Chicken Tetrazzini

Here in Mesa, it’s been raining. It rained for two days in a row, which by Phoenix-area standards is nothing short of miraculous. We here in the desert tend to get extra excited by rain. We tend to think of it like that old Weather Girls song It’s Raining Men, if you take out the word “men,” as in:

“It’s raining! Hallelujah, it’s raining!”

The reason, of course, for our unmitigated joy over the¬†mysterious wet stuff that comes out of the sky¬†is that (being in a desert) we don’t tend to see a lot of it. I vividly remember the record dry spell of 2006. After 143 days without rain, it was as if the clouds had been saving it up and rained so hard and so much there was SNOW on Superstition Mountain. In March. When it’s usually 85 degrees and you’re hoping you remembered to take your sunscreen with you to the Renaissance Fair.

The reason I remember all of this is that I was scheduled to run a 5K at the Phoenix Zoo that day, and since apparently the race planners had not considered rain a possibility, I ended up running wearing one of the black garbage bags they passed out instead of rain ponchos.

That’s what I’m talkin’ bout. P.S. Friends don’t let friends have bangs this awful.

Garbage bag ponchos aside, I really do love the rain. And when it rains, I always crave comfort food, don’t you? So last night, after almost an entire day of rain (hallelujah!) it was time for something warm, hearty, and creamy: chicken tetrazzini, one of my favorites. I didn’t grow up eating this dish–in fact, I had never heard of it until my husband made it for me on my 23rd birthday. We were living in our ghetto first apartment with a tiny kitchen, irrepressible cockroaches, and the claim to fame that the management gave all new residents The Club car lock as a welcoming gift.

Welcome to your new home! We’re freely admitting that thugs will try to steal your car here!

Upon tasting it, I was instantly hooked. Eight years later, this meal is still in my rotation. You might look at the recipe and wonder how it could be at all flavorful, since the only spices it contains are salt and pepper, and the other ingredients wouldn’t appear to add much in the flavor department. All I can say is you’re gonna have to trust me on this one. The richness of the roux (butter and flour heated to bubbling) combined with cream and chicken broth make this a melt-in-your-mouth dish that needs no additional seasoning. Additionally, it boasts the interesting trivia of being named after the turn-of-the-century opera star Luisa Tetrazzini (who looks like she probably ate quite a bit of it in her time, if you know what I’m saying). All in all, it’s a perfect dinner for those rare and wonderful Arizona rainy days…when you have an opera singer on your mind. Or something along those lines.

Chicken Tetrazzini
(Adapted from Betty Crocker’s Cookbook: Bridal Edition)

7 oz. spaghetti, broken into thirds
1/4 c. butter
1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 c. chicken broth
1 c. heavy cream or 1/2 and 1/2
2 Tbsp. dry sherry or water
2 cups shredded cooked chicken
1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese


Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cook spaghetti as directed on package.

While spaghetti is cooking, melt butter in a 2-quart saucepan over low heat. Stir in flour, salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture is smooth and bubbly; remove from heat. Stir in broth and cream. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil and stir 1 minute.

Drain spaghetti. Stir spaghetti, sherry or water, and chicken into sauce.

Pour spaghetti mixture into an ungreased 2-quart casserole. Sprinkle with Parmesan. Bake uncovered about 30 minutes or until bubbly in center.

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