It’s finally warming up in Chicago, and by that I mean walking the line of below- and above-freezing, but it feels like Spring in Chiberia (colloquial internet term applicable for the next 15 minutes). And now, of course, I want pasta again. I never said my cravings were logical. It is still rather cold, so eating these kind of heavy comfort foods definitely satisfies in that deep, nap-producing way. In fact, I think I’ve mistakenly taken a nap every time I’ve eaten this meal. So, I guess this bears warning: do not eat pasta casseroles unless you can theoretically take a nap afterwards. My mom is probably noticing immediately that I’m reproducing a classic weeknight meal growing up: Tuna Noodle (Meddle, per our pronunciation) Casserole. It’s a midwestern classic, pairing up a bunch of I-always-have-this canned foods and egg pasta. And while the mid-century recipe of course provided my inspiration, I couldn’t help but elevate this to a from-scratch, vegetable-heavy modern version with a little more flavor and a little less sodium. It takes longer, though, so I’m definitely not knocking the original prep, which I believe was mostly dump, stir, microwave, bake. I promise preparing from scratch is worth it, though, and certainly not overly labor intensive. We’ll see if I can convince anyone in my family to go at it the “hard” way.
Tuna and Mushroom Casserole
8 oz. whole wheat egg noodles
1 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, diced
16 oz. white and cremini mushrooms, sliced
2 cups spinach
1/2 tsp. dried parsley
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
Salt & pepper to taste
1/4 cup flour
1 can tuna, ideally sustainably caught, drained
1 cup milk
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup breadcrumbs (or crushed crackers if you want to stick with the classics)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
In a large pot, bring salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook according to package directions, usually about 7-10 minutes. Undercook the pasta by a minute or two to maintain texture after baking. Once pasta is cooked, set aside.
In a large and deep oven-safe saute pan or Dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and saute until translucent, approximately 5-8 minutes. Add sliced mushrooms and saute until softened, browning, and releasing their juices, about 5-10 minutes longer. Add spinach and seasonings and mix. Toss 1/4 cup of flour over the vegetable mixture and stir until incorporated and no longer visible, about 1-2 minutes. Mix the milk and stock together and pour over the vegetables, using a rubber spatula to loosen the browning bits from the bottom of the pan. Bring the liquids to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low and simmer until thickened, about 5-10 minutes (we’re aiming for cream of mushroom soup consistency). Once thickened, add tuna and stir until fully incorporated.
Add the pasta to the vegetables and tuna. Spread the pasta mixture evenly throughout the pan and sprinkle breadcrumbs or crushed crackers on top. Place the pan in the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling and the breadcrumbs are golden brown.
Scoop into bowls and serve hot, being careful not to burn yourself on the pan handle, which I definitely did. Caution aside, this is the kind of food best eaten on the couch in your pajamas, so that when you’re finished, you can easily slip into nap position. It may be warm and heavy, but laden with as many vegetables as noodles, it’s pretty healthy nonetheless. It’s also horribly not photogenic, but don’t judge; it was good sustenance for our grandparents, and it’s good enough for me (and you, Brian).