As a kid, on Friday nights, fish night for Catholics, tuna casserole was a staple in our home. My mom turned to a can of cream of mushroom soup, egg noodles and plain potato chips. It was tasty and enjoyed for leftovers. Old-fashioned tuna casserole is an American dish with a mix of egg noodles, canned tuna and peas. The casserole is sometimes topped with plain potato chips. It's an entree that is perfect if your pantry is bare, money is tight or there is a storm.
On Wednesday afternoon, I was going to make stuffed tuna tomatoes, but, blame it on cold temps again. A hot casserole seemed comforting, filling and healthful, with a fresh twist. Forget canned veggies and plain chips. And that canned soup? It's so last-century. So, I got creative and gave my mom's recipe an update. It's kind of a spin-off from childhood.
I recall one day my girlfriend had a birthday party lunch. Her family was down-to-earth and money was an issue. Her mother did not work; mine did. So, the meal was a tuna salad and homemade bread. Berries for dessert. At first, I thought, "My mom would have served homemade fried chicken and potato salad topped off with a homemade birthday cake and ice cream." But, once I indulged in the simple salad and warm bread, I got it. Sometimes getting down to basics is better than going elaborate with more unnatural ingredients.
Fast-forward to the pre-great recession days, on the South Shore I savored tuna casserole - the frozen kind. I recall in the colder pre-summer time, rather than hitting the kitchen and cooking, I'd pop one of those prepackaged entrees into the microwave and minutes later I'd have nuked a meal for one. I'd go back to the computer and continue to write for the money and wolf down my doable eats.
These days, I give food more time and keep it fresh as possible no matter what project I'm working on, for both my health and palate's sake. No, I don't catch my own fish or grow my vegetables (but maybe I will one day), but I do go organic and keep it healthful as possible. Not only does a dish taste better when you use fresher ingredients, it's better for the body and spirit.
Tuna Casserole with a Fresh Twist
2 cups rotini, uncooked multigrain or whole-grain pasta
1/2 cup organic 2 percent low-fat milk
1/3 cup sour cream
3 1/2 to 6 ounces albacore tuna in water, drained
1/2 cup peas, frozen, thawed
2-3 tablespoons red onion, diced
1 tablespoon Mediterranean-style butter
1/2 cup mix Italian cheese and parmesan, shredded
1/4 cup salt & vinegar potato chips, crushed
1/4 cup bread crumbs, sourdough bread
In a pot, boil pasta till al dente. Pour pasta into a bowl. Fold in milk, sour cream, tuna. In a frying pan, saute onions and peas in 1 tablespoon Mediterranean-style butter. Pour pasta mixture into casserole dish. Sprinkle with topping. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes. Pair with slices of warm sourdough bread dipped in extra virgin olive oil and fresh fruit for dessert. Serves 6.
Thursday turned out to be one of those busy errand days on top of swimming, dog walks, a vet visit and store run. Making a tuna casserole the canned way could have been a bit easier than adding fresh stuff, but truly it's worth the extra time and effort.
Motto: The 20th century foods were a mix of fresh and convenience. These days, it's best to go back to the basics and embrace real food.
- Cal Orey, M.A. is an author and journalist. Her books include "The Healing Powers" series (Vinegar, Olive Oil, Chocolate, Honey, and Coffee) published by Kensington. "The Healing Powers of Coffee" and "Animal Attraction: A Collection of Tales & Tails" will be released this summer. Her website is www.calorey.com.