one man's ceiling
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
  tuna noodle times 2: deluxe and easy-cheesy
there's a battle raging in our house, a quiet battle requiring elaborate diplomacy. it's all about pasta. my zuska doesn't hate pasta but the carbs just don't agree with her and she feels we can live healthier lives without the added starches. the girls are young and don't have the same issues; noodles are fun, and safe, and pretty much anything that comes with pasta is fine with them.

for me, i had a summer in college where i was once so poor it was all i ate. seriously. i would buy a pound of pasta on monday, open the package, and count out five servings strand-by-strand for my daily meal (weekends i'd splurge and have eggs with toast). each serving was tossed with a single tablespoon of butter, salt and pepper and, if i had any, canned parm cheese. you would think i would hate pasta for that reason, the way some people won't eat the "poor" foods they had growing up after they fell into some money. nope, still love it and could eat it three or four times a week if necessary. if i didn't know better.

a couple nights ago a tuna noodle casserole dinner was proposed and agreed by all, however zuska's caveat was that there needed to be more vegetables involved, somehow, because it tends to be more about the noodles and tuna than anything else when i make it. agreed then, deluxe vegetable tuna noodle casserole.

growing up in the glory days of post-war convenience foods, my mom's version of tuna noodle came straight off the can of campbell's cream of mushroom soup. tuna, condensed soup, frozen peas, noodles, tossed together and bakes with a crust (i kid you not) of crushed potato chip dust on top. my heart is racing from the mere thought of all that sodium. we ate it, it tasted okay, i had no idea that tuna noodle was supposed to taste like anything else.

a few years back i realized i hadn't really explored the possibilities of the classic tuna noodle and played around with the kinds of things i was interested in. after a couple of laborious recipes from various sources i took a look at the things i liked and developed the following.

easy-cheesy tuna noodle casserole cook the noodles according to the directions on the package. turn off burner, drain and rinse.
in the still-warm pasta pot dump the sour cream, allowing some to remain in the container. place the pot back on the warm burner and add the tuna, peas and corn, stirring until mixed.
in the sour cream container add the soy sauce, paprika, flour and half the parmesan cheese. put the lid back on and shake to mix. you might need to whisk it a bit to get the flour blended.
add the mixed ingredients to the sour cream in the pot and turn the burner on to medium low, stirring occasionaly until frozen veggies are cooked.
dump the pasta back in the pot and mix.
add pepper and parsley to taste.

from here you can serve as-is with a little parm on the individual servings, or put it in a casserole dish and bake in a 375 degree oven until the top browns and crusts a bit, maybe 30 to 40 minutes. you can also cool it, wrap it up and freeze it for up to a week, adding 20 minutes to the cooking time if moving from freezer to oven.

nothing fancy, almost a little embarrassing to admit i serve that to people i love, but it's basic, tastes good, is easy and... uh... uses enough sour cream that no one in the house really cares.

except for this week.

this week i had to come up with something a little more nutritionally substantive. onward to:

deluxe tuna noodle casserole preheat oven to 375 degrees.
in a medium saucepan saute the mushrooms, onion and celery in olive oil until they start to get soft, around 3 to 5 minutes.
add the tuna, frozen vegetables, soy sauce, garlic and mushroom soup, stir to mix, and heat on medium low.
cook the egg noodles until almost done, drain and rinse.
taste the sauce, adding pepper and hot sauce to taste. more garlic isn't a bad thing either.
add half the jack cheese to the sauce and stir to mix.
return the noodles to their cooking pot and add the sauce to mix.
pour into a 9 by 12 baking or large casserole dish.
top with remaining cheese and bread crumbs (if using) and pop it in the oven.
20 to 30 minutes later -- or when the top is browned and crusty -- remove and serve.

obviously there's a lot more work involved in this version, and a lot more dirty dishes. i also missed that tang of sour cream from my easy version, so next time i'm cutting the mushroom soup in half and adding 16 oz. of sour cream instead. it's still a pasta dish, not the most diet-friendly at that, but it is, after all, a tuna noodle casserole.

some things just are what they are.
Oh. My god. that first recipe nearly gave me a heart attack. Although, I concede that that is the type of fare I might serve company - what they don't know won't hurt them. But FOUR CANS? Jesus, man. And we won't discuss the sour cream. But may I contribute a recipe of my own - if you wanna go healthy and enjoy some pasta -

Marinate some really nice tuna steaks in:
soy sauce
rice vinegar
brown sugar
grated ginger
sesame oil

Blacken/grill till medium rare, slice and serve over:

vermicelli tossed with sunflower oil and soy sauce

your favorite veg stir fried with garlic, ginger, hot chili and scallions.

Garnish with snipped chives. (if you're like me and are obsessed with presentation)

It looks posh and is dead easy, I'd serve it to company! and if you are avoiding wheat ( I try to) I bet bean threads would be very nice with it.
an excellent menu idea you have given me for next week! thank you.

as for the tuna, we're talking small 4.5 oz. cans -- all of 18 oz. divided four ways! with leftovers! (we ain't pigs).

and while i admit it isn't the best recipe, it isn't as heart-attack-on-a-plate as it seems.
I'm sure I would eat it and ask for more, make no mistake. Btw, I may have misrepresented myself - one can eat as many cans of tuna as one likes (unless pregnant of course.) Tuna is great like that - you can have the supermode-in-new york way or the at-home-in-Berkeley way...
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