Tuna Casserole - Comfort Food and Budget Bombshell
Peas, Petite, Frozen
1 small, or 1 cup diced
Tuna, Light, Water Packed
Butter crackers (Ritz)
Cheddar Cheese, Sharp
Casserole Total Cost
Tuna Noodle Casserole
Not long ago a friend of mine told me he was eating “tuna, peas and mac and cheese”. Oh, ‘tuna casserole?’ I asked. “No – just tuna, peas and mac and cheese”. EWWW! When I told him I could make it the right way, he said “yeah, but you’d use only the best ingredients, and that blows the budget”. He explained that it was a dish that came out of the early years of their marriage, when the grocery money had to stretch to cover the very most. He also admitted that his awesome wife “wasn’t real fond of it”.
Now wait a minute. This happens to hit something that is at the very core of my culinary philosophy. I am a single mom with four children. I KNOW what it means to make a dollar stretch until squeaks. Sure I skip all the packaged stuff. I take time to make things from scratch. I don’t ever buy convenience foods. And I do it on purpose. Homemade and scratch means that not only do things taste better, but they cost less. There are a very few exceptions to this, but only a very few.
This is why I love to preach method and technique over recipes. Knowing the methods sets you free – not just in the kitchen, but also with your grocery budget. Once you understand your ingredients and how to make each one work, you’ll be free to take advantage of every sale you come across. You can adapt what you know how to do to what is fresh and inexpensive. Sure it takes time and effort. BUT…
How much extra time is spent at work to cover the increased cost of packaged, convenience or restaurant foods? I don’t think an extra couple hours of planning or cooking is a very high price to pay at all when you consider the benefits. Fresh food, higher quality, increased health and nutrition, and complete control of our dietary intake. That’s a given right there.
So I took a twofold challenge with Tuna Casserole. I wanted to do several things. I wanted to show the traditional comfort food that few of us admit to loving. But we do. I wanted to show that nearly the same ingredients my friend used could be used in a ‘scratch’ version – so that the flavors rocked, and it was something his poor wife might actually want to eat – not to mention the kids. This is the version my mother, grandmother and HER mother made - so this one is the beloved standard. My daughter cooked with me, so it's proven for five generations. Not bad there. And I also wanted to demonstrate that it can be done for nearly the same cost as the hideous concoction he described.
I did a price breakdown for this dish. If I didn’t have a grocery receipt for one of the items I used, I pulled the price from a national warehouse store website. I usually buy generic items, so the actual cost of the name brands from the warehouse store actually brought the price up some. If I find the actual price I pay at my local discount supermarket, I’ll adjust the price accordingly. (See Box.)
Now if your budget isn't quite so restricted, feel free to adjust or increase any of the ingredients you want. If you prefer all white tuna, or more cheese, or want to add sour cream or cream cheese to the bechamel, go ahead. A touch of terragon is great, as is thyme, or a little dried oregano - all serve to just make it better. Use Parmesan cheese, or a white cheddar - soon I'll be posting an 'upgrade' version of this dish. So I do it myself from time to time. But the one I instruct here is the all time fabulous comfort food classic. Give it a shot!
1/2 pound egg noodles
1 cup petite frozen peas
1 small yellow onion, diced - about 1 cup
4 oz. button mushrooms, diced
1 5 oz can light tuna, packed in water, drained very well
1/4 cup butter, divided
2 oz heavy cream (about three tablespoons or so)
1/2 sleeve Ritz crackers, crushed
4 oz. sharp Chedder cheese, grated
- Cook egg noodles in salted boiling water according to package directions, about 6-7 minutes. Preheat oven to 350F.
- Meanwhile, melt half the butter in a very large skillet over medium heat. Saute onion and mushrooms for about five minutes, or until fragrant and onion is becoming transluscent.
- Stir in cream and drop heat to low. Stir in drained tuna, breaking up an large pieces, and toss in peas. Stir well to combine. If the sauce seems a little tight, add just a little pasta water, 1/4 cup at a time, until you like the consistency. Add salt and pepper, tasting to adjust for seasoning.
- Drain noodles, and add to skillet. Toss well to combine. Transfer mixture to a 7x11 casserole dish. Top with shredded cheese.
- Melt remaining butter, and stir into crush crackers. Spread cracker mixture evenly over top of cheese.
- Back at 350F for 25-30 minutes, or until bubbly, and cheese is melted. That's it! Go eat!
- The Thrillbilly Gourmet
Applying classic technique to everyday food for spectacular results!