I love nostalgic recipes that remind me of my mother and childhood. Growing up in the fifties or sixties, Tuna Noodle Casserole was a familiar staple my Mom shared with her family, perfect comfort food. My Mom, an excellent cook, typically prepared fresh dinners, even she had a recipe for Tuna Noodle casserole that yes included Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup. My Mom, first-generation Italian, considered herself a modern American wife and mother.
I made Tuna Noodle Casserole for my family but cut down on fat and salt by making my own sauce. And although some great recipes top the casserole with crushed potato chips, I prefer plain panko bread crumbs, and I add thyme and lemon zest.
I use a dutch oven for cooking the veggies and for baking the casserole in the oven. I like Le Creuset, but there are many excellent manufactures of the dutch oven.
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
8 oz. sliced mushrooms
1 cup asparagus cut into 2-in pieces
1 teaspoon of sea salt
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup half and half
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
12 ounces wide egg noodles
1 cup coarsely grated Gruyère cheese (about 4 ounces)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme, divided
2 5- to 6-ounce cans Italian tuna packed in olive oil), drained, broken into 1/2-inch chunks
1 1/2 cup plain panko bread crumbs
2 teaspoon lemon zest
Melt unsalted butter in heavy dutch over medium heat. Add mushrooms and asparagus to saucepan; sprinkle with sea salt. Cover the pan and cook until vegetables are tender but not brown, frequently stirring, about 8 minutes. Add flour; stir 1 minute. Gradually add milk and half and half; simmer until mixture thickens slightly, frequently stirring, about 5 minutes. Stir in lemon juice. Season sauce with 1 teaspoon sea salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Remove sauce from heat.
Meanwhile, cook egg noodles in a large pot of boiling salted water until tender, stirring occasionally. Drain noodles, reserving 3/4 cup noodle cooking liquid. Add noodles to the sauce and combine. Add grated Gruyère cheese and thyme and stir to blend; add reserved noodle cooking liquid by tablespoons until mixture is moist and creamy (about 1/4 -1/2 cup). Fold in tuna, including oil.
DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cool slightly. Chill uncovered until cold, then cover with foil and keep refrigerated.
Preheat oven to 375°F. Bake noodle casserole, covered with foil, until heated through, about 20 minutes if freshly made or 30 minutes if chilled. Remove foil. Sprinkle panko bread crumbs, lemon zest and 1 tablespoon thyme over and continue to bake, uncovered, until the top is golden brown and filling bubbles, about 10 minutes longer. Serve hot.