Ok, so my mom never made tuna noodle casserole. It’s not a typical Argentine dish. But if you grew up in the U.S., chances are that your mom did. And chances are that she made it with a can of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom or Cream of Celery Soup. I have to admit, that when I was in my 20’s, I made it this way too. But once I started really learning how to cook, I realized that the can of soup could very easily be replaced with a homemade white sauce and I could add my own fresh mushrooms, celery, peas, and whatever else I wanted, be in control of how much salt was in the dish, and make something even more tasty and with no preservatives! Imagine that.
This dish is super easy to make, and requires just a tiny bit more effort than opening that can of soup. The beauty is that you can make it ahead, cover it and put it in the fridge, and then bake ½ hour before it’s time to eat.
If you’re afraid of making your own white sauce, don’t be! It’s super easy as long as you remember the Basic Bechamel ratio: 1:1:1 Yep, that’s it. You want equal parts of fat (butter, oil, etc) to equal parts flour. To that, you will add the same amount of liquid in cups (stock, milk, etc). For example, 2 tbsp butter, 2 tbsp flour, and 2 cups milk will make a beautiful bechamel. This is a great base when making any sort of creamy dish. Mac & Cheese – start with this ratio and add copious amounts of cheese. Creamed spinach – start with this ratio and add sautéed onions, spinach, and parmesan. I could go on and on. Always start by heating/melting the fat, adding the flour and cooking for a minute, then slowly whisking in the liquid. Make sure you bring it to a boil, then turn down and simmer till it’s thickened. It should coat the back of a wooden spoon and leave a trail when you run your finger through. Another way to know it’s thick enough is to run the spoon through the sauce; it should leave a trail for just a minute where you can see the bottom of the pan before it gets swallowed up again by the sauce.
To make my own “soup” base, I started with some sautéed onions and celery in butter, added some maitake mushrooms, sprinkled on some flour, and then whisked in some dry vermouth, homemade chicken stock, and milk. Once that got nice and thick I threw in the tuna, peas, and cooked pasta and it was ready for the fridge. I made the bread crumb topping just before cooking, because I didn’t want it to get soggy sitting on the refrigerated casserole.
With the casserole in the fridge, I was free to run errands, which included a stop for a margarita with a good friend. Then back home with 45 minutes till dinner time, I made my breadcrumb topping while the oven preheated, sprinkled it on the casserole, put it in the oven, and finished some correspondence while it cooked. What a beauty!
Note: this whole recipe makes a TON of casserole. I made half, which makes enough for our family of four with a little leftover for lunch tomorrow.
Tuna Noodle Casserole
- 12 oz egg noodles
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter plus more for baking dish, and 1 tablespoon melted for the topping
- 1 cup diced onion
- 2 ribs celery diced
- Salt to taste
- 5 cups maitake or other wild mushrooms chopped
- ¼ cup sherry
- 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 cups homemade chicken stock
- 2 cups milk
- Grating of nutmeg
- 2 cups frozen peas
- 2 5-ounce cans tuna packed in olive oil, drained
- 1 cups grated Parmigiano Reggiano
- 1 cup Panko bread crumbs
- Preheat the oven to 400°F and grease a 9x13 baking dish.
- Cook the noodles in a large pot of salted boiling water until just al dente.
- In a large heavy-bottomed skillet, melt 4 tablespoons butter over medium-high heat. Add the onions and celery, season with some salt, and sauté until translucent. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally for a few minutes, until they are starting to brown.
- Add the flour and cook for about 2 to 3 minutes to cook out the raw flour taste. Stir in the vermouth and cook for a minute. Slowly add the chicken broth and milk, whisking constantly. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, and continue cooking for an additional 5 minutes until the sauce has thickened.
- Using a microplane or nutmeg grater, grate in a tiny amount of nutmeg. Be careful as this spice goes a long way. Add the tuna and peas and stir to combine. Taste and add more salt if needed. Be careful with the salt, as the tuna can be salty.
- While the sauce is cooking, melt 1 tbsp of butter in a small glass bowl in the microwave. Toss together with the grated cheese and the bread crumbs. Set aside.
- Drain the noodles and add to the pan with the sauce. Combine all together and transfer to the prepared baking dish. *Note: at this point the casserole can be covered and refrigerated until you're ready to bake.
- Sprinkle bread crumb mixture evenly over the casserole. Bake until the topping is crisp and the sauce is bubbling, 25-30 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes before serving.