Growing up in Texas, casseroles were common options for potluck dinners or any other time you needed to feed a crowd. They could be assembled ahead of time, baked in a single dish, and easily transported. These casseroles also often involved time-saving options, such as canned cream of mushroom or cream of chicken soup. The results were warm and comforting meals shared with family and friends. Today, we still crave (at least I do) the same comfort food but prefer to use fresh ingredients, cut down on fat (at least a little), and avoid processed foods when we can. With those goals in mind, I created this updated version of Chicken Tetrazzini.
I started by slicing 8 oz. of cremini mushrooms, a red and a green bell pepper, and an onion. I almost always use a sweet onion because it usually results in a slightly milder onion flavor and fewer tears during the chopping. 🙂
While the veggies sauté, it is time to cook a pound of spaghetti, so bring the cooking liquid for the pasta to a boil. I use either salted water or a combination of chicken broth, water, and salt. The only time you get to season the pasta itself is while it cooks, so I prefer to cook it in a mixture of half chicken broth, half water and about 1 tablespoon of salt because it adds so much flavor. When the liquid is boiling, break the dry spaghetti in half and cook it in the boiling liquid. It is really important to take the pasta out of the water a minute or two before it is al dente because the pasta will be baking in sauce and finish cooking then. I usually check the spaghetti package’s instructions for cooking time and then subtract 2 minutes. Also, you can substitute penne or other pastas for the spaghetti, if you prefer.
While the pasta cooks, add two or three tablespoons of olive oil to a heavy Dutch oven and sauté the vegetables over medium or medium-low heat. Note that I wait to add salt and pepper until later. While I usually like to season along the way, I don’t want the salt to immediately draw out the water from the onions and mushrooms. I want these veggies to cook slowly and naturally release their juices along the way. That means adding the salt later.
Sauté the veggies until they are just tender but not browned. The onions will be translucent at this point.
Now it is time to get ready to make a creamy sauce. I start by sprinkling about 1/4 cup of flour over the veggies. This is an easy way to end up with a thickened sauce without lumps.
Toss the veggies with the flour and let the flour/veggie combo cook for two or three minutes so that it won’t have a raw flour flavor.
Now for the sauce part. Add fat-free milk (about 3 cups)! Believe me, it will still be yummy and creamy. But this is a place where you can cut fat without noticing it, so that you can use real, sharp cheddar cheese at the end!
Cook the mixture until it just bubbles and thickens. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Next it is time to add some additional liquid (about 1 cup low-fat chicken stock) and spice (1/4 cup chopped green chiles) and some grated cheddar cheese (1 to 2 cups).
Stir the mixture to combine.
Now, add some shredded chicken, along with a little more salt and pepper. This is a place that you can save some time and buy a roasted chicken at the grocery store, or you can just poach a couple of chicken breasts. It is up to you how much to add. I don’t like too much, so I usually add a cup or two. I know others that like a lot of chicken in tetrazzini, so they use twice this amount.
Gently stir in the chicken so that you don’t break the pieces too much.
Add the spaghetti to the creamy sauce and gently stir to combine. A spaghetti spoon works great for this. The pasta will absorb a lot of the liquid, so if it seems too dry, just add a little more chicken stock at this point.
This tetrazzini travels really well. I was taking this one to a group event where I wasn’t getting my dish back, so I baked it in an aluminum pan. But I usually bake it in a baking dish that I lightly spray with cooking spray.
While I used skim milk, low-fat chicken broth and fresh veggies, I still wanted the yummy sharp cheddar flavor, so I saved a little (maybe more than a little—1/2 a cup to a cup) for the top.
This tetrazzini needs to cook covered until it is just bubbly all over (30-40 minutes) at 350 degrees F, but if you are not careful, the cheese will stick to the aluminum foil and be lost! Too sad. I learned that I could save the cheese by placing a piece of parchment paper over the top.
Then, I cover it with foil and bake it. When it starts bubbling all over (30-40 minutes), I remove the foil and parchment and bake it for about 10 more minutes. That allows it to crisp/brown a little on the top without drying out the pasta. You could even turn on the broiler for a minute or two (watch it really carefully) if you want the cheese slightly more browned.
Now for the best part, time to eat! The hard part is not going back for a second serving. Enjoy!
© 2016 FoodieOasis