I am trying to curb my embarrassment that I’m here today to share tuna noodle casserole. The adjective “fancy” in the title was used in an attempt to offset the various negative reactions I anticipated. Did it work? Maybe we can call it tuna mac and cheese and everybody will feel better about it? Feel better? Ok good.
There is health hidden inside this meal. There is a good deal of green stuff (but, yes, I admit there is a bit of butter and cheese too). There is lean protein in the olive oil packed tuna (and if you think “Eww, canned tuna!”, think again). One thing is certain: there are no freakish cans of creamed soups with endless lists of unidentified ingredients. It’s not
gloopy (I don’t understand why gloopy is not a word), just creamy, cheesy and delicious.
I’ve talked before about my obsession with high quality canned tuna (NOT that mealy, mushy water packed stuff) so it’s a pantry staple. One day I found myself staring at a crisper drawer of soon to be wilted greens. I was craving hearty, cheesy food and this recipe was born. I didn’t take any pictures, just dug right in, not expecting anything special. I was surprised to find the first couple bites exceeded my expectations for melted cheese and noodles (which let’s be honest is set fairly high, I’m a life long lover of a good mac and cheese). My mind was changed forever on the subject of tuna noodle casserole. I made the recipe again within a week, Matt was out of town, and yet I nearly managed to finish off all the leftovers before he got home. It’s hearty, sorta healthy and will warm you up on these cold winter nights.
So tuna noodle casserole brings us together today. It brings us together unapologetically to indulge in cheese and pasta with a healthy dose of greens too.
Fancy Tuna Noodle Casserole
1 lb of short pasta (I used large shells but many varieties work)
For the béchamel sauce:
1/2 cup unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
10 oz kale (de-stemmed and roughly chopped, a bag works well)
1/2 cup flour
4 cups milk (I used whole milk)
3-4 cups grated cheese (see note below)
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
5 oz baby spinach
10 oz canned tuna in olive oil drained
1 teaspoon salt
2-4 tablespoons parmesan reggiano (optional)
For the breadcrumbs:
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup panko or other breadcrumbs
Special Equipment Needed:None
Bring a pot of salted water to boil. Add pasta and cook for 2 minutes less than the minimum time specified for al dente on the box. The pasta will continue to cook in the sauce. Drain and place in a large casserole dish. Preheat oven to 375 deg F.
Melt the butter over medium heat in a large skillet with high sides. Add olive oil and kale, cooking until kale is wilted. Stir the flour in with the kale and stirring continuously, cook 2-3 minutes. It’s odd to have greens included in the step for the béchamel but it works and avoids dirting another pan if you stir the kale and flour vigorously before adding the milk (the pan will be very dry). Hold a whisk in one hand and pour milk in slowly with the other, whisk continuously to form a thick sauce. Reduce heat to low and stir in cheese, mustard, cayenne, spinach, tuna and salt. Cook until the cheese is melted and then remove from heat.
Pour sauce over the noodles. Sprinkle cheese over top if using. In a separate small skillet toast the breadcrumbs in the olive oil. Sprinkle over the noodles and sauce, place in the oven (see Note) and bake 30 minutes until the sauce is bubbling. Remove from oven and serve.
Wine Pairing: A chardonnay could work here but many will have oak flavors that will clash with the tuna and greens – aka vanilla, creme brûlée or any other baking/buttery flavors. I’d prefer a dry (emphasis on the dry) Chenin Blanc or Riesling.
Note: I used a 50/50 mixture of gruyere and sharp cheddar cheese but fontina, swiss or another easily melting cheese can be substituted. The casserole can be made up to 24 hours in advance and then refrigerated until ready to bake, however it may take slightly longer (35-40 minutes).