Anyone can be "the family chef". You just need good recipes and techniques! Chef Amy Fothergill shares her best recipes with you for quick and easy dishes with an emphasis on gluten-free.

Get information here about her cookbook, The Warm Kitchen: Gluten-Free Recipes Anyone Can Make and Everyone Will Love.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Not Your Mom's Tuna Casserole

The funny thing is that my mom didn't make a lot of tuna casserole. I acquired a taste for it when I lived in New England and worked in hospitals known for their all-American menus. Over the years, I never had it very often, especially after moving to California, but always liked it.

A few years back, I saw a recipe in Gourmet magazine that was a little fancier than the "boil noodles and add a can of cream of mushroom soup to it" version. I decided to give it a try. You basically make a really flavorful mushroom soup as the base. And then you add it to cooked noodles and bake. The flavor development is just delicious.

I decided to add my own twist to it as well as amounts. That is what you see below. Even if you sauté some onions and mushrooms and deglaze it with marsala or sherry and add that to mushroom soup, you'll get a much better product. If you look at the picture to the left, you may notice it doesn't look like 4 cups of mushrooms. I like to cook the wild mushrooms first like porcini, crimini and portobello and then cook the white or button mushrooms. Even if it's for 2-3 minutes, this technique seems to produce a browner mushroom because I haven't crowded the pan. Plus, those mushrooms are a little firmer and some times take longer to cook. I thought it might be too much information in the recipe so if you want to try it, adjust accordingly.

It may not seem easy (there are a lot of steps) but make it once or twice and you won't think about it again. Also, instead of tuna, you could substitute chicken or salmon; for the vegetarian option, leave out the meat. Don't have egg noodles? You can also use rotini or break up some spaghetti for a tuna noodle tettrazini. For the breadcrumbs, rather than buying something in a cardboard container, my local bakery sells dried crumbs which are definitely fresher than what is on the shelf in a store. If you don't have any crumbs, toast 3-4 pieces of bread, cool and then chop in a food processor. For an added treat, crush up a few potato chips and throw those on top as well. Wow, that's a real throwback to comfort food!

What I want you to gain from this is the technique. Making a quick cream sauce, even if you use low-fat milk, is within your reach. Just give it a try. And let me know how it came out when you do.

Amy's Tuna Noodle Casserole

6 oz dried curly egg noodles (a Pennsylvania Dutch style; about 3 ½-4 cups)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 tsp oil
6 grinds of pepper (or about 1/4 tsp)
3 Tbl unsalted butter, divided
10 oz mushrooms, sliced, about 4 c total-can use a combo of white, Portobello and shitake
1 Tbl soy sauce
1/4 cup Marsala or Sherry
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 Tbl all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken and/or mushroom broth
1 cup milk
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
6 oz can tuna, drained (I like tuna packed in olive oil but use what you have)
½ cup frozen peas
3/4 c plain bread crumbs
Salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbl vegetable or olive oil
Optional: 4 oz grated Cheddar (1 cup)

This tuna casserole has 4 components, any of which can be done ahead:
Cook the noodles
Cook the mushrooms
Make a mushroom sauce
Bake the casserole

Note: if you chose to prep the casserole ahead and refrigerate, you will need to adjust the cooking time. It is done when the casserole is bubbling and the top is brown.

1. Cook noodles in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Drain noodles in a colander with cold water and keep near by.
2. In the same large pot, cook onion in olive oil with pepper over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened and browned, about 5 minutes. If onion seems dry, add a little bit of salt.
3. Meanwhile, pre-heat oven to 375°F. Butter or spray with non-stick spray a medium casserole dish. Set aside.
4. To the same pot which the onions are in, increase heat to moderately high and add only 1 Tbl of butter and the mushrooms. Sauté, stirring only occasionally, until mushrooms begin to brown. If mushrooms seem too dry, add a little salt. Once the mushrooms are browned, add soy sauce and continue to sauté, stirring, until liquid is evaporated.
5. Add Marsala or Sherry and simmer, stirring occasionally, until evaporated.
6. Add 2 Tbl butter to the pot, allow it to melt and then add 3 Tbl flour. Cook for 2-3 minutes. This is your roux.
7. Add broth in a stream, whisking, and bring to a boil. Whisk in milk and simmer sauce, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes or until thickened. Stir in lemon juice. Flake tuna into sauce and stir gently. Add peas and noodles. Taste and season sauce with salt and pepper if needed.
8. Transfer mixture to baking dish, spreading evenly.
9. Toss together bread crumbs, oil, salt and pepper (or truffle salt to make it even tastier) in a bowl. Sprinkle evenly over casserole. Bake until topping is crisp and sauce is bubbling, 25 to 30 minutes.

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