Friday, June 3, 2011

Tuna Noodle Casserole

One of the first things I learned how to cook was my family's version of tuna noodle casserole. Since I started this blog, I've tried several times to tweak or re-invent the formula my family used, yet I keep coming back to making it the same old way. I think it's the tanginess of the relish and mayo... I kept trying to make it more savory, but I missed the tang. It's very simple, nothing that's going to wow anyone -- basically just tuna salad over pasta -- but to me it's a "comfort food." Plus it's super easy. And considering I have three kids 4 and under, easy is always good.

The one major deviation that I have taken from the family's traditional recipe is that I leave out the cheese. Back in the old days, the cheese was pretty much the centerpiece of this dish. It was almost more like a glorified mac 'n' cheese that happened to have some tuna thrown in. Since I went off dairy for my nursing babies' sakes, I had a hard time enjoying this meal for a while. Now after a few years off dairy, I believe I've gotten the formula down to where I usually enjoy it just fine without the cheese, but I will admit I do enjoy an occasional sprinkle of parmesan on top. So, below I've included the basic recipe and some additions that I like to toss in to make it more interesting.

And just FYI, this is pictured in a bowl, but it probably really belongs on a plate. But I mix up the tuna in the bowl, and I figure since it's already dirty I might as well eat out of it and save a plate.


1 lb. package gluten-free pasta*
3 cans tuna
1/4 c. mayonnaise (or to taste)**
1/4 c. relish (or to taste)
A few tbs. milk or rice milk (optional)
Additional veggies (optional, see step 4)
Approx. 1 cup shredded cheese (optional) OR Parmesan cheese to taste

1. Cook pasta according to package directions. Remember to salt water generously and rinse pasta with cold water after cooking. (This will stop the cooking to keep the pasta from becoming mushy as rice pasta tends to do, and it will rinse off the slimy residue often left by the ricey pasta water.)

2. While pasta is cooking, mix tuna with mayo and relish in a smallish bowl as you would a tuna salad.

3. When pasta is finished, return it to the pot. Add tuna and toss. (Using a fork will help break up the tuna and mix it in more evenly.) If you would prefer this meal cold, and if you added more mayo than suggested so that it helps moisten the noodles, feel free to enjoy as is. Otherwise, I usually add a few splashes of milk and heat until the moisture is absorbed and the noodles are reheated.

4. If you are not limited by dairy allergies (or the calorific implications of added cheese), I will say I always thought it was quite tasty with some cheese added on top. You may add it to your individual dishes if you like your cheese more firm, but I always liked mine totally melted, so I would add it in with the milk when I reheated the noodles. To be honest, I've been off dairy so long now that too much cheese kinda grosses me out, so topping it off with a little parmesan works just fine for me. I also sometimes like to add in a cup or two of cooked peas, and/or some diced and sauteed veggies. (I usually have just done onions, but things like peppers, celery, and mushrooms would do nicely. Ooo... mushrooms... I need to try that!) My girls are not huge fans of added veggies, though, so most of the time I just make it without any of the additions above.

*I've used many different types of rice pasta -- spaghetti, macaroni, penne, rotini... They all work.

**Use however much you'd normally mix with 3 cans of tuna. This is one of those recipes where I never measure anything. For me, it usually ends up being 2-3 heavy scoops with a tablespoon. Same goes for the relish.

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