. . . Tuna Noodle Casserole.
What did your Grandmother and maybe even your Mother do in times of want? When there was rationing, limited resources and lack of funds? With lots of mouths to feed, both human and animal? Most likely they looked in the cupboard and in the hedgerow to see what they had available and they made do.
Are you looking in your cupboards during this modern time of forced or self isolation? Hopefully you are and you are finding some ingredients.
Are you looking in the garden and yard? With eyes to see, you will find similar things abound that your foremothers also found; herbs, wild greens, edible flowers, fruits, nuts, etc.,
I looked in my pantry and garden and found the ingredients for one of my favorite dishes from my childhood, a dish that only necessity could have conjured up originally – Tuna Noodle Casserole.
A google search of Tuna Noodle Casserole will garner you hundreds of recipes for this concoction so if you don’t have the ingredients on hand that I used to make my recipe that follows, you may have the ingredients to make someone else’s version.
In 2017, Heather Arndt Anderson wrote A Brief History of Tuna Noodle Casserole for TasteCooking.com and it is an essential read for the currently sequestered cook https://www.tastecooking.com/brief-history-tuna-casserole/ or, if you have no time to read and just want her recipe, which is somewhat similar yet different than mine, here you go! https://www.tastecooking.com/recipes/tuna-casserole-not-wimps/
My casserole is very different from my mother’s and grandmother’s version that I grew up eating. Mostly because I am not a fan of canned soups (to put it mildly), an ingredient they used in mass quantities in many of their casseroles, not just Tuna Noodle. My Tuna Noodle Casserole rendition was inspired by the casserole recipe in Gourmet, May 2004 by Kemp Miles Minifie. That recipe does not rely on canned cream of mushroom soup and utilizes what I have on hand, things like canned tuna packed in oil, and whole wheat noodles, etc. Your larder will be different from mine but I’m betting that a casserole made from yours will be just as delicious.
If you have an herb garden, by all means, pick some fresh herbs such as parsley, lovage, dill, fennel, chives, bay, or lemon thyme, etc., to add fresh to your casserole. If you have a vegetable garden, pick onion, and add some green vegetables such as celery, broccoli, peas, or green beans, etc. If you have fruit trees, pick a lemon . . .
Tuna Noodle Casserole
1 medium onion, chopped. I used a white onion.
4 – 6 tablespoons butter and/or oil (I used both; unsalted butter and I used the oil from the can of tuna…)
2 stalks celery, chopped.
1 – 3 broccoli stalks from three heads of broccoli, finely chopped or grated (I’m saving the broccoli florets for another dish), or 1 head of broccoli florets with or without stalk, or some frozen broccoli, fresh or frozen peas, or fresh or frozen green beans . . .
1/4 to 1/2 a bunch of fresh parsley, stems and leaves. Chop the stems separately from the leaves. I used Curly. If you don’t have fresh, use dried!
8 oz fresh mushrooms, white, brown or mixed, trimmed and sliced. I used fresh white mushrooms. If you don’t have fresh, and you have dried mushrooms, reconstitute the dried mushrooms in boiling water before chopping them, saving the water to make the sauce.
2 – fresh or dried bay leaves. I used fresh from my yard.
2 tablespoons soy or tamari sauce or Worcestershire sauce… I used Tamari.
1/4 cup sherry or vermouth or wine. I used red vermouth.
1/4 cup flour. I used organic white whole wheat.
2 cups stock, broth and/or dried mushroom reconstituting water. I used homemade chicken stock.
1 cup milk, fresh or evaporated (not sweetened condensed). I used organic whole milk.
zest and juice of one lemon. I used a Meyer lemon from my yard.
salt and pepper
1- 5 to 6 oz. can of tuna. I used tuna packed in olive oil, undrained.
6 oz. dried pasta, any. I used whole wheat.
3 – 4 slices of fresh, stale or frozen bread. I used whole wheat heals from my freezer stash, coarsely chopped into crumbs.
cheddar or other cheese of choice, grated (1 cup). I used mild cheddar.
Heat oven to 375 degrees F.
Butter a shallow 2-qt. baking dish and set aside.
In a heavy skillet, sauté the onion, celery, broccoli stalks and parsley stems in some butter and oil from the tuna can or just butter or just oil – use what you have, ’til soft. Add the mushrooms and continue sautéing until the mushroom liquid starts to dissipate. Add soy sauce and vermouth and continue cooking ’til the liquid evaporates. Set aside.
In a heavy saucepan, melt 3 tablespoons butter over low heat and whisk in the flour to make a light roux.
Slowly add the stock to the roux whisking all the while. Bring this to a boil and whisk in the milk. Add the bay leaves and simmer the sauce for 5 minutes before adding the mushroom mixture, tuna, lemon zest and juice, and parsley leaves. Season with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, undercook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water.
Drain the undercooked pasta and add it to the sauce. Pour pasta and sauce into the buttered baking dish and top with the bread crumbs and grated cheese. Drizzle the cheese and bread crumbs with any remaining tuna oil or melted butter. Season with freshly grated black pepper.
Bake the casserole for 20 – 30 minutes until the topping is crisp and the sauce is bubbling.
Serves 4 to 6.