Saturday, March 19, 2011

Foodnetwork's Community March's Cooking Club Challenge Is... Classic Tuna Casserole!

Last year I participated in a fun retro recipe challenge with other Food network community members, so upon learning that March's challenge  was once again the infamous Classic Tuna Casserole, I couldn't resist giving it a go. Although I had the best intentions to follow the recommended recipe, it's almost impossible for me to follow a recipe without tampering with it to the nth degree. So, guilty as charged, I substituted some of the ingredients found in this quintessential 1950's dish. Never a  fan of green peppers, I replaced them with the much sweeter red bell peppers. The recipe also called for canned onion rings for the topping, another ingredient I couldn't bring myself to use (and don't even get me started on the margarine which was replaced by good old olive oil). A crunchy parsley and parmesan panko breadcrumb topping was also the perfect substitute for the suggested onion rings. The evaporated milk was also a "no go" for me and replaced with an easy to make creamy Mornay sauce infused with bay leaf, fresh thyme, and the delicate flavour of Comte cheese....well worth the extra dirty saucepan to wash up. I also took artistic liberty by adding some extra ingredients like capers, parsely, mushrooms, and white wine. You have to agree that processed ingredients can't hold a light to simple basic ingredients.
Below, I've provided both versions.  What are your thoughts?  

Anna's Tuna Casserole:

1/2 cup panko crumbs
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Pinch of salt 

In a small bowl and using your hands, combine the panko breadcrumbs, oil, parsley, and parmesan cheese. Set aside the topping.

 Mornay sauce:
1 1/2 cups 2%  milk
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 bay leaf
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 cup grated Comte cheese    

In a sauce pan melt 3 tablespoons of butter and whisk in the flour. Continue to stir and allow the flour to cook for 1 minute. Pour in the hot milk,bay leaf, fresh thyme and continue whisking. Bring to a boil and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Stir in the grated cheese and set aside.

1/2 pound No Yolk noodles
2 cans 7 oz. albacore solid white tuna (drained and broken into bite size)
2 tablespoon olive oil
2 shallots coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cup sliced white button mushrooms
1/2 red bell pepper diced
1 cup frozen peas
small handful chopped Italian parsley (about1/4 cup)
2 tablespoons capers
1/2 cup white wine
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook the pasta al dente in a large pot with salted boiling water. Drain and set aside in a large bowl. Reserve some of the hot water to thin out the sauce, if necessary.
In a saucepan heat the oil; add the shallots. Sauté until transparent and add the mushrooms. Continue cooking for 2 minutes and add the peppers and capers. Sauté for an addition 2 minutes and add the wine. Add the frozen peas. Continue cooking for a minute or two to allow the flavors to infuse. Toss the vegetable mixture into the pasta and pour in the sauce. Stir to combine. Pour the pasta into a buttered 1.5 liter (6 cup) casserole dish and sprinkle the breadcrumb topping on top. Drizzle a bit of olive oil on the breadcrumb topping before baking in a 350º F oven. Bake for about 15-20 minutes to heat through, and the breadcrumbs have turned a golden brown. Serves 4-6

And Now the Foodnetwork's Version.........
Classic Tuna Casserole!

Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 31 minutes 
Ingredients - Yield 4
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable margarine
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 small green bell pepper, cored, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 cup sliced white mushrooms (about 6 to 8 mushrooms)
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed, dried thyme
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 1x12 ounce can reduced-fat evaporated milk
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • 1x5 ounce can light water-pack tuna, drained and flaked
  • 3 cups NO YOLKS noodles (prefer Extra Broad), cooked according to package directions
  • 1/3 cup canned French fried onion rings


  1. Melt the margarine in a large nonstick skillet. Add onion, bell pepper and mushrooms. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, for 5 to 8 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. Sprinkle flour over vegetables and stir to mix in. Add salt, thyme and pepper; stir again.
  2. Gradually add evaporated milk, stirring constantly, scraping up any browned bits in bottom of skillet. Add peas. Simmer for 3 minutes, stirring frequently, or until milk is slightly thickened. Stir in tuna and NO YOLKS noodles. Spoon noodle mixture into a large, shallow baking dish sprayed with nonstick cooking spray.
  3. Sprinkle onion rings over noodles. Bake in preheated 350-degree oven for 20 minutes or until onion rings and noodles are lightly browned. Remove from oven and let set for a minute before serving.


  1. I always love a good seafood casserole. Yours looks wonderfully comforting and delicious!

  2. I've never had or tasted a tuna casserole! I love your substitutions although I will confess that these days on my lower fat diet, I have bought for the first time ever - evaporated skim milk to use in place of cream and milk. Am I wicked?

    The casserole looks very enticing and now I am wondering - what have I been missing?

  3. Angie, actually not bad at all for a tuna casserole. I think tweaking the recipe really makes it so much more appetizing.

    Claudia, it's no exactly a dish I grew up with either. I was quite apprehensive when I first made a tuna casserole for a FN retro challenge (June 2010), but was pleasantly surprised with the results. Although I hadn't made one since, I was less frightened by the prospect of repeating the recipe for this month's challenge. Turned out quite tasty. Using white albacore solid tuna makes for a more delicate tasting dish.
    Great to hear you're still on track with your diet. As the kids would say, "you are going to totally rock" for your vacation in Italy.

  4. Your tuna casserole sounds delicious. My mom would make them every so often when we were growing up, and they were always a real treat :) I like that you put fresh parsley and thyme in yours, it must taste wonderful!

  5. oh yea, anna even i have this stubborn habit of tampering with a recipe....i shd have given you the sisterhood award from my side too :P

    lovely casserole...and i wish i had food community meetings to attend...

  6. Eva, I'm so glad that the recipe post brought back childhood memories for you of your mother's cooking.

    Thoma, thanks for the lovely thought. Actually just having you visit and giving me your feedback on the post is a reward in itself.

    The community I refer to is actually part of the site that I joined when I first started blogging. Anyone can join to be part of this online community. I've met some wonderful friends and can't say enough about the staff which is hands on and very supportive.
    If your interested check out there website at

  7. Absolutely crunchy topped tuna casserole!! Beautiful.. love the no yolk noodles too:)

  8. I've never tasted a tuna casserole Anna!I will try it soon, thanks for sharing, a warm hug...

  9. I like how you tinkered with this, you put this classic into a whole other league. Making this a second time around was fun, yes that retro challenge still brings a smile to my face. As for using less processed ingredients, I'm with you on that one. I made my own crispy fried onions, so tasty and the extras didn't hurt either. And I'm sure you can imagine that the margarine was replaced with a good ole heap of butter.

  10. This looks so delicious! I may have to try this very soon :)

  11. Malli, thanks for the feedback on the recipe. Glad you enjoyed the recipe.

    Chiara, it's not an Italian recipe, but rather a North American one that was also popular in the 1970's. I had some misgivings when I first made it last year. However playing with the ingredients made for a delicious meal.

    Hello Ava, we sure had fun with that challenge. Yum homemade onion rings! I'm sure if I had made them they would never have made it as far as the topping. How did you manage to have leftovers? Why am I not surprised that butter would find it's way into the recipe.LOL

    Thanks Jo. I do hope you give it a try....tasty comfort food.

  12. What a wonderful version of this classic...excellent!

  13. Hi Alisha, I never thought that tuna casserole would grace my dinner table, but last year's FN Community Retro Challenge pushed me to give it a try. No regrets as it turned out quite delicious. So when I saw it appear for March's challenge, I wasn't as apprehensive. I basically stuck to my own version,and it turned out quite tasty.