Tuna Noodle Casserole

Last month when Kate and I were interviewed for the New York Times my conversation with the interviewer at one point got on the subject of foods from my childhood that I hold a fondness for.  Without hesitation I started talking about casseroles.  When I was a kid we ate lots of cream-of-something soup casseroles.  As much as we like to get “foodie” around here, those retro condensed soup casseroles are some of my most favorite comfort foods and I still make many of them for my family. One of my favorites back then was tuna noodle. I’m sure my Mom made it the same way lots of people do, with cream of mushroom soup and cheddar cheese, and potato chips on top.  That layer of crunchy potato chips melted into gooey cheese was my faaaaavorite thing.  We’d always conveniently scoop our servings horizontally, as to scrape off as much of the topping as possible.  Kate and I have gotten a lot of requests for a tuna noodle casserole over the past few years, and since one of my New Year’s resolutions was to cook more fish at home (seriously; lose weight, start doing laundry on a regular basis, and eat more fish.  The only one I’m totally sucking at is laundry.  I should stop making that goal.) I thought this would be a fun recipe to makeover.

Tuna noodle is typically made with wide egg noodles, but I like to use medium sized shell pasta because I like how it sort of holds everything together and the little shells fill up with sauce and veggies and bits of tuna.  I make it with bowties sometimes too and those work great as well.

Tuna noodle also often includes frozen or canned peas.  Have I ever told you I’m not a huge fan of peas?  Also commercials where they make babies talk like adults, but we’ll save that conversation for another day.  To freshen things up I’m using fresh diced onions, celery, and mushrooms.  It may seem like a lot of mushrooms, but remember they cook down a lot.

All three of these veggies take different amounts of time to cook, so I toss the celery in the pan first, with a little butter.  Once they cook a little, then I add the onions,

and then the mushrooms go in last.  Once the mushrooms start cooking, you might need a little more moisture, so drizzle in a little olive oil if you need to.   You can continue cooking the veggies until the mushrooms are as cooked as you want them to be.  I like mine pretty cooked down.

When the veggies are done cooking, you’ll take them out of the pan and then start a little roux to thicken your sauce.  Melt a few pats of butter and add a few tablespoons of flour.

Whisk it until it’s nice and smooth and then add the liquid.  I use a combo of chicken broth for flavor and milk for added creaminess.  If you warm both the broth and the milk before adding it to your roux it will mix up a lot easier.  Salt and pepper goes in the pot, as well as a hint of dried dill.

After it heats and thickens, turn the heat way down and add a little fresh parsley and lemon juice.  I kept the lemon juice in the written recipe minimal, simply enough to brighten the flavor, but you can absolutely add more to taste.  When I make it, I add quite a bit more.  Like sometimes the whole lemon.  But you should know by now that me and lemons have a thing.

That’s it for the sauce.  Toss the pasta in, along with the cooked veggies and the tuna.  You can really add as much tuna as you like.  I just add one 5 ounce can, but you could add two, or one of the larger sized cans if you want to load it with fish.  If you don’t want to make it with tuna, you could sub canned or fresh chicken or turkey.  I’m also using Parmesan cheese, but you could be creative and try out other cheeses.  You could go with the retro-classic cheddar or a mild swiss would be yummy too.  Whatever you decide, toss it in there.

Stir it all together and put it in a casserole dish.  Just eyeball it and pick one that fits- if you want a high topping-to-pasta ratio, choose a larger pan, or fill a smaller one nice and deep.  If you do choose a larger sized pan, you may want to double the topping; I make mine in a pan that’s about 8×8 so the topping is done accordingly.

Speaking of topping…in my experience everyone has strong feelings about casserole toppings.  So you can switch it up however you like; I sort of use whatever I happen to have at the moment.  If I’ve got a bag of potato chips, I go old-school with those.  I’ve found that kettle style chips stay a lot crunchier.  I also love a cracker crumb topping (as shown in pics); buttery Ritz are super yummy.  You could also do breadcrumbs or toasted panko.  Pick your poison, and then sprinkle it over a layer of cheese on top.

When it bakes up in the oven, the toasty cracker crumbs/chips/breadcrumbs brown up and combine with the melty cheese to form a cheesy crunchy crust on top.  Hands down one of my favorite things in the world.

Make sure to let it sit for 10-15 minutes before serving so the sauce can thicken up as it cools a bit.  Serve it as a one-dish dinner, or along with a salad and some crusty french bread on the side.


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67 comments

  1. Thanks for the great recipe! I really like the recipes with a white sauce instead of cream of whatever soup. They are so much easier to convert into gluten-free recipes. (And they taste better!)

  2. this looks really good though I’m not much of a tuna fan. I may have to try it with chicken though. I totally had to laugh at the baby talking commercial reference. I was just saying to my husband the other night how I hate when they make babies talk in weird adult voices. have a great day!

  3. So, this is probably going to sound stupid, but considering I’m six months pregnant with my fourth child in five years, I don’t think much blood is making it to my brain these days! Do you add the pasta uncooked, or cooked? I’m assuming uncooked, but screwing up a recipe puts me into a hormonal downward-spiral these days. 🙂 Thanks! You guys are the greatest thing!

    1. Haha, not a stupid question! If you look at the printable recipe you’ll notice it calls for cooked pasta- so just boil it while you’re preparing the sauce and it will all be ready to go about the same time!

  4. My husband is not a very picky eater, but tuna casserole is on his short list of things he absolutely will not eat. I meant to try making it for my kids the last time he was out of town but I forgot. Next time he travels I’ll try your version of it.

    And lest I paint him in too bad a light, he does almost all the laundry at our house so I will never have to set your “do laundry regularly” goal. We are a once a week laundry family because nobody wants to have to think about it more often than that. So everyone pulls all their laundry out to the hall on Thursday morning and on a good week I run a few loads through during the day. After my husband gets home from work he finishes up whatever I don’t get done. Then on Friday night we turn on a movie and fold it (sometimes together, but more often I am working on another project and he folds most or all of the clothes and we have 6 kids so it’s a lot of clothes!) and the kids put their clean clothes away on Saturday morning. It’s a system that works for us. Good luck with yours!

      1. Yeah, I feel no need to step it up. I just let him be better at it. I have other things I’m good at and that’s good enough for me. It’s all about economics — I believe specialization creates the most efficient division of labor and I don’t mind not being the laundry specialist. Ha!

    1. Try substitutin canned chicken instead of tuna. Your hubby could like it better than the tuna.

      Btw, this is an excellent recipe for tuna casserole.

  5. 9 years ago I had a horrible pregnancy experience with tuna and have never been able to make tuna casserole again. Your version looks delicious though, and just may be able to get me past my mental block!

  6. I love tuna noodle casserole! Of course, I wasn’t a fan of my mom’s growing up, but I like it much better now. LOL Luckily, my kids like mine too. 😉 My husband would definitely appreciate the addition of mushrooms!!

  7. I like your spin on tuna noodle casserole. Tuna casserole is one of my faves. We use cream of celery as the base. It also calls for pimientos, dry mustard, mayo and miracle whip, milk, cheddar cheese, and of course noodles and tuna. Our topping is torn bread pieces mixed with melted butter and paprika. It’s delish! But I’m going to give this one a whirl. Thanks!

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