When we lived in Atlanta in the sixties, we had three babies under three and no money. Every day my best friend Jeanie would come over and ask in her big Texas drawl, “What you makin in that big ole pot?” What I was “makin” was my go-to grocery store find of two chickens for two dollars that I could stretch into two dinners of chicken tetrazzini, several lunches of chicken salad, and several suppers of chicken soup, one day with dumplings, and one day with noodles. I doubt that chicken tetrazzini is an Italian dish, since it came from The Joy of Cooking, at that time the cooking bible for young marrieds. My family love it so much that even now that they are grown, they request it when they are visiting. It’s creamy, chickeny, noodley and yummy all at once, and has comforted many a child recovering from strep and unable to eat anything except this soft, creamy, comforting dish.
4 plump boneless chicken breasts
4 – 5 cups of cold water
a handful of small organic carrots
1/2 an onion quartered
2-3 outer stalks of celery and a few celery leaves from the heart
1/4 cup flour
1/2 stick organic salted butter
1 large chopped shallot
4 cups broth (the cold water from above turns into the broth after cooking)
1/2 cup of cream or 1 small can evaporated milk
3/4 pkg of light yolkless fluffy egg noodles
Pot of boiling, salted water to cook noodles
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese (reggiano)
1/2 cup Italian breadcrumbs
3 tbsp butter, melted
In a heavy ceramic saucepan, place the salted and peppered chicken breasts. Add the celery stalks, cut up into thirds, the handful of baby carrots and the quartered onion. Pour over them the 4 to 5 cups of cold water, salt the water and vegetables, and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat to simmer and simmer 15 to 20 minutes until the chicken is tender, but still juicy. Take out chicken and carrots and let them cool in a bowl. Pour broth into a separate container and set aside.
In the same saucepan, just wiped out with paper towels, melt 2 tbsp of the butter. When it is foaming and bubbling, add the chopped shallots and stir and cook until shallots are soft and translucent. Throw in the flour and 2 more tbsp butter. Stir constantly so that the flour, butter mixture doesn’t develop lumps. Using a whisk helps.(In the pics I am using a wooden spoon, but I often whisk). Keep whisking until the flour and butter become smooth and thicken. If the flour seems too dry, add more butter until the mixture is smooth and creamy.
Start adding in the 4 cups of broth, whisking constantly as you add. Lower the heat to simmer and whisk away for 10 – 15 minutes until the sauce has thickened nicely. Add the cream or evaporated milk. Stir it in, then turn off the heat.
Cut up the chicken breasts into cubes and add them to the white sauce. Then cut up the carrots you cooked with the chicken breasts and add them to the white sauce. Cover and set aside.
Fill a large pot with cold water (5 to 6 quarts) and bring to a boil. When the pasta water is boiling, add a tbsp of salt and then throw in the 3/4 pkg of egg noodles and return to a boil. Stir. Keep heat at a medium boil and boil the noodles for 3 to 4 minutes or until al dente or still slightly firm. Drain the noodles in a colander.Pour the noodles back into the pasta pot and add the chicken/carrot cream sauce. Add the grated cheese. Stir all together. Taste for seasoning and adjust.
Pour the noodles back into the pasta pot and add the chicken/carrot cream sauce. Add the grated cheese. Stir all together. Taste for seasoning and adjust.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9 x 13 ceramic pan or aluminum foil pan (easier because you can throw it out) and then pour the chicken casserole mixture into the pan. With a fork, mix the breadcrumbs and 3 tbsp melted butter in a small bowl. Sprinkle over the casserole.
Bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes or until the breadcrumbs are browned and the sides of the casserole are bubbling. Serve with a crisp, vinegary salad and warm rolls. You can make this and freeze it or you can freeze the leftovers, but always have extra broth on hand to add to the casserole when reheating it.