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!
I was in my kitchen the other day admiring a gorgeous pile of succulent New Zealand green lipped mussels and some plump shrimp that I had purchased earlier in the day. As I gazed, an ad hok seafood stew was formulating in my mind using some Mediterranean ingredients that I already had on hand. Some pancetta to saute along with some onions, garlic, carrots and celery would beautifully flavor a sofrito base for the broth. Adding to that the water reserved after steaming the mussels to the stew broth would introduce the briny flavors of the sea. A flourish of chile flakes and Spanish smoked paprika would add a nice spicy heat and a rustic earthy flavor to the stew. A final splash of a fruity Italian olive oil and a spritz of crisp lemon juice just before serving would really bring this robust mussel stew to life.
New Zealand green lipped mussels are more available than other varieties of mussels here in Thailand. They are the largest mussels available and perfect for a mixed seafood soup or stew. Their flesh is plump, succulent, and juicy. The shells are quite large so usually not included in the dish like the smaller mussel shells you would find in a French bouillabaisse, an Italian zuppa de cozze , or a Catalan zaruela de mariscos. New Zealand green lipped mussels are shipped across the globe. That said, shells or no shells in the stew, any variety of mussels available to you are suitable for this recipe.
This is an easy seafood stew to prepare, it looks spectacular, and is sure to WOW a crowd!
Mediterranean Mussel Stew serves 6
- 1 kilo/2.2 pounds New Zealand green lipped mussels, or another available variety
- 500g / 1 pound medium size shrimp, shells removed, deveined, tails attached
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 thin slices pancetta, finely chopped
- 2 onions, peeled and finely diced
- 6 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- ½ cup white wine
- 1 large carrot, peeled and finely diced
- 3 stalks celery with leaves, finely diced, leaves thinly sliced, and whole leaves reserved for garnish
- 4 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh marjoram
- 1 1/2 liters/ 1 1/4 quarts fish or chicken stock, preheated
- 1 teaspoon sea salt + more to taste
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
- ¼ to ½ teaspoon chile flakes
- 1 ½ teaspoons Spanish smoked paprika
- 6 medium sized yellow potatoes, peeled and cut into ¾ inch chunks
- finishing quality olive oil
- fresh lemon wedges
Soak the mussels in cold water and then scrub the shells to remove any dirt or seaweed that may be attached.
Place a steaming rack in a stock pot and add about 2 cups of water below the rack. Place the mussels on the rack and bring the water to a boil. Lower to a simmer and place a lid on the pot. Steam the mussels for about 6 minutes or until the mussels have opened. Remove the mussels from the pot and set aside in a bowl to cool. Any mussels that have not opened should be discarded.. Transfer the steaming water left in the pot to a container and set aside to use later.
Place the same pot over medium low heat. When hot add the olive oil. When the oil is hot add the pancetta and saute while stirring continuously until the fat has melted. Then add the onions, stir to coat with the oil, and saute until the onions are translucent, about 6 or 8 minutes. Add the garlic and saute another minute or two. Then add the wine and cook until the wine has been completely absorbed.
Stir in the carrots and celery and saute until soft, about 6 minutes. Add the bay leaves and marjoram and stir to combine.. Add the reserved broth from steaming the mussels and the preheated stock. Stir until all the ingredients are combined.
Once the stew is boiling, lower the heat to a simmer and cook for about 15 minutes. Then stir in salt, pepper, chile flakes, and smoked paprika and stir until combined. Then stir in the potatoes and continue to simmer until the potatoes are soft, about 15 to 20 minutes.
While the stew is simmering, if you are using New Zealand mussels you will want to remove the mussels from their shells and discard the shells. If you are using other smaller mussels you can leave them in tact.
Once the potatoes are fully cooked you can add the mussels and shrimp to the broth. Simmer for about 3 to 5 minutes. Taste the broth and season with more salt to taste.
Serve the stew in shallow individual soup plates with 4 or 5 mussels per portion and plenty of broth. Sparingly drizzle each serving with a finishing olive oil and garnish with a few celery leaves and a slice of fresh lemon.
Paella needs no introduction. It is one of Spain’s most celebrated culinary exports. A Spanish rice dish that delights like non other and loved the world over. A paella makes a spectacularly colorful presentation that promises a tantalizing combination of simmering Mediterranean ingredients seasoned with distinctly Spanish herbs and spices that bring this rustic Spanish dish to life.
Imagine a gigantic paella pan filled to the brim with locally sourced ingredients from land and sea simmering over a fragrant wood fire out in the open air, wafting aromas beckoning one and all. The pleasures of Paella are all about savoring the robust flavors of traditional Spanish cookery with friends and family.
Paella is simple in concept and, with a little organization and planning, will come off without a hitch. Over the holidays I managed, along with a friend’s help, to have three paella pans simultaneously bubbling away on the stove top. Miraculously they were all perfectly finished and on the table as planned to everyone’s great delight.
