Classic Tuna Casserole -- American Comfort Food

Tuna Noodle Casserole
Martin Jacobs/Photolibrary/Getty Images
    50 mins
Ratings (42)

The quintessential American casserole recipe. Often the brunt of jokes by food snobs, this tuna casserole recipe, if properly made, is a delicious and satisfying, one-dish meal that those very food snobs might deeply enjoy when nobody's watching. Tuna casserole deserves its rightful place on the list of classic American recipes. Casseroles like this recipe that are easy on the budget rose to prominence in the Great Depression of the 1930s and enjoyed a resurgence in the 1950s.

What You'll Need

  • 8 ounces elbow macaroni
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup finely diced onions
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, diced fine
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 10.75-ounce can ​of condensed cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 7-ounce can tuna, well drained, broken into small pieces
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed and drained
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

How to Make It

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
  2. Cook the macaroni in salted water, according to directions. Drain, rinse in cold water and add to a large mixing bowl.
  3. Melt the butter in a saucepan and saute the onions and bell pepper over medium-low heat for about 2 minutes.
  4. Add the flour and continue cooking, stirring frequently, for another 3 minutes.
  5. Whisk in the milk, mushroom soup, salt and pepper, and stir over low heat until the mixture begins to simmer.
  1. Add the cooked sauce to the bowl of macaroni.
  2. Toss in the tuna, peas and 1/2 cup of the cheese and mix with a spatula to combine.
  3. Pour the mixture into a 9- by 13-inch buttered casserole dish and top with the rest of the cheese.
  4. Mix the breadcrumbs and olive oil until combined and spread evenly over the casserole.
  5. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until bubbling and browned.

Variations

Many recipes for tuna casserole made their way into American kitchens via food packages and magazines. They all are basically the same: a white sauce of flour and milk binds together pasta, tuna and other ingredients for a rich and hearty casserole with a crunchy topping.

Many recipes use egg noodles instead of the macaroni in this recipe. Some go minimalist with just tuna, the sauce and the topping. Some use cream cheese rather than cheddar and lose the mushroom soup. Many recipes call for peas, but some substitute asparagus. For an Italian riff, use Alfredo sauce rather than white sauce or add thyme, tomatoes and black olives. Add roasted red peppers and white sauce spiked with Dijon mustard or olives and capers for an updated version with penne pasta instead of macaroni or noodles.