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Oregon albacore raises casserole game

Pink shrimp season is practically reason unto itself to plan a trip to the Oregon Coast. Plus, I’m down to my last can of tuna.

What’s the big emergency? My family eats just one tuna: sustainably fished Oregon albacore packaged by Chuck’s Seafood in Charleston. Once you’ve tasted it, particularly the olive-oil packed variety, no other brand will do.

I’d been rationing the last few cans, but my kids begged for boxed macaroni and cheese this week. My concession to a more wholesome meal added tuna and peas, to which they heartily agreed.

Lest you judge, understand that this is Annie’s brand shells and white cheddar, widely deemed by food writers as the tastiest boxed macaroni and cheese on the market. Bulked up with Chuck’s tuna and frozen baby peas, it hardly resembles anything from a box. Serve it with a few french-fried onions or crushed potatoes on top, and it’s a dead ringer for classic tuna casserole.

My kids are fans of the casserole, too, and I love that it accommodates just about any noodle, as well as leeks, broccoli or even green beans. No potato chips? Use panko or crushed cornflakes. I dispense with the canned soup in my recipe, but this version from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette was developed with pantry staples in mind.

Tribune News Service photo

Tuna Casserole With Elbow Macaroni

8 ounces (about 2 cups) medium egg noodles or elbows, cooked and drained

1 can condensed mushroom soup

1/2 cup milk or chicken broth

2 cans (about 5 ounces each) tuna in water, drained

1 cup frozen green peas

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons butter, divided

1/2 small onion, peeled and finely chopped (about 1/4 cup)

1 celery stalk, finely diced (about 1/4 cup)

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

Large handful of potato chips, crushed

Smoked paprika, for topping (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 F and position rack in oven’s center.

Coat a 9-by-13-inch casserole dish with cooking spray.

Cook the noodles in boiling, salted water until al dente according to package directions. Drain and rinse noodles in cold water to stop them from cooking.

Pour noodles into a large bowl and add the soup, milk or broth, tuna, peas and cheese. Toss to combine.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter. Add the onion and celery and cook until softened, for about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Add the thyme and continue to cook until onion and celery are translucent, for about 2 more minutes.

Pour vegetables over tuna-noodle mixture in bowl and mix to combine. Immediately pour into prepared casserole dish.

Sprinkle the crushed potato chips evenly over casserole. Melt remaining 1 tablespoon butter in microwave and drizzle on top. Sprinkle with the smoked paprika, if desired.

Bake, uncovered, until casserole is bubbly and top is golden, for about 30 minutes. Serve piping hot.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.