For the recipe that follows I have broken down the cooking sequence and ingredients, including portions of ingredients per person, into steps which should be easy to to follow and apply to any paella you want to make no matter what ingredients you choose to use. A paella is truly a dish for all seasons!
Paella Mixta: serves 12
Paella Mixta is very popular, but not a traditional paella in the strictest sense. Liberties have been taken that traditionalists would certainly frown up, but the idea of mixing seafood and meats does make a splendid feast for the eyes as well as the stomach.
Following the ingenuity of early Spanish cooks, using a traditional paella pan really makes sense. If you do not happen to have one a cast iron skillet is your best alternative option. That said, for a small investment, a paella pan will serve you very well for years to come and available online (click here).
As appealing as the idea is, cooking a paella over an open fire is not likely. The next best option is a two step cooking method that I have been using in my kitchen for years that turns out consistently beautiful paellas time and time again. Beginning the cooking on the stove top insures that you have the much desired thin layer of crisp rice in the bottom of the paella pan. The pan is then transferred to a very hot oven to quickly finish the paella with a perfectly colored surface and moist rice in the interior.
Equipment: 1 to 3 paella pans (depending on size)
- 12 cups fish or chicken stock (1 cup per person)
- 48 saffron threads (4 per person)
- 3 tablespoons white wine
- ¾ cup Spanish olive oil (1/3 cup per pan)
- 6 chicken breasts, skin on (½ breast per person)
- 6 links paprika sausage (½ link per person)
- 3 cups diced onions (1/4 cup per person)
- 12 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced ( 1 per person)
- 2 large green bell peppers, seeded, cut into thin strips, and halved
- 2 red bell peppers, seeded, cut into thin stripes lengthwise, and halved
- 3 small fresh hot chiles, seeds removed and minced
- 4 cups Spanish Bomba rice (1/3 cup per person) or Arborio rice as a substitute
- 3 fresh tomatoes, grated, skin discarded
- 6 tablespoons sweet Spanish paprika (1 ½ teaspoon per person)
- 24 large shrimp, shell removed, deveined (2 per person)
- 24 mussels, well scrubbed and steamed until opened, top shell removed and discarded
- 1 large handful green beans, blanched and halved
- 3 teaspoons smoked Spanish paprika
- 3 oz/ 80 g thinly sliced Spanish chorizo, slices halved
- flaked sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- chopped flat leaf parsley
- fresh lemon wedges
- aioli, (recipe below)
Heat the stock and have it ready on the stove top.
Place the saffron threads in a small bowl. Add the wine and set aside.
Heat the paella pan, or pans, and add enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan. Add the chicken breasts, skin side down and cook until lightly browned. Turn the breast and lightly brown the other side. Transfer the browned breasts to a platter to cool. When cool enough to handle cut each breast into quarters and set aside to use later.
Using the same pan, or pans, brown the sausage on all sides. Remove and set aside to cool. When cool enough to handle, cut into bite size rounds and set aside to use later.
Preheat oven to 400 f/ 200 c
At this point if you are cooking more than one pan at a time enlist a friend to help you stir the ingredients in each pan.
Using the same pan, or pans, saute the onions over medium low heat for a couple minutes. Then add the garlic, bell pepper strips, and chiles and saute until softened. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
Add the rice to the pan, or pans, and turn up the heat to medium and cook the rice until it is completely coated with oil and just beginning to
color slightly. Add grated tomato and sweet paprika and most of the smoked paprika and cook until incorporated into the rice.
Add the saffron and the white wine and sir into the rice. Then add enough hot stock to just cover the rice and simmer while continually stirring, being sure to release the rice from the bottom of the pan so it does not stick. Continue to cook until the stock is nearly absorbed into the rice.
Repeat the same quantity of stock to just cover the rice and cook, stirring continuously, until the stock is once again absorbed. Taste the rice to test for texture. Ideally the rice should be cooked until soft, but a little on the al dente side.
With that in mind, you may need to continue with another cycle, adding stock to the rice and cooking until you reach the right consistency for the rice.
Once the rice is the right consistency there is no need for further stirring. You want the rice in the bottom of the pan to develop a crisp base.
Add the browned chicken to the pan and push it into the rice until just the top is visible.
Likewise add the sausage, again pushing it into the rice until just visible. Then add the chorize partially pushed into the rice but leaving half still visible.
At this point add just enough stock to just reach the surface of the rice.
Cook for about 10 to 12 minutes and then add the shrimp gently nestled into the rice with most of the body exposed. Position the mussels over the surface around the shrimp. Tuck in the green beans between the shrimp and mussels. Lightly season the surface with sea salt and light dusting of smoked paprika.
