Tuesday, September 21, 2010
I don't think I ever had tuna casserole growing up. In fact, other than summer fish fries in my Great Aunt Maggie's cookout* I don't remember eating much fish at all. My mom doesn't like fish if it tastes ... fishy ... which means she likes flounder if it's battered, deep-fried and served with Maw Maw's Company Cornbread and sweet mayonnaise slaw on the side. But my dad loves fish. He and I always check out the fish dishes on menus, and if there's some kind of fish, say, grouper, breaded with pecans, you better believe we'll be ordering it.
But tuna fish? Tuna salad? Tuna casserole? Neither of my parents much care for those dishes so I didn't really have tuna that way until I got to college. I think one of my college roommates made it occasionally, and now I make it ever so often. This is my favorite recipe so far, and it's the only one I've felt like sharing with y'all. It's flavorful and creamy and homey, perfect for busy, cool, fall nights, which are on the horizon. (I'm okay saying that word now - fall - because it officially arrives this week! Even if it is 92 degrees here today. Yeah, fall can't come any faster.)
I'm okay with occasionally making dishes and casseroles that have canned cream soups in them, but this tuna casserole is made completely from scratch. (I know that's important to many of you.) That's as it should be, in my opinion, because cream soups definitely have a flavor that shines through anything they're served in, which doesn't work for me when it comes to tuna. I like tuna casserole simple, with big chunks of tuna and bites of celery, and that's exactly what this is. Unfussy, family-friendly comfort food.
Tuna Casserole from Scratch
Adapted from Allrecipes
Makes about 6 servings
I served this with a pile of green peas scattered over the top. Since my husband doesn't like peas I don't mix them in, but I think that blanched green peas and shredded carrots would make a great, healthy addition to this casserole. These ingredients are reflected in the recipe below.
1 8-ounce package of egg noodles
7 tablespoons butter, divided
1/2 medium white onion, chopped
1 stalk of celery, chopped
1 clove of garlic, chopped
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
Salt and pepper to taste
2 6-ounce cans or packages of tuna, drained and flaked
1 cup green peas, blanched, optional
1/2 cup grated carrot, optional
3 tablespoons breadcrumbs
1 cup Cheddar cheese, shredded
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a large baking dish and set aside.
2. Cook noodles until al dente, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.
3. In a large skillet melt 1 tablespoon of butter. Add onion, garlic and celery and cook until onion is translucent and celery is soft, just a few minutes. Remove vegetables and return skillet to stovetop.
4. Melt four tablespoons of butter in skillet. Whisk in flour and let cook about a minute to remove the flour taste. Gradually whisk in milk, stirring until thick. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in tuna and sauteed vegetables (plus blanched peas and grated carrots, if using). Stir in noodles. Transfer to prepared baking dish.
5. Melt two tablespoons of butter in microwave. Pour into small bowl and add breadcrumbs. Stir to combine then sprinkle over casserole. Top crumbs with cheese. Bake about 30 minutes, or until gold and bubbly.
* My Great Aunt Maggie had - and still has, though we use it less - a covered patio in the back of her yard. It has a huge built-in fireplace, a sink and cabinet, several picnic tables, and a swing inside. We had countless fish fries and get-togethers out back, and some of my fondest summer memories are from the time we spent out there as a big, extended family. One sound I'll never forget is the cookout's screen door slamming, and the choruses of "watch your fingers!" that followed every single slam....