“Oh Mama” Tuna Noodle Casserole

This tuna noodle casserole pays homage to my mom’s warm, creamy casserole. No canned soup in this one, though. Just a cheesy, creamy sauce, egg noodles, green peas, and flake tuna, all topped with more cheese and delicious buttery potato chip crumbs.

Growing up Catholic, Fridays during Lent meant one thing. Tuna Casserole.  Anyone else of my generation have this distinct memory? Tuna Casserole made with 1 can of tuna, 1 can of Campbell’s mushroom soup and 1 package of Mueller’s egg noodles? And potato chips crumbled on top instead of breadcrumbs? Anyone? 

My mom was not a gourmet cook. But she had a way with budget menu planning. Tuna Casserole, Shepherd’s Pie, Salisbury Steak, Baby Beef Liver.  

Ok, brief tangent here…Baby Beef Liver. My Dad loved it and insisted that Baby Beef Liver was better than Calves Liver. Anyone know the difference? I didn’t like it then, don’t like it now, and have never developed enough of a liver palate to tell. But our cat did. Every time my Mom cooked baby beef liver, she would sit right in front of the stove and wait for it to be finished. If she could have had a seat at the table to have her share of the liver, she would have. I would have given her my portion if my Mom had let me. 

Anyway, back to my original point. Of all the budget meals we had on a regular basis, Tuna Casserole was always my favorite. Something about the rich, creamy noodles with the warm, chunks of tuna that were almost a happy surprise. 

The potato chips on top were always the best part to me. And not just any potato chips would do. They had to be State Line Potato Chips. State Line chips were a New England brand, created in Enfield, Connecticut and made in Wilbraham, Massachusetts. They were the only kind of potato chips we had in our house growing up. I can’t find them anymore, but to this day, no other chips hold a candle to State Line in my mind. (insert heavy sigh here). And when I think of them, I automatically think of the crunchy goodness they added to my Mom’s tuna casserole.

Over the years I’ve tweaked my Mom’s basic recipe. Sometimes I still use the Campbell’s Mushroom Soup if I am feeling particularly nostalgic. But more often I make my own white sauce, and add some cheddar cheese because, well, we love cheese. 

Start by cooking your egg noodles. Make sure you are generous salting the water (if you are limiting salt, no worries. Just skip this). Cook the noodles for the minimum amount of time on the package directions. My package said 7-8 minutes, so I cooked them for 7. The point is, you don’t want your noodles to be overcooked, as they will cook more in the oven. When the noodles are done, drain them, put them in your casserole dish and set them aside.

Now, start your sauce. I love a good white sauce. It’s so easy to make and can be used in so many recipes. Start by melting some butter in a heavy bottom sauce pan. For this recipe, I’m adding onions, so I sauté them in the butter for a few minutes until they are soft – then add garlic and cook for about 30 seconds to a minute, just until it gets fragrant. You don’t want it to brown. Stir in the flour and cook for 1-2 minutes until bubbly.

Add the milk and whisk until it’s smooth. Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes or so, until the sauce is thick and bubbly. Then add your salt, pepper and parsley. I try to use fresh herbs whenever possible, but you can use dry. Just use less – 2 tsp. of dry vs. 2 tbsp. of fresh. Remove from the heat and add the cheese, stirring until it’s melted and voila, there is your white sauce.

Now it is time to assemble the casserole. I’ve doubled the tuna to 2 cans so there is now more of a chance that you’ll get those happy little surprise tuna chunks in every bite. Drain and flake the tuna with a fork. I am also adding some frozen peas for a bit of color and the fresh pop of flavor they bring. Add the tuna and peas to the noodles in the casserole dish. Pour the white sauce over the whole thing and mix until it’s combined.

Bake the casserole in a preheated 350°F for about 20 minutes. Now comes the best part. Of course I still top my tuna casserole with crushed potato chips and a bit more cheese. Did I mention we love cheese? 

Melt the remaining 1 tbsp. of butter and add it to the potato chip crumbs. Remove the casserole from the oven, sprinkle on the remaining 1/2 cup of cheese and top with the buttery chip crumbs. Then sprinkle on the paprika. My mom only ever had 3 spices in her kitchen…salt, pepper and paprika. Don’t know why. Never questioned it. But I do know that the paprika gives the crunchy top a bit of color and a nice little spicy pop. This is totally optional.

Return to the oven and bake for 10 more minutes or until the topping is golden and the casserole is bubbly.

“Oh Mama” Tuna Noodle Casserole

Prep Time: 20 min.     Cook Time: 30 min.     Total Time: 50 min.
Serves: 6

Ingredients

  • 2 5oz. cans tuna, drained and flaked (I use white tuna in water)
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 5 tbsp. butter
  • ¼ c. flour
  • 2 ½  c. milk
  • ½ tsp. salt plus more to taste
  • ¼ tsp. black pepper
  • 2 tbsp. chopped parsley (optional)
  • 1 ½ c. shredded cheddar cheese, divided
  • ½ c. frozen peas (optional)
  • 12 oz. bag egg noodles
  • ¼ c. crushed potato chips
  • ½ tsp. paprika (optional)

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Cook egg noodles in salted water according to package directions. Drain and place in a 2 qt. casserole or baking dish. Set aside
  3. Melt 4 tbsp. butter in a heavy bottom saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and sauté for 4-5 minutes until soft. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute (being careful not to burn it).
  4. Add flour to onions and garlic, stirring to coat. Cook 1 minute until bubbly.
  5. Add milk to pan and whisk until smooth. Cook over medium heat until mixture is thick and bubbly. Stir in salt, pepper and parsley. Remove from heat and stir in 1 c. shredded cheese. Stir until cheese is melted.
  6. Add tuna and peas to egg noodles. Pour in sauce and stir to combine. 
  7. Bake casserole in preheated oven for 20 minutes.
  8. While casserole is baking, melt remaining butter and mix with crushed potato chips. When casserole has baked for 20 minutes, remove from oven. Top with remaining ½ cup shredded cheese, then top with buttery potato chip crumbs. Finish with a light sprinkle of paprika on top. 
  9. Return to oven and bake for an additional 10 minutes, or until topping is golden and casserole is bubbly.

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