Una Voce Poco Fa: Turkey and Tetrazzini

Luisa Tetrazini in Her Prime (Library of Congress)

This coming Sunday, December 5, is National Comfort Food Day. I’ve recently been using up some of our Thanksgiving-turkey leftovers in one of my favorite comfort foods, turkey tetrazzini.
Tetrazzini the dish (also made with chicken, salmon, tuna, and for all I know tofu) was named after Tetrazzini the singer.
Luisa Tetrazzini (1871-1940) was a coloratura soprano known as the Florentine Nightingale. She allegedly first took to the stage at the age of three in her native Italy. In her prime she was the toast of opera lovers in both Europe and the United States.
Although she was involved in a number of contractual lawsuits, La Tetrazzini was by all accounts a good natured woman.
Small of stature but by no means small of figure (calling her stout would be kind), she adored glamorous gowns, jewelry, and hats. 

(Library of Congress)

Like other many other sopranos (including me!), Luisa Tetrazzini had a weakness for comfort food. The precise provenance of the recipe named after her is in doubt; a number of different chefs and restaurants claimed to have invented it. It is clear, however, that it was created in Tetrazzini’s honor.
Whoever originated it, turkey tetrazzini is my second favorite thing to make out of leftover turkey. (First on the list comes the humble turkey sandwich.) The bell pepper in my version isn’t traditional, but I appreciate the note of color it adds to this otherwise pretty much white dish.
To hear Luisa Tetrazzini sing “Una Voce Poco Fa” (“A Voice Just Now”) from Rossini’s Barber of Seville click here. 

To taste the dish named after her, follow the instructions below.

Tinky’s Turkey Tetrazzini
for the cream sauce:
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1-1/4 cups robust turkey stock, warmed
1/2 cup cream
1/2 cup milk
Creole seasoning to taste (you may use just salt and pepper, but I like the zip of the seasoning)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (plus a bit more if you like)
1/4 cup dry sherry
a handful of parsley, chopped
for assembly:
1/2 pound thin spaghetti, cooked
butter as needed to sauté vegetables (try to keep this to a minimum)
2 cups sliced mushrooms
1/2 bell pepper (I used an orange one most recently), diced
a light sprinkling of salt and pepper
2 cups pieces of cooked turkey
1 recipe cream sauce plus a little more milk if needed
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
a sprinkling of paprika
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
First, make the sauce. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat, and whisk in the flour. Cook, whisking constantly, for 2 minutes.
Whisk in the turkey stock and bring the mixture to a boil. Boil, whisking constantly, for 2 minutes more. Turn off the heat and stir in the milk and cream. Heat the mixture until it is warm; then remove it from the heat and stir in the seasoning, cheese, sherry, and chopped parsley. Set aside.
Next, create the casserole. Place the cooked spaghetti in a 2- to 3- quart casserole dish. Cover it with about half of the sauce.
Melt a small amount of butter in a frying pan and sauté the ‘rooms and bell-pepper pieces until they soften. (Add a little more butter if you absolutely have to.) Dust them with salt and pepper.
Place the turkey on top of the spaghetti in the dish. Cover it with the sautéed vegetables. Stir the mixture just a bit to make sure everything is moistened. Top the mixture with the remaining sauce.
If the tetrazzini looks a bit dry, add a bit more milk. Sprinkle the cheese on top of it, and throw on a little paprika for good measure. 

Cover the casserole dish and place it in the oven for 20 minutes; then uncover and cook until bubbly, about 10 minutes more. Serves 4.

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9 Responses to “Una Voce Poco Fa: Turkey and Tetrazzini”

  1. I think she looks like Susan Boyle!! With our current weather, every day is comfort food day!!

  2. Loyce Cofer says:

    Lady Tetrazinni and Tinky’s recipe for delicious Tetrazinni is a marvelous combination. Thank you so much for the lesson on the great opera singer. Beautiful voice, I was second soprano when I sang in high school choir but cannot sing now due to inherited voice tremors……..I miss it and try on occasion to sing along with Christmas Carols, not a success I’m afraid.

  3. tinkyweisblat says:

    Loyce, as long as you enjoy singing the carols it really doesn’t matter what you sound like! I wish you lots of great holiday music in the weeks to come. Frayed, I wish YOU better weather–and lots of comfort food in the meantime.

  4. Adelaide says:

    Hi Tinky,

    Thank you for the reminder of Turkey Tetrazzini. Ive made some version of tetrazzini with turkey, chicken, tuna and ham, but haven’t in some time. The last bit of turkey is cubed and in my freezer and will soon make its starring role along with la diva Tetrazzini.


  5. Oh, you’re tetrazinni looks beautiful! My mother makes it every year after Thanksgiving, and I adore the flavors..especially the sherry.
    And I didn’t know it was National Comfort Food Day! Perfect. We’re having Mac ‘n’ Cheese )

  6. Grad says:

    Loved my Thanksgiving this year, except for the fact I couldn’t bring home leftovers. I’ve been known to roast a turkey just so I can have the crispy skin that covers the neck cavity, which I always stuff and which is probably the worst part of the turkey for one’s health. In any event, it never makes it to the family table. I justify this selfishness by believing I am throwing myself upon the sword of turkey fat in a symbolic gesture to save others. Thank you for this recipe…yet another great reason to roast a turkey.

  7. tinkyweisblat says:

    Adelaide, I’ve never tried the ham; what a great idea! EveryDay, you obviously have a knack for these things, serving the perfect comfort food on its very own day. And Grad, I know the feeling. I have eaten Thanksgiving out only to roast a secret turkey at home later for the leftovers myself. And I, too, love that skin!

  8. Molly says:

    Hi, Tinky:

    As I recall, my esteemed mother used to cook the pasta in tomato juice when she made Turkey Tetrazzini – another way to brighten up the color, and I have a guess her recipe originated with Adele Davis (always trying to get a little more nutrition in) – but I like your idea of throwing in a little bell pepper. You could add a combination of red and green for a Christmas buffet dish! Happy Holidays to all!

  9. tinkyweisblat says:

    Oh, Molly, I love the idea of red and green–and I would never have thought of the tomato juice; your mother is a wise woman. Happy holidays right back to you!

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