Today I’m going to share my favorite dish to use up leftover chicken, easy chicken tetrazzini, a creamy cheesy casserole that is easy to whip up for a weeknight dinner
I stumbled across this dish nearly two decades ago. When I first started making it, I learned that chicken tetrazzini was a casserole dish from the turn of the century. Some say it dates back all the way to 1908. You might think it is an Italian dish because of the name and the fact that it has pasta, but it isn’t. It was actually named after turn-of-the-century opera Luisa Tetrazzini.
Making Chicken Tetrazzini
It was very popular in the 1940s and 1950s as a staple casserole dish. In my household, it has become one of our beloved family favorites, not just because of the delicious creamy taste, but because it is a wonderful way to use leftover chicken. I also go to this recipe if I don’t have enough chicken to make it a main course. This recipe stretches a few breasts out enough to feed a family.
Apparently, that’s why it grew in popularity. During the Great Depression, it was used to make the most of the little meat families had. Housewives also used whatever pasta they had on hand. That’s why you see it with all kinds of pasta like spaghetti, broad egg noodles, linguine, even penne, and elbow macaroni. In fact, many people even use the recipe to make turkey tetrazzini with leftover turkey. I almost always do this after Thanksgiving. During the 1940’s and 1950’s some housewives even used canned tuna along with whatever cheese they had on hand. Tetrazzini is a truly versatile dish.
It may surprise you to learn that there is no universal standard recipe for tetrazzini. It was kind of a first throw-down recipe of sorts. Earlier recipes are slightly more complicated than what I will share today. Early recipes call for sautéing your own fresh mushrooms and then creating a cream sauce with heavy whipping cream, butter, white wine or sherry, meat stock, and cheese. However, thanks to the 1950’s housewife, she used a more convenient method of using Cambell’s Cream of Mushroom and Cream of Chicken condensed soups to quicken this recipe and that is what I am going to show you today – easy chicken tetrazzini.
Start by shredding your chicken while your pasta boils. If you prefer, you can slice your chicken or meat into bite-sized chunks. Once your pasta is drained, add it to a large bowl, combine your cans of cream of chicken soup and cream of mushroom soup. Add milk, half and half, or cream. If you are using cream you need about a cup of cream. If using half and half or milk, you can use about a half cup or change until you reach your desired consistency. We like ours extra creamy and rich. If you don’t care for such a heavy sauce, you can dilute with more milk. If you don’t have milk, you can substitute a half cup of meat stock to dilute.
You’ll add in your cheese to the cream sauce. I reserve half for spreading on top. As I mentioned earlier, housewives used whatever cheese they had on hand. I prefer parmesan because it adds a lot of flavor. But I’ve used Mozzarella, Monterrey Jack, Colby Jack, Cheddar and various combinations of cheese. Some people also like to put a topping on the top. Like toasted breadcrumbs, crunchy cornflakes or fried onions like a green bean casserole. I, however, don’t do that, although you can if you want. You may notice, I’ve omitted any salt from the recipe. That’s because there is plenty of sodium in the condensed soups and cheese. So I suggest tasting before you add any salt on your own.
Easy Chicken Tetrazzini
- 2-3 Large Chicken Breasts, Cooked Shredded
- 1 ½ Cups Shredded Parmesan or other cheese Divided (two 3/4 cups)
- 1 10.5 oz Can of Cream of Chicken Soup Preferably Campbell's
- 1 10.5 oz Can of Cream of Mushroom Soup
- ½ Lbs Spaghetti or other pasta
- 1 Cup Heavy cream or half and half (or milk for a lighter sauce)
- 2 Tbsp Fresh Parsley, finely chopped (Optional)
- Preheat oven to 375°
- Cook pasta according to the package instructions
- While pasta is cooking, shred cooked chicken into a large mixing bowl.
- Add one can of cream of chicken condensed soup, one can of cream of mushroom soup and cream or milk. Stir well to combine.
- When pasta is cooked, drain well, and combine with cream sauce.
- Add half of the divided cheese into the pasta mixture and combine well.
- Transfer pasta to a deep casserole or baking dish.
- Spread remaining cheese on top and bake at 375 for 30 to 40 minutes or until it is bubbly and cheese is golden.
- Garnish with chopped parsley before serving.
Serving and Storing Chicken Tetrazzini
Chicken Tetrazzini is a heavy dish, so I like to serve with a garden salad or other green like roasted asparagus or green beans. If you have leftovers, chicken tetrazzini will keep in an air tight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. You can microwave it or warm it in the oven to reheat it. I have never tried freezing it, although pasta normally freezes okay if placed in a good quality container to protect it from freezer burn. Also, I’d probably allow some room in the container since cream tends to expand when frozen. As I said, I’ve never tried freezing it, so let me know in the comments if you try it.
Thank you for joining me for this recipe. I know you will enjoy it. Over the years, I’ve really grown to enjoy using older recipes because they are tried and true and women knew how to feed a large family and provide comforting home-cooked meals every day. If you are fond of casseroles, be sure to check out my Bacon Cheeseburger Casserole and Baked Ziti.