Return of the casserole

tunaFrom Adage to Gourmet, casseroles have been highlighted as a resurging trend. Given the current economy, it’s not a surprising prediction. After all, casseroles almost always fall under the comfort cooking and budget cooking categories (unless you make the yummy scallop casserole from the Canadian Living Entertaining Cookbook which costs a lot to make but is worth every bite).

I grew up in a casserole-free zone. My dad didn’t like even the idea of casseroles one bit and my mother didn’t see any reason to rock the dining table over such a small bias. As a result, I didn’t make (or taste!) my first tuna casserole until I started writing my last book. I know it sounds weird but they just didn’t teach us about tuna casserole in chef school!

After a bit of trial and error, I discovered that adding a tomato-crumb topping cuts the richness of classic tuna casserole and makes the finished dish look tempting, too. I’ve shared samples of my recipe with tuna casserole devotees and they have all given this recipe two forks up!

Have you been making more casseroles in 2009?

Homey Tuna-Tomato Casserole*

3 cups (750 mL) short pasta such as penne, rotini or gemelli
1 tbsp (15 mL) butter
3 green onions, chopped
2 celery ribs, thinly sliced
½ tsp (2 mL) each dried thyme and salt
¼ tsp (1 mL) pepper
2 cans (each 61/2 oz/184 g) chunk light tuna, drained
1 cup (250 mL) regular or light mayonnaise
¼ cup (50 mL) sour cream
2 tsp (10 mL) Dijon mustard
1 tomato, sliced thinly
½ cup (250 mL) whole wheat bread crumbs
1 clove garlic, minced
¾ cup (175 mL) shredded mozzarella or cheddar cheese

Preheat the oven to 350F (180C). Boil the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente. Drain well and reserve.

Meanwhile, melt the butter n a small skillet set over medium heat. Add the green onions, celery, thyme, salt and pepper. Sauté for 5 minutes or until softened.

In a large bowl, flake the tuna using a fork. Add the mayonnaise, sour cream and mustard and blend until combined. Mix in the onion mixture. Stir in the noodles and transfer to a buttered 8 cup (2L) casserole dish.

Topping: spread the sliced tomatoes evenly over the top of the casserole. Toss the crumbs with the garlic until evenly combined. Add the cheese and toss to combine. Sprinkle evenly over the tomatoes.

Bake the casserole for 30 minutes or until bubbly and very hot. Makes 4 servings.

Makeahead: Cover casserole and refrigerate for up to 2 days. Extend cooking time to 45 minutes if cooking from cold.

*(Recipe excerpted from Dana’s Top Ten Table (Harper Collins 2009)

20 Responses to Return of the casserole

  1. Rosa says:

    I’ve always loved casseroles of any kind! That recipe sounds really good!



  2. Can’t remember the last time I made a casserole since my husband (tries to) avoid carbs and most casseroles rely heavily on pasta or rice. However, I think they’re great for pot luck suppers and cold winter nights when you’re out shoveling snow and don’t have time to attend what’s cooking.

    They weren’t a huge part of my childhood and aren’t on my culinary radar, but I can certainly see them making a comeback. They tend to be economical and people are pinching their grocery pennies.

  3. Shari says:

    This is comfort food for me. I SHOULD be making more casseroles and fewer frog legs!

  4. Barb says:

    We had an occassional tuna casserole at home, once in a while mac and cheese with tomatoes but as an adult I LOVE one pot dinners. I often have soups, stews, chilies, stir frys, etc. It might partly be due to the easier cleanup (done in stages and then only plates and cutlery) but for sure budget friendly and a way to cut back on meat and bump up veg consumption. I also need something to carry to work for lunch and a container of soup works perfectly.

  5. danamccauley says:

    Shari: where are you finding good quality frog’s legs? I know that they are not as easy to find as they once were.

    Barb, I’m a big soup for lunch fan, too!

  6. I didn’t know they were gone. (No one tells me anything.)

    People have been avoiding casseroles not because they are reminded of pot luck dinners, but because they are perceived as requiring a long time to make. (And who has time to cook these days?) If I list a recipe such as pasta, tomato, sausage, and cheese casserole on a menu for a class, no one will come. But if I call it lasagna, I’ll sell out. I think casseroles are still be made, but under different names.

  7. Heather says:

    I rarely make casseroles anymore as they tend to get complaints from the kids, plus we did so many caseroles for such a long time while our finaces were not good, so we’re kinda casseroled out. I still do the occational “lazy chicken lazagna” as I can just dump almost everything into the slow cooker and let it do most of the “work” which is nice as I often have kids running around me as I try to cook.

  8. Barb says:

    Good point Peter. I agree.

  9. Cheryl says:

    I never make them, but do have fond memories of a tuna casserole from my childhood. I’m printing out your recipe for old times sake, esp. as it doesn’t rely on nasty cream of mushroom soup! But 1 cup mayo? I have to say, that scares me. Any way I can cut that or sub it (even partially) with something else and not lose the creamy texture?

    My family is going to love this.

  10. danamccauley says:

    It’s a lot of mayo but how often do you make tuna casserole? Sounds like only once every 30 years – splurge!

  11. Cheryl A says:

    I LOVE tuna casserole! It appears here at least once a month.

    Last week at an estate sale I picked up the original Best of Bridge cookbook. It is filled with lots of casserole recipes, many of them that I grew up with. I’ll be back at work soon and I know casseroles will return to our table in greater numbers. Spanish rice, baked pasta, mac and cheese, broccoli and rice…

  12. danamccauley says:

    Mmm….mac and cheese!

  13. Diva says:

    I love casseroles! I make them fairly often, because they reheat easily and the husband often works late. Lately I’ve been using whole wheat noodles and the substitution has worked well. Mine tend to be veg-heavy and of the low-fat variety. My favorite contains chicken, broccoli, mushrooms and Asiago cheese. Delish!

    Add me to the list of those who have never made nor had tuna casserole … I don’t eat tuna. Funny, but not.

  14. Hélène says:

    I love those one-pot meals. So convenient. Great recipe. Thanks.

  15. Would we be more inclined to eat tuna-noodle casserole is if was called “tagliatelle con funghi e tonno”? Or “gratin de thon, nouilles et champignons”?

    I think for me, the word casserole conjures up an image of my mother in the 1950s combining a can of this and a can of that in a Pyrex baking dish. Back then, it a called modern cooking, and every responsible housewife who cared about her family did it. Today we call it “Semi-Homemade Cooking” and Sandra Lee.

  16. danamccauley says:

    Peter, I know that what you’ve just described is exactly what made my Dad squeamish about casseroles.

    One quick question: who is Sandra Lee? Is that an American reference?

  17. It’s a program in the Food Network in the U.S. He cooks just like the name implies. You can see some of it here:

  18. danamccauley says:

    Good to know! Not a program that really appeals to me conceptually but I can imagine it being super popular with a large segment of consumers.

  19. If I happen to watch it, I put myself into a SNL mood and think of it as a parody of cooking.

  20. […] “yes” to pie! Just like casseroles, pie is back! I know that since last October I’ve made more pies and tarts than ever before and […]

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