Thursday, May 6, 2010

Grown Up Tuna Noodle Casserole

I grew up in Texas where casseroles reign supreme. Mom was a casserole queen. Maybe because they were easy or maybe because they were just darn good, we ate a whole lot of casserole growing up.

These casseroles included:
*Gringos Tacos (dontcha love the name??)- a sassy combination of ground beef, cheese, Ro-Tel, corn tortillas, and perhaps a few other items that are slipping my mind
*King Ranch Chicken- a rich combination of cheese, corn tortillas, cheese, chicken, and cream o' mushroom condensed soup
*Chicken and Rice- a simple combination of Uncle Ben's rice, cream o' mushroom condensed soup, and chicken breasts

Sometimes I'm embrace my gooey beginnings and bust out a can of cream o' mushroom and make some magic.

Other times I hop on my high horse and make my own cream sauce.

This is one of those high horse times. Making a cream sauce is much like making cream gravy, so I guess I'm not as fancy as I'd like to think.

Let me have my gourmet fantasies.

Cast o' characters: all-purpose flour, fat-free milk, pound o' pasta, solid tuna in water, baby spinach, Parmesan cheese, butter, shredded cheese (I used a Mexican blend)

Begin by preheating your oven to 350. Then put on a big pot of water to boil, salt once it comes to a boil, and boil your pasta 'til al dente. Drain the pasta and leave it in the hot pot off the heat. I didn't take a picture of these steps 'cause I'm not into hand holding.

Start your cream sauce while pasta is doing it's thing. Melt three tablespoons of unsalted butter over medium low heat. Once it's melted, add about three tablespoons of flour and whisk vigorously. Clumps are bad! Let this mixture bubble and cook for 2-3 minutes. You don't want that nasty raw flour taste, do you?

(PS- you're actually make a roux here- pronounced ROO- and you can call it that if you want to put on your fancy pants).

Once the roux is cooked, add two cups of milk and, again, whisk vigorously. Clumps are still bad! Once the milk is fully incorporated, turn the heat to medium and bring to a bubble whisking all the while. This will thicken your sauce.

Once your sauce is thickened, remove from the heat. Immediately whisk in one cup of shredded cheese and one cup of shredded Parmesan cheese.

Sample your sauce and add salt and pepper to taste.

Add the tuna to the noodles. Stir to break up any big chunks. Make sure to use solid tuna- the chunk stuff is gross. The husband was on a tuna kick a while back and I made the mistake of buying a whole mess of chunk tuna 'cause it was on sale. Don't be like me! I ate gross tuna sandwiches for months trying to use up that junk.

Add the cheese sauce and stir to coat all the noodles and tuna. Add the spinach and put the lid for 5-10 minutes on so that the residual heat from the noodles and sauce will wilt the leaves a bit.

Dump the tuna noodle goodness into a 9x13 baking dish. You could grease it, if you're anal like that, but I don't. I'm a wild woman.

Bake in your preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown. If you're noticing a lack of browned noodles in the above pictures, it's because I ate them all. They are the best part!

Grown Up Tuna Noodle Casserole

1 lb. pasta
3 cans of solid tuna, drained
16 oz. baby spinach
3 tbsp unsalted butter
3 tbsp all-purpose flour
2 cups fat-free milk
1 cup shredded cheese, any blend/kind you like
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
Salt & pepper

Preheat your oven to 350. Boil the pasta in salted water until al dente. Drain pasta and leave in hot pan off the stove. Add the drained tuna to the pasta and stir to break up the chunks.

In a medium sauce pan over medium low heat, melt the butter. Add the flour and whisk to blend. Make sure to get rid of any lumps. Cook this mixture 2-3 minutes. Add the milk and whisk to combine. Bring the heat up to medium and bring the sauce to a bubble. Let it thicken- 5 to 10 minutes.

Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the cheese. Taste the sauce and season with salt and pepper as desired.

Add the sauce to the tuna and noodles. Add the spinach. Stir to thoroughly coat all ingredients and place lid on the pan to wilt the spinach- about 5 minutes.

Pour the mixture into a 9x13 baking dish and bake 30 minutes or until golden brown.

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