January always ushers in a welcome return to some semblance of normalcy after all the excesses of the holidays. Cooking everyday meals again somehow feels fresh and interesting with all kinds of new ideas floating around about how to turn ordinary meals into extraordinary meals.
Take for example the tuna casserole, a baked concoction topped with potato chips that was popularized back in the 50’s in America. The formula couldn’t be simpler. Canned tuna, a can of Campbell’s condensed mushroom soup, milk, cooked noodles, frozen peas, and grated cheese tossed into a casserole dish, topped with potato chips, and baked off in the oven. It was quick, easy, and cheap! That 50’s recipe has somehow managed to weather the test of time and has inspired endless reinterpretations along the way, including one of my own that follows.
What I propose is not the 30 minute tuna casserole of the 50’s. But with an investment of a few more ingredients and more time spent in the kitchen will produce, and I say this with complete confidence, a tuna casserole…extraordinaire. This is a tuna casserole you would be proud to serve for a dinner party.
Reinterpreting tried and true everyday recipes, especially over the long winter months, is both fun and productive. Just give your creative self free reign in the kitchen and turn those old standbys into some extraordinary meals that everyone is going to love!
Tuna Casserole…extraordinaire serves 4 to 6
As there are multiple components required I have arranged the recipe in an easy to follow step by step format.
- 1 head of broccoli, florets divided
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- salt and black pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 425 F/ 220 C
Place the broccoli florets and garlic in a bowl, drizzle with the olive oil, and season lightly with salt and pepper. Toss until the ingredients are evenly coated with oil and transfer to a baking sheet in a single layer. Place in the oven and roast until the broccoli is tender and nicely colored, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
- 1 jalapeno chile
- 1 red bell pepper
- 1 onion, peeled and halved
Roast the jalapeno, red pepper, and the halved onion over an open flame on the stove top or grill until all are evenly charred. Transfer the jalapeno and red bell pepper to a bowl, seal with cling film, and set aside to sweat. Once cool slip off the charred skins and discard. Open both lengthwise, remove the seeds, and cut into thin strips. Reserve several strips of red pepper for garnishing, as pictured, and dice the remaining strips and set aside.
Remove the charred outer layer of the onion halves and discard. Dice the onions and set aside.
- 6 medium sized white button mushrooms (or 10 smaller shiitake), thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ¼ cup white wine
- salt and pepper to taste
Melt the butter in a medium size saute pan set over medium heat. Swirl in the olive oil and add the sliced mushrooms and reserved roasted diced onions. Saute until the mushrooms have wilted, given up their liquid, and are just beginning to color. Season lightly with salt and pepper and toss.
Once most of the liquid in the pan has evaporated add the wine and turn up the heat. Saute until the wine has evaporated and the mushrooms are tender and nicely colored. Set aside to cool.
Step 4: For the sauce mornay:
- 2 tablespoon butter
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 ½ cups whole milk, heated
- 2 strips lemon zest
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- ½ cup grated pecorino cheese
- salt and pepper to taste
Melt the butter in a saucepan and when bubbling add the flour. Stir continuously for about 2 minutes. Then begin slowly adding the heated milk while continuing to stir. Once all the milk has been added toss in the the lemon zest and continue stirring until the mixture comes to a boil. Adjust the heat to a gentle boil and cook, stirring continuously as the sauce thickens, about 3 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in the thyme and grated pecarino. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and set aside. Remove the lemon zest before adding the sauce to the casserole.
- 1/2 cup dry macaroni noodles
- 1 tablespoon salt
Bring a pot of water to a rolling broil and add the salt. Add the noodles and stir. Boil the noodles until al dente. Strain and set the noodles aside until you are ready to assemble the casserole.
Step 6: For the bread crumb topping:
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 cup bread crumbs or panko
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
Melt the butter in a medium saute pan and when bubbling add the bread crumbs and saute until the butter is absorbed and the crumbs are lightly browned. Season with salt, toss, and Set aside to cool.
Preheat the oven to 350 F/ 180 C with the rack in the middle position.
Prepare a buttered casserole dish large enough to hold all the ingredients.
Assembling the casserole:
- 1 can of well drained tuna
- reserved red bell pepper strips for garnishing the top of the casserole as pictured
In a large bowl combine the roasted broccoli florets, the diced roasted jalapenos and bell peppers , the mushroom onion mixture, cooked noodles, and the tuna. Toss until well combined. Then add several ladles full of the sauce and toss until all the ingredients are evenly coated with the sauce.
Transfer the mixture to the prepared casserole dish. Even out the contents in the dish and ladle sauce over all, jiggling the dish so the sauce fills the dish evenly to within a half inch of the top of the casserole dish. Distribute the bread crumbs evenly over the surface and garnish with the reserved red pepper strips.
Transfer the casserole to the oven. Bake for about 35 minutes or until the sauce is bubbling and the bread crumbs are nicely browned.
Serve straight out of the oven! A beautiful simple mixed greens salad pairs well with this casserole and rounds out the meal perfectly!