixture into a large baking dish and sprinkle the top with Panko crumbs. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the casserole is bubbly and the crumbs are golden brown.