First Day of School Tuna Casserole
I don't know if I'm the only person whose mother said the phrase, "Eat your fish, it's brain food." I don't know what would be appealing about the idea of "brain food" to a little kid, but moms say things. Growing up, I wasn't a particularly picky eater, but I did approach fish with a bit of trepidation. While I grew to appreciate and delight in the many and varied tastes the ocean has to offer, as a child I never strayed too far from tuna. My mom would whip up a tasty tuna casserole using grated cheddar, egg noodles, and a can of cream-of-whatever soup. My mom's version was one of the first things I learned how to cook and one of my favorite comfort foods. Lately, as the seasons have been changing, I have been musing over this childhood favorite and developed a slightly more sophisticated version. Today being the first day back in the classroom, I knew I had to be on my intellectual game and felt as if a little brain food were in order.
- 3 7-8 oz. cans Albacore tuna (packed in oil or water), drained
- 16 oz. fussili pasta
- four large leeks, trimmed, rinsed and chopped
- 4 stalks celery, rinsed and diced
- 1 c. frozen peas
- 1 lb. Swiss cheese, grated
- 1/4 c. butter, plus extra for greasing the pan
- 1/4 c. flour
- 1 qt. whole milk
- 1 tsp. celery salt
- 1 tsp. dried dill
- salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
- 2 c. crushed potato chips, (I used Hawaiian style, but your favorite chip will do!)
Grease a 13x9" baking dish with a Tablespoon of butter, set aside. Preheat your oven to 375˚ F. Melt butter in a large Dutch oven over medium heat, add leeks and celery, stir with a wooden spoon to make sure they are covered with butter, season with salt and pepper. Cover the Dutch oven with a lid and let the leeks soften oven a low-medium heat for about 5-6 minutes. Meanwhile, boil water to cook the pasta. Cook to al dente, about nine minutes, drain, and set aside.
When the leeks are soft and translucent, but not brown, whisk flour into Dutch oven to create a thick paste. Whisk constantly for about a minute, making sure the flour is well distributed through the pot and leeks. Slowly add the milk, about a half cup at a time, whisking between each addition to make the mixture creamy and smooth. Cook over medium-low heat until sauce begins to thicken and can coat the back of a spoon. Add shredded cheese and frozen peas, stir until smooth. Remove Dutch oven from heat, add drained tuna, breaking up chunks with a wooden spoon. Season with dill, celery salt, and additional salt and pepper to taste. Add cooked pasta to mixture and stir to combine.
Spread pasta mixture into prepared baking dish the sprinkle with an even layer of crushed potato chips. Bake in over for about 30 minutes until the top becomes browned and the sides are bubbling a bit. Remove from oven, let cook 5 minutes before serving. Yum! Your brain will instantly feel more powerful!