Kitchen Takeover: Tuna Casserole
"Mom, can you please just hand me the egg noodles?"
"Jess, I really don't understand why you need egg noodles when you have noodles right there!" My mother helpfully points to a pot full of cooked spaghetti. "Less work for yourself! And it's all the same thing, you know."
"Yeah, you're right, Mom," I reply as I surreptitiously just grab the egg noodles myself.
It's Tuna Casserole night, baby!
Tuna Casserole always reminds me of my husband's first PCS to RAF Mildenhall, in the UK. The first food that I really missed was Tuna Helper. I don't know why, because I didn't even like Tuna Helper that much - but something about not being able to get it made it tantalizing. I obsessed over it.
"I sure wish they would invent a British restaurant, and just serve American classics like Kraft Mac & Cheese and Tuna Helper and Rice-A-Roni and KFC cole slaw," I told everyone who would listen. "Between the American military and the American students at Cambridge or East Anglia Poly, I bet they would make a fortune!" Yep - that's "Classic American Food" to an 18 year old.
My own kids have never had the joy of opening up a pouch of dry Tuna Helper powder, trying to reconstitute the dried peas in the skim milk sauce. I'm not a fan of the "hide the veggies in the food" but I really do think that adding as much fresh vegetables as possible - in the tastiest form possible - helps establish a household food culture of "vegetables are just food, and we eat all human food because we are humans." All families are different, but this food philosophy has worked perfectly for us.
- 12 oz bag of egg noodles (ignore your mom - don't use spaghetti)
- 1 lb cauliflower, chopped up
- 4 tbsp butter
- 4 tbsp flour
- 3c milk
- 2 tbsp butter (or olive oil)
- 5 stalks celery, sliced as thinly as possible
- 5 baby carrots, cubed as tiny as possible
- 1/2 white onion, sliced thinly
- 1/2c frozen peas
- 7 oz can tuna
- Tabasco Chipotle hot sauce
- Boil that pot of salted water for the egg noodles - egg noodles cook quickly, so start boiling, but don't add the noodles until the end.
- Preheat the oven to 375. Toss the chopped florets with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast on a cookie sheet for around 20 minutes - you want the cauliflower to be soft but not browned.
- Make your béchamel by melting the butter in a pan large enough to hold the noodles later, adding the flour and cooking together until it creates an unattractive clumpy mass. Slowly add milk (I use low fat, around 3 cups) until it forms an unattractive paste and then eventually a silky sauce. For way better photos and instructions for upping your roux game to the max, I recommend you click through the linked photo below.
- In a separate pan, add the butter or oil and sweat the onions, celery, and carrots (which I forgot to add) until everything is soft, translucent but not browned - remember, the more uniform everything is, the less chance that kids will start picking things out.
- Add the vegetables and the cauliflower to the egg noodles (which by now you have cooked and drained). Increase oven temp to 425, and then add the vegetable-noodle mixture to the pan of béchamel. Gently combine so that the sauce coats evenly.
- Add a drained can of albacore tuna and the handful of frozen peas, and let simmer until the peas thaw. Salt/pepper to taste at this point.
- Transfer dishes into a casserole, and bake in the oven for 20 minutes.
- After it comes out, I really like the smoky hot taste of Tabasco Chipotle sauce, but for the kids I add a sprinkle of persillade or fresh parsley!