Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Grandma T's Tuna Casserole

My husband and I are polar opposites where food is concerned. The first year that we were dating he would not eat my cooking unless it was something he readily recognized.  If I did anything new or exciting (read: anything I cooked) he would look at it with the 'who farted?' face and say "I'll just get some Taco Bell on the way home."  I do not think he realized just how insulting that was, the fact that he would rather eat TACO...FRICKIN...BELL.  The memory makes me want to stab his pillow...but I digress.  Eventually he bought a house, and because he was too poor to afford a fast food alternative, the man started eating my cooking.  What do you know?  He liked it (most of it)!
Eventually (as I began to like him more) I started tailoring my style to suit his taste.  I like to think the delta between us has to do with where we grew up.  My husband is a small town mid-western boy with a palate for simple, All-American flavors.  I was born and raised just outside a diverse south-eastern city which provided me with exposure to a wide range of food.  More importantly, my neighbors directly across the street were and still are some of the most awesome Greek people ever. I spent many a mealtime at their table.  (I will do an entire post on that at a later date.  The wife shaped many of my attitudes about cooking and my passion for food.)  Add to that the fact that my folks are from the deep south...deep....and you have a culinary cross section that sets the All-American flavor profile on fire...then gives it a wedgie for good measure.

Finding a compromise has taken time, and is still a work in progress.  I agreed to stop putting garlic in everything, and he learned to appreciate the finer points of collard greens.  I still can not get him to warm up to grits (or hummus), and I just can't wrap my brain around King Ranch Chicken (Fritos and cream of chicken soup? But...just...why?).  Seriously, I don't get it.  After we were married I struck a blow for diplomacy by learning some of the recipes from his childhood.  I added a disclaimer that they would never...ever taste exactly like Grandma used to make...ever, but I would do my best to remain faithful to the recipe.  That last part was a lie because I can never strictly follow a recipe... it hurts us, my Precious.

Thank-you to my SiL for relaying this recipe to me over the phone, unfortunately for everyone it is all rough estimates.  I made it yesterday for dinner and forgot to whip out the measuring cups (hey! I'm still new to this blog thing...I'll get better!) but it is not a hard dish to feel your way through.  Honest.

These should have been in the ingredients picture but... I have no excuse at this time.

Grandma T's Tuna Casserole 

  • 20 oz Canned Tuna Fish, Drained (albacore or plain ol' tuna, it is up to you)
  • 1/2 Box Elbow Macaroni 
  • 1 Cup Shredded White Cheddar or Monterrey Jack Cheese
  • 1 Stick Butter
  • 4 Tbs Flour
  • 3 - 4 Cups Milk
  • 6 Yellow or White 'Cheese' Slices  (pasteurized cheese food *cringe*)
  • 1 1/2 Cups Corn Flakes
  • Onion Flakes
  • Salt 
  • Pepper
  • Onion Powder (optional)
  • Parsley
This recipe is basically a tuna-pasta mix covered with bechamel sauce, which means it is perfect for experimentation an adaptation.  Flavor the white sauce with whatever turns you on, I like to add a little onion powder and at times a bit of white pepper.  I would take it further but my husband protests vehemently.  One day I will add peas and day.

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees

2. Prepare the macaroni according to the instructions on the box but be sure to cook al dente to avoid mushy pasta after the casserole is cooked.  Sprinkle water with a hand full of onion flakes before bringing to a boil.

3.  Melt butter in a medium sauce pan over medium-high heat.  Meanwhile, pour tuna into a colander and let it drain while preparing the bechamel.

4. When the butter is melted (do NOT let it brown) whisk in flour, stirring constantly.  The flour is an estimate, add enough to absorb the butter and then add in milk.  Now, bechamel instructions tell you to heat the milk before adding but I just pour it in cold.  Add it -slowly- and whisk until smooth.  Bring to a boil and cook for five minutes, stirring constantly so the bottom does not burn.  Season with salt and pepper to taste (or whatever else you want.  Nutmeg is a good addition too.) Remove from heat and set aside.

5. When the macaroni is done, drain, then toss with tuna and cheese.  Again, the amount of cheese is up to you.  The original recipe had none, but I like the little flavor pop it adds.  Keep in mind that too much cheese will make your casserole greasy.

6. Pour tuna mix into a 9x13 pan and top with white sauce.  Lay cheese slices (sans plastic wrap, please) on top and then sprinkle with crushed corn flakes (I just put the cereal in a Ziploc bag and smash it with a rolling pin until it calls me 'Momma', but that's me).  Finish off the casserole with a light dusting of dried parsley.

7. Put in the oven for 30 minutes or until brown and bubbly.  This recipe is great for make ahead meals.  I have often constructed it the night before then tucked it into the refrigerator so I could just heat and eat the next day.

Now...this recipe is yours, do what you will with it.   But above all....enjoy.


  1. Hello.

    So... I used chicken instead of tuna. and whole wheat pasta elbows. (Hey, DH bought those in a health-food moment.) and I put the pepper and onion and then I added garlic and then I got carried away and added oregano and thyme and .. something else, can't remember what, but it smells good, and then I got buck wild and added a can of what I thought were going to be green peas but they were green beans oops and then I added some mixed vegetables which I think was a mistake because they have potatoes in 'em and seriously, that was unnecessary, but whatever, and I didn't have the white chedder or jack cheese but I did have a big ol' block of mild yellow cheddar so I set Thing 1 to shredding that, and I didn't have corn flakes, so I used squished up whole wheat saltines, and I didn't have a 9x12 so I used a casserole instead...

    we might order pizza.

  2. I know who you are... and if you get a flaming poo bag delivered to your doorstep, it was not from me.

  3. Someone pointed out on FB that 3-4 cups of milk seems like a lot. It very well may be, so start with 2 and work your way up. As I stated before, I typically do not measure, just pour till it is cream saucy. Keep in mind that it will thicken as it cooks, so you want the sauce on the thinner side before it boils. If anyone tries it, and 3-4 is way over, please let me know and I will update the recipe. I <3 feedback... helpful feedback.