Kitchen Comfort: TUNA NOODLE CASSEROLE

When this Kitchen Comfort recipe series began, a friend urged me to create an updated Tuna Noodle Casserole. Tiffany is a Tex-pat, a Texan living much of the time in South Africa, where she craves the comfort foods of home. My confession: It’s a dish I’ve never truly embraced, simply because I always found it too bland and gloppy from a lot of canned cream-of-something soup and processed American cheese. But with corrected ingredients, there’s no reason Tuna Noodle Casserole shouldn’t be lively on the palate. The recipe I’ve made over comes from my mom’s battered Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book — a 1976 edition of the 1930 original, so there’s no telling how much of the recipe published in the book comes from 1930 and how much from the 1970s. (And the variety of casserole recipes calling for a can of tuna was stunning: One was made with dried chow mein noodles, another with canned shoestring potatoes, and another was mixed with sour cream and white wine and baked in a pastry shell.) All of it just felt heavy and one-note, so I perked things up with fresh vegetable additions for added texture and color, plus herbs and seasonings to boost flavors, and good cheeses, rather than processed varieties, with a pseudo-béchamel sauce. For pasta, whole grain penne is a good choice, but rigatoni or farfalle would work well, too. And because Tiffany asked so nicely, I included green peas. On top, I skipped the usual potato chips and instead used crushed multigrain crackers mixed with fresh parsley and shredded Parmesan — which can be of comfort to us all, whether here or across the world.


Serves 6 to 8

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 2 cups vegetable or chicken broth, divided use
  • 1 1/2 cups packed Swiss chard leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup frozen green peas
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons dried Italian herb blend
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ cups milk
  • 2 (5-ounce) cans solid white albacore tuna in water, drained
  • 3 cups whole grain penne pasta, cooked al dente, drained
  • 2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • ½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup crushed multigrain crackers
  • 1 cup Italian parsley leaves, chopped fine
  • 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper, if desired

Treat a 9-inch by 13-inch casserole with cooking spray and set aside.

In a skillet, warm olive oil over medium-high heat and saute onions until softened, about 3 minutes. Add garlic, carrots and red bell peppers and stir, cooking about 4 to 5 minutes, or till mushrooms are tender. Add up to 1 cup broth as needed to keep moisture in vegetable mixture. Stir in chard and peas, stirring, adding broth as necessary. Season with salt, pepper, and herbs, stirring well and reducing heat to medium-low.

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

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In a bowl, whisk flour with milk until smooth. Slowly incorporate into the vegetable mixture, adding just enough broth to create a creamy sauce, stirring just until mixture thickens. Remove from heat and stir in tuna, pasta and mozzarella. Turn mixture into the prepared casserole dish. Mix Parmesan, crushed crackers, parsley and crushed red pepper together and cover the top of casserole with mixture. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until casserole is bubbling and browned on top. Remove from oven and allow to sit for 10 minutes before serving.

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