Cooking it Old School: Tuna Noodle Casserole

Chow on 11.03.12
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Photo: Kelly Rossiter

 I have an elderly mother who has been in and out of the hospital all this fall. She is home now, but still weak and unable to do a lot of the activities she is used to doing. I've been doing all of her cooking for her, packaging things into single serving containers so that she just needs to heat it in the oven and doesn't have dishes to do. Then she passes the containers back to me and I wash them and fill them up again.

I did this years ago for my grandmother (who lived to be 102) and I'm happy to do this for my mother, but I'm finding it a bit of a trial because she is a very finicky eater. It occurred to me today as I was making ten days of meals for her (I'm going to Italy next week!) that she eats, well, like a four year old. In fact, when my kids were four their palates were much more sophisticated. She won't eat garlic or spices and she doesn't like "things" in her food. She won't eat any meat that has the slightest bit of pink in it. She likes everything cut to the same size. Sound familiar?

I suddenly realized that the way to deal with this was to cook for the 1950's housewife part of her. Chicken pot pie, macaroni and cheese, cream of mushroom soup (homemade, not Campbells!) and perhaps her all-time favourite dish, tuna noodle casserole. I got out my trusty Joy of Cooking and I figure I can keep this up for some time, just trawling through traditional recipes. I thought I would share some of these recipes with you, those things that are out of fashion, because many of these dishes are what my generation thinks of as comfort food, because our moms made them for us when we were little.

I've re-written the Joy of Cooking recipe a bit, because I did everything in one pot. It always seems like cookbooks suggest dirtying too many dishes.

Tuna Noodle Casserole

4 tbsp butter
3/4 cup thinly sliced mushrooms
1/4 cup finely diced green or red bell pepper
1/4 cup finely diced onion
1/4 cup all purpose flour
2 1/2 cups milk
3/4 to 1 cup grated cheddar cheese
2 6 ounce water or oil packed white tuna
2 cups cooked egg noodles
1/4 cup minced parsley
Salt and black pepper to taste
1/2 cup dry, unseasoned bread crumbs
2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

1. Melt butter in a medium sized saucepan over medium heat until fragrant and bubbly.  Add mushrooms, pepper and onion and cook, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are just tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in flour and cook for 1 minute. Remove from heat and whisk in milk. Return the saucepan to the heat and cook, whisking, until the sauce comes to a boil and is thickened, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and add the cheese, whisking it in.  

2. Flake the tuna with a fork and add it to the hot cheese sauce. Then add the cooked noodles, parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. Pour the mixture into a buttered 1 1/2 to 2 quart shallow baking dish. Mix the bread crumbs with the melted butter and sprinkle over the top. Bake until bubbly and browned on top, 25 to 35 minutes.

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