Thursday, March 4, 2010

Tuna Casserole Of The Gods

"I refuse to believe that trading recipes is silly. Tuna Fish casserole is at least as real as corporate stock." -
Barbara Grizzuti Harrison

It's cold. It's dark. It's been cold and dark for months. It's winter in New England, my Vitamin D level is low, I'm so pale and the bags under my eyes are so huge that I look like a fat Lindsay Lohan, and all I want to do is lay on the floor and watch crime shows until the sun comes out and it's at least 55 degrees again. I suck at winter.

It comes down to this; I love comfort food. Meatloaf, mac and cheese, beef stew, and mashed potatoes, and that skillet chicken that you make with rice and cream of mushroom soup all have a special place in my heart. So when it's February and it's gross out and I've lost all will to go to the gym anyway so I might as well have a glass of wine and cook something that is mostly carbs I turn to my absolute favorite: Tuna Noodle Casserole.

The kind of tuna casserole that most of us grew up with was made popular by the Campbell's Soup company in the 1940's, as part of their campaign to show that their cream soups made a quick and easy sauce. Do you actually know anyone who eats canned cream soup as soup? Maybe the Cream Of Broccoli but not Cream Of Celery and certainly not Cream Of Mushroom. It gets turned into something else before consumption.

My problem is that canned soup is terrible. It's got a ton of sodium, for one thing, and the leading brand has an ingredient list a mile long. Last time I checked, one of those ingredients was MSG.* It is also in my personal opinion that canned soup tastes like ass. I eat pretty clean, and it's made me hyper-aware of the taste of preservatives and artificial colors and chemical tastes as such. (This is not always to my benefit; such as when we travel and the only place to eat is Outback Steak House or Applebee's or some such strip mall horror and I just want to have dinner and not feel like a giant douche because I can't choke down my salty salty food with my overly sweet margarita.)

On top of this, tuna casserole is not very good for you. Most people make it with egg noodles (bleached flour, fat, cholesterol), the aforementioned canned soup, and Ritz cracker crumbs. Ritz crackers are a big giant fat and salt bomb. Crackers should not leave me wiping grease off my hands like I'm eating bacon. So gross.

I figured out how to make really excellent tuna casserole that has no preservatives, is low-fat, and is just as yum as you remember. It's pretty easy, too! Not as easy as opening a couple of cans and dumping them together but come on guys - you gotta work for the good stuff sometimes.

Tuna Noodle Casserole

1/2 small onion, minced
2 stalks celery, minced
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c unbleached flour
2 c low-fat or skim milk
2T butter or margarine
2T olive oil
1/2 c grated parmesan cheese
2 cans tuna packed in water
1/4 tsp dried dill
1/2# (half package) frozen peas
12 oz whole wheat pasta
1/2 c breadcrumbs or crushed crackers

Preheat the oven to 375F. "Grease" a 9x12 casserole dish with pan spray or oil and set aside.

Cook pasta according to package directions. While pasta is cooking, set your colander in the sink and throw the frozen peas in the bottom of the colander. That way when you drain the pasta, the hot cooking water will defrost the peas and they'll be good to go for mixing in the rest of the ingredients.

While waiting for the pasta to cook, saute' the onion, celery, and garlic in the butter and olive oil over medium high heatuntil the vegetables start to soften and turn translucent. Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and stir. This will turn to a paste-like consistency, and you want that. Lower the heat to medium and cook for one minute while stirring. Continue to stir and slowly add the milk in a steady stream. Stir and cook for another minute or two until the sauce sarts to thicken. Add the dill. Remove from heat.

When the pasta/peas are done, mix (in a bowl) with the tuna and sauce. Transfer mixture to the casserole dish, and sprinkle with the breadcrumbs or crushed crackers. Bake for 20 minutes, let stand five minutes before serving.


Jenn said...

My mom's tuna casserole had crushed potato chips inside and also on top. I feel like this may have been unhealthy but it was delicious.

I should make this though. I will try!!

Jennifer said...

I am pretty sure this is my meal for this week. I have almost all of that in my fridge.

And, since I got addicted to Jamie Oliver recipes (so, so fussy sometimes), this is actually not that difficult-seeming! :)

Chris said...

man, i eat cream of mushroom soup all of the times. though it does make a nice quick and easy sauce for fried pork chops.