A Humble Dish
Finding the glory in Tuna Noodle Casserole
Daycare has been open for about a month now, and soon school will be too. At the moment, however, things are pretty homebound here, as they have been since mid-March. That means my attention and energy are still directed toward more domestic pursuits. I’m generally OK with this, but I do feel some pressure to get out there and seize the day, too. Such is our cultural bias – we value the work done away from home more than the work done at home.
Of course, this is a snotty attitude, but I think it also flirts with heresy. At its core, the Christian story tells us of how the ordinary is dignified, and that there’s a sacramental character to the quotidian.
It’s in that spirit that I’d like to share with you a recipe for the humble tuna noodle casserole. You’re surely familiar: a mélange of canned albacore, cream of mushroom soup, cheese and egg noodles. The dish is a reliable standby for harried and hurried weeknight dinners, when just getting a dish on the table that won’t cause too much familial whining is the aim.
It is, though, in this typical manifestation, rather unprepossessing. So, let’s elevate it, and make it from scratch! This recipe is adapted from Bon Appetit, another one of my go-to resources for delicious homemade food. You’ll notice the ingredients litany below is rather high-church in length, and you’re gonna dirty a lot of pots, pans and bowls, too. It’s totally worth all that.
Tuna Noodle Casserole
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
12 ounces dried curly egg noodles
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 medium leek, white and pale-green parts only, finely chopped
10 ounces mushrooms, chopped
¼ cup white wine
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons hot sauce (preferably Tabasco)
2 teaspoons finely chopped thyme
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2½ cups low-sodium chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream
6 ounces cheddar, grated
2 6-ounce jars oil-packed tuna, drained, broken into small pieces
2 cups potato chips
Preheat your oven to 400° and grease a 13×9″ baking dish with the tablespoon of butter.
Pour the egg noodles in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally. Cook them a minute or two shy of the recommended time – that way you’ll avoid turning them to mush as they continue to cook in the oven.
Melt half a stick of butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and leek, stirring gently until softened. Turn the heat up to medium high and add the mushrooms, and stir or toss until mushrooms have cooked down. Add the wine and reduce until skillet is almost dry, about two minutes; season with salt and pepper. Stir in the Worcestershire and thyme.
Melt the remaining butter in a medium pot over medium-low heat. You’re going to make a roux here, like a real French chef: deftly whisk in flour and cook until it’s golden and glossy, about two minutes. Keep whisking, add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and add cream, cheddar, and hot sauce; cook, stirring, until cheese is melted. Season generously with salt and pepper.
Gently fold mushroom mixture, cream mixture, noodles and tuna in a large bowl; taste and adjust seasonings.
Bring that mixture to the buttered baking dish. Crumble the potato chips over top – you can overdo this step and no one will complain. Bake it until bubbly around the edges and the chips begin to brown, 15 or 20 minutes.
You’re done! Well, almost: if your herb garden is in its late summer splendour, you could roughly chop some dill or chives over top. The zest of a quarter lemon wouldn’t hurt, either. Oh! You still have most of a bottle of white wine left. Pour yourself a glass. What a world this is, where such glory shines behind all ordinary things, where finitude brushes up against eternity at every turn.