Tuna Noodle Casserole is classic childhood comfort food. This is true even when I choose to forget that in my huge family of the 1950s/60s this consisted of sketchy tuna in over-salted Campbells Cream of Mushroom soup or weird school buffet dried out tetrazzini. I always loved it anyway.
THIS updated version , on the other hand, is memory made transcendent: excellent tuna, authentic bechemel, and lots of mushrooms laced with a bit of sherry for ooo la la. There are lovely egg noodles, of course, and a crunchy, sharp cheesy bread crumb topping. All this upgrade without losing a bake until bubbly comforting commonness and an ease of making that satisfies for an everyday family meal.
And the little baby peas? That's My Mister's required addition. He absolutely loves them in this. Decide for yourself. Our original hand written recipe (I cannot recall its origin) has a sticky note attached that says DONT FORGET THE PEAS!!, with a heart, in his handwriting.
This recipe makes a large casserole that serves 12, or 3 small 8X8 casseroles that serve 4 each. Individual ramekins are always a fun touch. It's nice to choose dish sizes depending if you are making all in one for a potluck or family feast, or sharing. Regardless , leftovers microwave nicely for many days.
I definitely recommend assembling ingredients for ease of pulling this together. You need a big pot for cooking the noodles and two deep saucepans, one for the mushroom mixture and one for the bechemel.
2 medium yellow onions, finely diced
9 Tablespoons unsalted butter
20 oz or more Baby Bella mushrooms, trimmed and sliced 1/4 inch, about 8 cups
4 teaspoons soy sauce
1/2 cup sherry
1/2 cup all purpose flour
4 cups excellent low sodium vegetable broth (or chicken broth)
2 cups whole milk
4 teaspoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
24 ounces premium canned tuna, ideally packed in olive oil
12oz dried wide curly egg noodles
3 cups freshly home made bread crumbs
8 oz coursley grated cheddar cheese or 4 Oz Parmesan cheese
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
2 cups baby peas (optional but recommended)
Preheat oven to 375°.
Butter your baking dish or dishes.
Cook onion in 3 T butter in a heavy pan over low heat, covered, until softened, 5 minutes or so. Stir occasionally.
Increase heat to medium and add mushrooms. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms begin to give off liquid after a few minutes. Add soy sauce, and continue to sauté until all liquid is evaporated. Add the sherry and bring to a boil, sauté until all liquid is evaporated, Remove from heat.
In a separate pan, melt remaining 6 T butter in a heavy saucepan over medium low heat. Whisk in flour, cooking, 3 minutes.
Your bechemel requires cooked flour in order to thicken.
Add broth in a slow stream, whisking, bring to a boil, still whisking. Whisk in milk and simmer sauce, whisking occasionally, about 5 minutes. Stir in the mushroom mixture, peas if using, and lemon juice. Flake tuna into sauce and stir gently.
I break the tuna up into bite size pieces before adding to my casserole:
Season with salt and pepper. This casserole will be quite bland if you don't.
Cook noodles until just el dente. Remember: they will cook more when baking, and turning to mush will not be a good thing! So: under cook the noodles!! Drain noodles and add to the full mushroom and tuna sauce mixture, lifting together gently to combine.
Transfer to prepared baking dish or dishes, spreading evenly,
A word about bread crumbs: of course you can use store bought, but the effect will be much different, kind of soggy. A crusty stale bread that you coursely pulse in your cuisinart will be the most superior option. Panko is nice too. Never buy "seasoned" crumbs. The best effect is achieved by toasting the crumbs or panko first in a pan with some butter, and maybe some minced garlic and herbs, until brown, put in a bowl and then add the cheese. This wil retain the crunch.
If you don't want to bother toasting your topping first: Combine bread crumbs and cheese in a bowl. Drizzle with oil and combine again. Sprinkle evenly over casserole or casseroles.
Bake until topping is crisp and sauce is bubbling. 20-30 minutes depending on the size of your baking dish or dishes.
Serve hot! Some like Tabasco!
And of course...wine!!!!