Who doesn’t love a good casserole, right? Theoretically they should be easy, and once upon a time I was accustomed to the mushy noodles and flavorless sauces poured over some sort of meat and topped with cheese. And yeah, those are technically the basics to a casserole.
But years of hamburger helper and boxed casserole, “just mix, pour, bake, done” meals I had as a kid put me off on the whole idea of eating some sort of combined meal in a pan. Unless it was bacon-topped mac and cheese of course, and then all bets are off.
My husband and kids love a good casserole though. At first I tried to appease them with things like Shepherd’s Pie and homemade pot pies, but it wasn’t enough. One of my husband’s favorite meals is tuna-mac. Literally Kraft mac with tuna and pepper and a handful of shredded cheese. I can’t stomach it. However—– I could compromise. So thus was born my cheesy, melty, delicious homemade tuna casserole.
Yeahhhh whaaaaaaat! Look at that sumbitch. Nom.
The steps are simple enough, even a n00b like me can pull it off. It’s not a one-stop crock-pot level of easy though, so if you don’t want to deal with the mixing and blending and whisking, this recipe is not for you.
12 oz bag of Egg Noodles (last night I used the No Yolk brand, but this dish can be made with any noodles. Next time I’m going for the gluten free rice noodles because they are a huge family fave)
2 1/2- cups sharp cheddar (divided into 1 cup, 1 cup, 1/2 cup)
1- cup colby jack
2- 5 oz cans tuna (your preference. I used regular packed in oil)
1- can peas (though if you prefer frozen those work too)
3- small sweet peppers or one large red or orange bell (red or orange because you want the sweetness of the peppers)
1- cup chicken broth
2- cups milk (if you’re using milk alternative go with one unsweetened, like unflavored almond or soy)
3- tbsp flour
3 tbsp butter (divided into 1 tbsp and 2 tbsp)
1 tsp salt (or garlic salt as I prefer)
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp dried basil
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp oil (I would avoid coconut. We used grapeseed but any veggie oil will do)
1/2 cup bread crumbs
Start by preheating your oven to 425F, and starting a pot of water to boil for the noodles. (remember salt is your friend, so don’t hesitate to sprinkle some into the water). Next, lightly grease your (preferably glass) casserole dish.
In a small bowl, combine the veggie oil, lemon juice, basil, and pinch of pepper and give a quick stir with a fork. Drain both cans of tuna, then toss together with the lemon/oil mixture and set aside.
Finely chop the sweet peppers/bell pepper and in a frying pan, melt 1 tbsp butter and give the peppers a good saute. Feel free to sprinkle a little garlic salt (or even add in some garlic if that’s your fancy).
Guard any leftovers lest the small beasties (read:children) come steal them
Remove the peppers from the heat and let cool for a couple minutes. Meanwhile start a sauce pan on medium heat and melt the remaining 2 tbsp butter. With whisk, vigorously stir in 3 tbsp flour and continue to whisk for about one minute– until flour is a nice golden brown. Reduce heat and add in chicken broth. Stir until flour is combined. Add in milk and salt and continue to simmer and whisk until mixture becomes slightly thickened. This takes anywhere between 5-10 minutes. It won’t be pudding thick.
It’s almost a caldo de queso. Nom nom nom
Once thickened, turn off heat and stir in 1 cup cheddar and 1 cup colby jack. Mix until melted and combined. Don’t forget to taste, and if you want it cheesier, add more! Also remember a pinch of salt can go a long way, so if the mixture tastes bland, try adding another pinch or two and see if that boosts the flavor.
While noodles are finishing their boil, add peppers to tuna mixture, give a good stir, and set aside.
Cook noodles until almost done. A little bite to them (al dente) is never a bad thing. Drain and run cool water over them until the noodles are tepid to the touch. This stops them from continuing to cook, thus preventing your noodles from going mushy during the baking process. This step is important if you don’t like mushy noodles. (And seriously the word mushy is bad enough, right?)
Once tepid, pour the noodles back into the pot. Add in tuna mixture and desired amount of peas. (I added about 2/3rds of a can), and give a good stir.
Finally pour over cheese sauce and mix until fully combined. Now, when I first made this I thought it looked like too much sauce. I was afraid my casserole was going to come out all soupy and watery, so I didn’t use all the sauce. While it was tasty, it was also dry, so lesson learned. It may look like a lot, but it will continue to thicken and be cheesy and delicious when done.
Once the sauce is stirred in, mix in 1/2 cup sharp cheddar, give a quick stir and pour into your greased casserole dish.
While that’s setting (and this is a good step, let it set at least a minute) take the remaining 1 cup sharp cheddar and in a bowl, lightly toss the cheddar shreds with the bread crumbs. Once mixed, top the casserole with cheesy-bread mix, and pop into the oven for about 12 minutes.
When done, the crust should be slightly browned. Pull, set, serve. It’s probably wise to let it cool for a few minutes but we are savages and start digging in the moment it’s out of the oven. We have perma-blisters on our tongues. But seriously, look at this bad boy. SO worth it.
So there you have it. Homemade tuna casserole. No need for cans of condensed soup, and trust me, it’s way better than anything that comes out of the box.
Note: Before I forget, someone asked me to do UK conversions, so I will. I need to look that up because I can’t brain when it comes to conversions or numbers. So I’ll be getting on that. At some point. Bear with me. ❤ ❤ (Timelord hearts means I love you all a lot.)