If the rice is looking dry around the edges of the pan add a little more stock until just visible. Transfer the pan to the preheated oven and cook about 10 minutes or just until the surface is lightly colored.
Remove the paella from the oven. Garnish with a light scattering of parsley and transfer to the table while still piping hot.
Serve with lemon wedges and Aioli.
Aioli: makes 1 ½ cups
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely grated/ microplaned
- ½ teaspoon flaked sea salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
- 1 egg yolk
- 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 cup olive oil
- 10 saffron threads soaked in 1 tablespoon hot water
Place the garlic, salt, pepper, and lemon juice in a food processor and pulse until the ingredients are combined.
With the motor running very slowly add the olive oil. As the mixture thickens stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the work bowl, then continue adding the remaining olive oil with the machine running. Once the aioli is thick and emulsified slowly add the saffron and hot water until combined.
Taste and adjust salt and pepper to taste.
Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve.
I am hoping to dispel any misgivings you may harbor from uninspired encounters with tuna burgers that you may have had in your past.
But Canned tuna fish cakes?
Well, as the old English saying goes “penny wise and pound foolish.” Erring on the side of thrift in this case has its surprising rewards. Yes of course you could go out and spend a small fortune for the finest fresh tuna that money could buy. But, with a dash of know how and a pinch of tempered seasonings, a can of tuna can be transformed into beautifully light fish cakes that are every bit as beguiling as fresh tuna cakes or, for that matter, fresh crab cakes at a fraction of the cost.
These tuna cakes, topped with a horseradish sauce and crisp watercress, are wonderful just as are, or try them tucked into a toasted bun for a light and zesty sandwich.
Tuna Fish Cakes: makes 6
- 2 cans chunk white tuna packed in spring water
- 3 tablespoons minced shallots
- 1/3 cup finely diced celery
- 3-4 teaspoons capers, rinsed and drained
- 2 tablespoons finely sliced flat leaf parsley
- ¼ cup mayonnaise
- ¾ teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- sea salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
- 1 large organic egg
- 2 tablespoons full fat Greek yogurt (or sour cream)
- pinch of cayenne
- 1¼ cups bread crumbs
- 1 tablespoon butter + 1 tablespoon olive oil
- rolls, lightly toasted (if making sandwiches)
- several hands full of fresh crisp watercress
- lemon wedges
Carefully remove the tuna from the cans without breaking it up too much and place in a colander. Drain well and transfer the tuna to a mixing bowl.
Add the shallots, celery, capers, and parsley to the bowl and gently fold the ingredients together.
In a small bowl combine the mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, and lemon juice and whisk together until smooth. Spoon the mixture over the tuna mixture and fold it in until well combined. Sprinkle ¼ cup of the bread crumbs over the surface.
In another small bowl combine the egg, Greek yogurt (or sour cream), and the cayenne and whisk together until smooth. Spoon over the tuna mixture and fold in until evenly combined. Cover the bowl with cling film and refrigerate for 1 hour or place in the freezer for 20 minutes.
Spread the remaining bread crumbs in a shallow bowl.
With the tuna mixture well chilled, fill a 1/3 cup measure with the tuna mixture and place the mixture in the palms of your hands. Gently form it into a 2 ½ inch round cake about ¾ inch in thickness without compressing any more than is necessary for the cake to just hold together.
Gently blot the cake with a paper towel and then dredge the cake in the bread crumbs to coat evenly. Gently pat the crumbs onto the surface of the cake and transfer it to a parchment lined tray.
Make the remaining tuna cakes and cover the tray with cling film. Refrigerator for 30 minutes or place in the freezer for 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350f/180c
Place a medium size heavy bottomed non stick skillet over medium low flame on the stove top. When hot add the butter and oil oil and swirl the pan. When the fat starts to bubble gently place 3 cakes in the pan without crowding and brown for 2 to 2 ½ minutes. The cakes will seem quite delicate but they will firm up a bit once they have browned. Very gently turn the cakes over and brown another 2 ½ minutes. Transfer the cakes to a baking tray and set aside.
Brown the reaming three cakes, place them on the baking tray.
Transfer the tray to the preheated oven. Bake for 12-15 minutes. The cakes should be nicely browned and just slightly firm to the touch. Do not over bake!
Transfer the cakes straight out of the oven to a platter or individual plates. Top with the sauce and generously garnish with crisp watercress and lemon wedges to the side.
If you are making sandwiches, have the rolls halved and lightly toasted. Spread a little sauce on the bottom half of the roll. Place the tuna cake in the center. Top with a nice dollop of sauce and a generous bunch of watercress. Serve with the top of the bun ajar. Spritz with a little lemon juice, adjust the top of the bun over all and dig in!
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons full fat Greek yogurt (or sour cream)
- 1½ to 2 tablespoons horseradish
- 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- sea salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until smooth. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
You might also like to try Maryland Crab Cakes (see recipe here)