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Recipes and Stories

17 September 2014: Leftover Chicken, Mushrooms, and Cooking for One

Quick Chicken Tetrazzini for one

One of the saddest things I ever hear as a cooking teacher is “I don’t cook much anymore, because it’s just me and it’s so hard to cook for one or, worse, it’s not worth the trouble. First, there is someone to cook for, the most important person in your life: you.

Secondly, it is not any more trouble to cook for one than for two, and it’s a heck of a lot less work than cooking for six. Cooking for just yourself is an indulgence: there’s nothing but your own palate and tastes to consider. When else are you going to be able to feed yourself the one thing that you love and the rest of your family hates?

Since I was a toddler, I’ve loved mushrooms, any kind of mushrooms, in any way you can think of preparing them. Unfortunately, I am the only person in my household who does. If I didn’t cook just for myself, I’d never have them.

Finding myself alone for dinner with the leftovers of a roasted chicken, I mentally went through my pantry and refrigerator before stopping to pick up a few small brown mushrooms on the way home. In less than half an hour, I was sitting down to a lovely plate of

Chicken Tetrazzini for One

5-6 small brown (crimini) mushrooms
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
½ medium shallot, finely chopped
4-5 fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon instant blending flour
1 cup whole milk or ½ cup chicken broth and ½ cup milk
1-2 tablespoons Madeira or medium-dry sherry
Whole nutmeg in a grater
Salt and whole white pepper in a mill
About ¾ cup diced, cooked chicken
2½ to 3 ounces spaghetti
2-3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
5-6 healthy leaves flat-leaf parsley, minced

1. Bring on 4 quarts of water to a boil over medium high heat. Meanwhile, wipe the mushrooms clean with a dry cloth, trim their stems, and thinly sliced them. Put the butter in a deep 10-inch skillet over medium heat. When it’s beginning to melt, add the shallot and sauté until it is translucent, about 3-4 minutes.

2. Add the mushrooms and toss until they are beginning to color. Add the sage, toss until fragrant, and then sprinkle in the flour and stir until it’s smooth. Slowly add the milk or broth and milk, stirring constantly, and let it come to a simmer and start to thicken. Add the Madeira and season well with nutmeg, salt, and white pepper. Fold in the chicken and let it warm through. Turn off the heat.

3. When the pot of water is boiling, slowly add a handful of salt, stir well, and stir in the spaghetti. Cook, stirring occasionally, until it’s al dente (that means tender but firm to the bite, not al pasty-and-raw-in-the-middle). Drain, reserving a few spoonfuls of the cooking water, and immediately toss the spaghetti with the sauce.

4. Add the cheese and half the parsley, toss, and if it seems dry, add a spoonful or so of the reserved pasta cooking water. Toss again and transfer to a soup plate or individual pasta bowl. Sprinkle it with the remaining parsley and if you like, a little more cheese, and eat it at once.

With a handful of quick-cooked haricots verts and a glass of ice-cold prosecco, it was the perfect dinner for a special guest: me.

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