Side Orders: Tuna casserole gets a modern makeover

Anne Braly
Anne Braly

Tuna casserole, for many of us baby boomers, was a last-ditch effort at making dinner when nothing else was available in the pantry. And talk about economical!

When I was in my early 20s - with a husband in grad school and a new baby - tuna casserole came to the rescue on many occasions. I honestly can't say how many nights we dined on that mixture of canned tuna, mushroom soup, frozen peas and chop suey noodles. But one thing for certain, it was a lifesaver on many occasions.

photo Anne Braly

The thought of another tuna casserole makes my tastebuds shudder at the thought. That is, until I found myself with a can of tuna in hand and a recipe in front of me on my tablet emailed by an anonymous reader. I wish I knew your name so I could include it as I write this column, but you also wrote that you are a regular reader of the Times Free Press food section, so I trust you'll see this big thank you. Just as we baby boomers have grown up, so has tuna casserole.

A word to the wise, though. The recipe makes enough for an army, so unless you're planning on serving a crowd, I would advise halving the recipe. I made it when I was in Atlanta visiting my daughter and her family not too long ago, and we had it for leftovers for lunch for the next couple of days, adding a little more milk to the mixture to moisten it up a bit. But honestly, just like many mixtures, it tasted better on day two once the flavors had time to marry.

Updated Tuna Casserole

Butter, to grease pan

12 ounces wide egg noodles

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms

1/3 cup minced onion

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/2-1 cup dry white wine

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3 1/2 cups whole or evaporated milk

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

4-5 tablespoons capers, drained

2 (5-ounce) cans chunk light tuna, drained

1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt or sour cream

1 cup thinly sliced kale

1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup bread crumbs

1/2 cup finely chopped Italian parsley, to top (optional)

Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 2 1/2- or 3-quart casserole dish, and set aside.

Cook the pasta until al dente in a large pot of boiling water. Drain, and set aside.

In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and onion, and cook for about 5 minutes, or until onion is translucent and mushrooms are beginning to soften. Add the garlic, and continue cooking for 1 additional minute. Slowly pour in 1/2 cup wine, lower the heat to medium-low, and cook until the liquid is reduced by half, about 3 minutes.

Add the flour to the pan, and stir well to ensure all the mushrooms are coated. Increase the heat to high, and slowly pour in the milk, bringing the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium, and cook, stirring to avoid sticking or clumping, until the milk begins to thicken and starts to look like more of a sauce, about 4 minutes.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the cooked pasta, Parmesan cheese, capers, tuna, Greek yogurt, kale, thyme, salt and pepper. Pour the creamy mushroom sauce into the bowl, and stir to coat all ingredients. If the mixture seems a little dry, add remaining wine. Transfer the mixture to prepared casserole dish, and set aside.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Sprinkle in the breadcrumbs, and cook until fragrant and slightly toasty, 2-3 minutes. Sprinkle the crispy breadcrumbs over the top of the casserole, and bake for 20 minutes or until the top is lightly brown. Remove from the oven, and sprinkle chopped parsley on top. Serve hot. Cover and refrigerate the leftovers for up to 3 days. The casserole also freezes beautifully.

Congratulations to Chef Barron

St. John's Restaurant chef Rebecca Barron has been nominated for Best Chef in the Southeast by the James Beard Foundation. The awards will be bestowed upon the nation's top chefs in Chicago on May 6.

This is Barron's first time to be nominated, and it's also a first for Chattanooga as there has never been a female chef from the city to earn a nomination.

"It's an honor to be nominated," she says.

Now on the menu

Oysters anyone? Easy Bistro & Bar has been offering its popular $1 oysters - in the bar only, from 5 to 6 p.m. - for a while now, but they've become so popular, the restaurant has now expanded to include the $1 special throughout the dining area on Thursdays from 5 to 7 p.m. Also, Easy's popular weekend brunch - Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. - now includes NeverEnding Mimosas for an extra $12 per person. Easy is at 203 Broad St. Reservations are recommended. Call 423-266-1121.

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