Since the 1930's, cooks with busy lives have been making tuna casserole as a satisfying, homemade meal. What could be easier than combining canned tuna fish, cream of mushroom soup, noodles, and topping it all off with breadcrumbs (or, in some cases, potato chips)?
A modern spin on the classic tuna casserole will make this a really special meal, bringing in flavors like capers, chiles, and lemon zest that complement the tuna. This recipe has always been a fall-back dinner for me. When my plans didn’t work out the way I imagined, tuna casserole falls in the backup slot, like the backup quarterback ready to jump in the game. The recipe below makes a nice cream sauce from-scratch, but a cream of mushroom or cream of chicken soup always work when I don’t have time to make one.
Why this recipe works: capers, chiles, and lemon zest are an amazing combination, especially when it comes to seafood. If capers are too strong for your liking, soak them in cold water for 5 minutes to pull out some of the brine. If you really dislike capers, substitute 1 cup of frozen peas for the capers or omit them entirely.
(if not making sauce, use 2-10.75 ounce cans cream of mushroom or chicken soup).
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus additional for buttering the baking dish
3 green onions, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon salt
8 oz sliced mushrooms (optional)
2 tablespoons AP flour
½ cup milk
2 cups heavy cream
12-ounce package elbow noodles, about 4 cups
2 5-ounce cans tuna, drained
1 tablespoon capers, drained and rinsed
¼ teaspoon red chili flakes
Zest of one lemon
2 cups panko breadcrumbs, tossed with 3 tablespoons olive oil
Chopped parsley for garnish
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees
Butter a 9x13 ovenproof casserole dish and set aside
To make the sauce: in a heavy saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat.
Add green onions and garlic and cook until fragrant, about 3 minutes
Add ½ teaspoon salt and stir to combine.
Add mushrooms (if using) and cook until tender, about 5 minutes
Distribute the flour over the cooked vegetables, stirring to coat all the vegetables. Cook for about 1 minute to cook out the taste of flour.
Add the milk and heavy cream. Bring to a simmer and simmer until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.
Taste the sauce and season with salt and pepper, if needed.
While the sauce is finishing, cook the noodles in salted, boiling water according to the package directions. You will want to cook them to the al dente directions, as they will continue to bake in the oven.
Drain the pasta and reserve ¼ cup of the cooking water
Toss the noodles with the sauce while the noodles are still hot. If the sauce looks too dry, add the reserved pasta water a little at a time until it looks creamy and delicious.
Add tuna fish, rinsed capers, chili flakes, and lemon zest to the pasta mixture and toss to combine
Place pasta mixture in the prepared baking dish
Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and bake, uncovered, until the top is golden brown and the filling is bubbly, about 30 minutes
Allow to rest 5 minutes before cutting into the casserole
Top with freshly chopped parsley and enjoy!
Pro Tip: this dish is traditionally made with elbow macaroni, but there are a ton of fun shapes on the market today, such as shells, cavatappi, gemelli, or radiatori. Have fun and play around with the noodle shapes, your kids will love it!