I remember the first time I ever had Tuna Casserole - and it wasn't at home. It was 1982 - and I was away from home, and competing in the very first ever Pacific School Games in Brisbane - in the lead up to the Commonwealth Games. I was 11 - and competing in a few events - the main one was 200m butterfly. It's a big race ordinarily, but for an 11 year old - it is a massive swim, and I had trained hard, and was excited to be competing at the level! I have the races filmed on Beta tape ( the one BEFORE VHS - omg) and if you don't know what Beta tape is -please just nod and pretend you do because what it actually means is that I am officially old and no longer that 11 year old swimming in front of thousands of people!
My Uncle and Aunty lived in Brisbane, so after the games finished, I stayed with them for a few days - and this is where the Tuna Casserole love-fest started!
My Aunty made it one night, and I ate it, loved it and asked for seconds. The next night I asked for it again, and so on and so on... When you are 11 and you find something that is amazing, you want it all the time! Suffice to say, she did not make it every night, but I did write her a letter ( old school with a stamp and all ) because back in 82, the internet wasn't a thing yet, and she sent me the recipe. I no longer have that recipe - but I don't need it, because over the years, it has become something that I just make when I feel like I need a food hug. It is my go to, and a happy place. I have changed things up - sometimes I take more care, other times, I just become a maniac and throw things into a dish - a bit like a MasterChef challenge - but the best part is - there are no rules!
Once you know the base, you can go anywhere with this recipe - make it without Tuna - use other meat - maybe prawns (oooh fancy...) or maybe you don't want anything but cheese ( oooh delicious...) Maybe you want to crumble bacon on top - um yes you can and you should!
Here is the base recipe - go forth, and create your own food hugs! Tag me and share your food hugs with me! #mammajofoodhugs
Base - The Mornay Sauce:
First things first - you will need to make the base - which is a white sauce - or mornay sauce. Once you can do this, you will be able to adapt this to a heap of other dishes and recipes - so get this part right, and you just changed your world!
A white sauce is basically butter, flour and milk - plus seasonings. Depending on how time or energy poor you are, you can go all out, or just standard white sauce - no frills - just delicious. This is that version - I will put some optional extra's at the end of the recipe - so if you need a little inspo to take it to the next level, I can definitely get you started!
For any white sauce that you want to thicken you will need to start by making a roux (pronounced ROO). Sounds fancy, but it's not - it is butter and flour cooked together with heat, and then warm milk slowly added in to combine, and thicken. I have even taken pics for you so you can keep on track!
2 TBSP Plain flour
Salt and white pepper to taste
1 Cup grated cheese (tasty is fine) -for the sauce,
1 Cup for the top of the dish ( a good melter like mozzarella).
(Whatever kind you like! - mix it up with a few - tasty, blue, mozzarella, Goats cheese - totally your choice!)
1 Large Can Tuna Chunks in Spring water ( drained)
Diced Shallot or small brown onion chopped finely
Small can of corn kernels ( or some fresh or frozen kernels)
Juice from 1 juicy lemon
1 1/2 Cups of small pasta shells - bow ties, spirals, penne - cooked to packet directions but undercook, as it will cook more in the oven, so you don't want it to go gluggy!
For other optional extra ideas - see bottom of recipe - but think Bacon, mushroom etc...
Cook pasta according to packet directions and drain - set aside - remember undercook it for now
Melt butter in a saucepan, then add in flour and whisk together to combine. You want to 'cook out' the flour taste, so need to whisk this for a few mins here - about 3-5 mins - it will start to separate from the side of the pan - see pic 2 above - and it will look almost 'dough like'. This is perfect! Keep the heat low to medium and stir around the pot. This cooks out that raw flour taste, and will give a smoother flavour to your sauce.
After a good 3mins ( at least) of stirring, slowly start to add in the milk - a little at a time, and whisk it while you do. This will keep it smooth, and lump free. By having the milk warm already, it makes it smoother again, but if you don't have time - just go slowly with the cold milk and give it a few minutes to get up to temp before adding more milk in. As you add in the milk slowly, it will thicken along the way. If you want it thicker - use more flour - or thinner - use more milk!Once you have added all of the milk, you can now flavour up that sauce! When I have time, I will add in half a white onion and cook it in the milk sauce - as it will boost the flavour ( removing it before it goes into the oven), but when I don't feel like it, I leave it out - easy - my rules - my way! Your rules - Your way!
Now the best part - Add in the cheese! Obviously - cheese is awesome, so make it how you like it! I like to add in a few different types - because cheeses all do different things! Stretchy cheese is a mozzarella - so go half mozz and half tasty - or put a bit extra in - maybe some smoked cheddar, or some blue - they will all combine, so have a play with what you like!
You can put the sauce aside now, and prepare the rest of the casserole! Basically - this is cheese sauce - you could just add pasta and it would be Mac n Cheese - #option2
Mix the Tuna, Corn and lemon juice together, and test for seasoning - adjust if you want more salt etc.
Add pasta with cheese sauce, and Tuna and Veg together and then pour into a greased casserole dish
Spread the second cup of cheese on top - make sure you use a lot - you want it to be cheesy and stretchy - so definitely Mozzarella here because it will brown and stretch perfectly! If you need to - use more than a cup - I will never judge you for that.
Pop into the oven and cook for about 15-20 mins - depending on how big your dish is - check regularly, as can brown quickly and you don't want to burn it! I always put the casserole dish on an oven tray to catch the overflow of cheese - and to avoid an oven floor of melted cheese - but you do you - please use an oven tray under your dish though... less mess, less cleaning of the oven!
Enjoy in a bowl, with your PJ's on, and know that it is a big warm food hug from me to you!
Options to Mix it up!
Bacon crumbled on top with the melted cheese
Breadcrumbs and herbs on top with dobs of butter - will go crunchy
Potato chips crushed up on top - will go crunchy too
Herbs into the cheese sauce to give it a boost
Broccoli or Cauliflower instead of Tuna for a meat free version
Fry off mushrooms and mix through or grate truffle on top
Drizzle a strong Olive oil on top when serving for extra flavour
Garlic crushed into the cheese sauce will keep the vampires at bay
Jalapeno chillies chopped and mixed into the topping will give a nice kick!
Keep me up to date with how you go rogue with this recipe! I want to share your versions with the world! #bringbacktunacasserole
Until next time