I think most people’s eyes fill with dread at the very words tuna noodle casserole, and I can understand why. Tuna is not exactly popular among the proteins, and the word “casserole” usually conjures up suppressed memories of bad cooks who served mystery ingredients in a CorningWare dish, covered in some kind of thick glop.
Hunger leads a person to do a great many things, and in my case, it led me to my first bite of tuna noodle casserole. I expected something I would have to choke down, but I remember being pleasantly surprised, and going back for seconds. I guess those 1950’s housewives were onto something. Only the casserole of those days was made entirely of pantry staples, primarily: condensed soup.
You may not think all that little of canned soups, but that might be because you haven’t loved yourself enough to cook the alternative. When you’ve tasted the bliss of swapping canned soup for chicken stock, butter and cheese, a casserole becomes what it was meant to be all along: comfort food. Once you’ve tasted the real deal, you’ll be able to sniff out the high-sodium canned stuff before it drops on your dinner plate, just in time to say “I’ll pass.”
Don’t worry if you feel a little self-conscious the first time you make this. I know what you’re feeling. Doubt is hovering over your shoulder, and you are questioning your good sense. You ask yourself how you were talked into cooking tuna casserole. But as you pull it from the oven, topped with perfectly crunchy, golden brown breadcrumbs tossed with Parmesan cheese, you may just dip your fork into the least conspicuous corner and taste it. When you do, you are going to say mmmm… internally of course, because you wouldn’t want anyone else to know how delighted you are over something so unappealing in name.
As it’s portioned into cozy bowls and spooned into the mouths surrounding your dinner table, you’ll smile at the surprised expression forming on each face. It doesn’t make sense. Something so simple and so unglamorous shouldn’t be this good, but believe me, it is.
Tuna Noodle Casserole
- 16 oz egg noodles cooked to al dente, drained
- 2 cans solid tuna drained
- 3 T butter divided
- 1 medium onion finely chopped
- 3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 3 cups chicken broth
- 8 oz cream cheese softened
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 2 cups grated cheddar cheese 8 oz block, grated
- 1 cup frozen peas
- Salt and Pepper
- 1/2 cup plain Panko breadcrumbs (seasoned is fine too!)
- 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil
Boil water for noodles. Season boiling water with 1 Tablespoon salt. Cook noodles according to package directions for al dente (usually the shortest number of recommended minutes). Drain pasta. Drain both cans of tuna thoroughly (I use the lid to press the tuna, making sure I’ve drained as much liquid as possible). Flake the tuna with a fork and toss it on top of drained noodles. Set aside.
Heat 2 Tablespoons of butter in the empty pot over medium high heat. Add chopped onion and season with salt and pepper. Sauté onions until translucent and soft. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add remaining tablespoon of butter and flour. Stir and cook for 1 minute. Whisk in chicken broth and a pinch more salt. Stir and bring to a boil until thickened, about 3 minutes.
Turn off the heat. Add cream cheese and cheddar and whisk until melted. Add peas and allow them to warm through. Taste cheese sauce and add more salt and pepper if it needs it. Stir in the drained noodles and tuna. Pour mixture into 9 x 13 pan or casserole dish*.
Combine breadcrumbs, Parmesan, pepper and olive oil. Sprinkle over top of casserole.
Bake at 400 for 10-15 minutes, until topping turns golden.
*You can skip this step and leave it in the pot if you want to dirty fewer dishes. Spreading it in a larger pan simply allows the breadcrumbs to cover more surface area of the casserole, meaning more crunchy topping for everyone!