On Ash Wednesday, in honor of the beginning of Lent when many Western Pennsylvania Catholics give up meat for Lent, the Food & Flavor section ran a pair of stories panning, and praising, that Friday staple that is Tuna Noodle Casserole.
Invited to share their stories and recipes, some readers took sides with writer Gretchen McKay, whose take on TNC is “Yuck!” Others took the side of Bob Batz Jr., whose take is “Yay!” The two agree that the dish is one that many people either love or hate.
As promised, here is our readers’ takes, with some recipes you might want to try. Or just gag over.
Having just read Gretchen McKay's article ["Tuna Noodle Casserole: Yuck!" Food & Flavor, Feb. 18], I can relate 100 percent. I, too, grew up in the 1960s and ’70s and remember hating the look and awful smell of that dish. Fortunately, my mother never made it, but I remember there were times I would be at a friend's house and having to quickly leave after one whiff.
On one memorable occasion, when I was dating my future wife, I was invited to dinner at her parent's house. It was Ash Wednesday, and with her family being Catholic, her mother had prepared the dreaded dish. I wanted to make a good impression so I spooned a generous serving on my plate. As I attempted to raise a forkful to my mouth, I involuntarily began to gag and knew I was about to lose my lunch if I didn't get some fresh air. I managed to quickly feign a headache and also claimed to have an upset stomach. I asked to be excused and once outside, I got in my car and drove to the nearest fast-food restaurant for a hamburger and fries.
Upon my return, I said I felt much better but not well enough to eat. As we were leaving, my future mother-in-law handed me a Tupperware dish containing a large helping of the tuna noodle casserole. I politely accepted and with a tinge of guilt, I quickly deposited it in the nearest trash can. To this day, I have practically begged my wife of 33 years to never make tuna noodle casserole unless I am out of town.
Robert Jeffrey Weiland / McCandless
We just finished reading your articles on Tuna Noodle Casserole in today's PG. Have to say we're in Bob Batz Jr.’s "Yay" category. The first meal my future husband (this was 1978) ever made for me was a tuna noodle casserole, a recipe he first learned as a young guy on his own from the “I Hate to Cookbook” by Peg Bracken. It didn't scare me away and it's stayed on our menu for all this time — unless we're doing Atkins of course!
Thanks for all the great recipes!
Deborah Hart / New Kensington
The best tuna noodle dish I ever ate was at a small restaurant called O's in Kona town on the Big Island of Hawaii. Served in a large bowl, it consisted of homemade noodles in a creamy sauce with fresh mushrooms, topped with fried Maui sweet onions and slices of blackened sashimi-grade local tuna. No comparison to the pasty glop that I used to eat (and love) as a kid.
Sadly, the last time I went to Hawaii, I was crushed to find out that the restaurant had closed.
Janice Auth / Shadyside
I'm 59 years old. NEVER again will I eat (and it’s been at least 30 years now since I last ate) Tuna Casserole! Catholic, growing up in the 1960s and ’70s, we had it every Friday. I also won't go near (and haven't for 30 years) macaroni and cheese. Gag! I eat what I want to eat on Fridays now during Lent. And I'm certain I'm going straight to Hell.
Sean McDowell / Greentree
I babysit my four grandkids on Saturday mornings. In an effort to help as much as I can, I like taking them a meal and a dessert. I vary my meals so the kids get something different as much as possible. The one day I asked them what they liked best of all the recipes that I make. They each looked at each other, and then answered all at once, “Your Tuna Noodle Casserole.” I was quite surprised but tickled at the same time. THEY LOVE IT! My son said the kids would eat it seven days a week. It is truly the easiest dish I make for them. The funniest thing is that they think I am a really good cook.
Michele Janosko / Robinson
First, let me say that I love tuna. In any form: canned, grilled, raw, in a noodle casserole -- however it is dished up. The one recipe I have never brought myself to try, however, came from my husband when we first met in 1974.
Our "meet" was almost pathetically cute. On our first day as English majors at Duquesne University, in an honors composition class, our eyes met across the big conference table. He was much hairier then, a true product of the 1970s. He was tan, his hair flecked with sun, and his smile was radiant. I am sure I missed most of that first lecture staring at him. We made small talk as we left the room, went for coffee, one thing led to another and here we are married for 36-plus years.
His tan and sun-flecked hair were the result of a long-distance bicycle trip he had taken with two friends that summer. Since no one I knew had ever even thought of doing such things, I was enthralled by the stories of riding 80 or 90 miles each day with all of one's necessities attached to the bike. He had pictures and a journal, and in the ensuing years we have taken many such trips together, including crossing the U.S. on our tandem. We have cycled together in most of the places he visited with his two high school buddies, and the lessons he learned on those early trips have served us well.
The one thing I have never been able to bring myself to try, however, is his tuna recipe. They had very low budgets back then, and their equipment was pretty basic. No freeze-dried anything, no high-tech backpacking stoves, just whatever was available at the campground store, usually cooked over an open fire in the ring provided by the campground, using his old Boy Scout cook kit. So one night, they mixed the only two foods they could find: cans of tuna with cans of baked beans. His eyes glaze over when he talks about it, and he even uses culinary phrases like "just the right mixture of sweet and salty," and "the textures blend and contrast perfectly."
I remain skeptical after all these years. Maybe this year I will make the supreme Lenten sacrifice and treat him to his favorite tuna meal. I just hope it lives up to his memory of it.
Maggie Holder / West Homestead
Thank you for the Tuna Noodle Casserole story -- it made my day. I agree with Bob Batz Jr. and am definitely in the “Yay!” category
Kathy Lutz / Bridgeville
It was my first job out of college, and I was living on rather limited funds in a small town in Arkansas that hugged the Mississippi River. Having never cooked before, I had to start somewhere, so I discovered a recipe for Tuna Casserole on a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese. Knowing a little bit about the various food groups, I decided to throw in some frozen peas as my vegetable group. Living alone, the casserole had to survive at least three additional warmups. A mouse cured me of my "addiction" to tuna casserole. One night as I was eating my favorite meal, I noticed a movement in my bread bag on top of the fridge. Needless to say my local mouse had found a home, and I always associate a mouse with Tuna Casserole. But all was not lost. My piece of Arkansas was home to some of the best catfish fries I have ever come across, which always were served with the world's coldest beer.
Thomas Bates / McCandless
I enjoyed your article, although I don't agree with "Yuck" about tuna noodle. However, your closing comment about "one whiff" took me back several years. My mother used to make oyster stew. Boy, I hated that. Didn't like the consistency of the oysters, and a grain or two of sand in them would have me totally disgusted. As I grew older, my eating habits changed considerably. Lots more fish than my youth of meat and potatoes. Wholey's was having an oyster sale. I thought, “I am grown up now, why not try again?” Real butter, real cream and lots of oysters. As the stew cooked the smell triggered my youthful hate of the dish. But I am adult, so I tried a bowl. Couldn't do it. At that time my parents were alive, so I loaded the pot in my car and took it to my folks. My mother's comment: "Thanks, but there is an awful lot here — Are you sure you had enough?" I assured her I had had plenty.
James Cowan / Allison Park
I enjoyed the dueling articles this morning about the tuna casseroles. I'm not about to take sides, but I have this comment to make about tuna cans. The one recipe calls for four 6-ounce cans of tuna. I realize you are publishing a given recipe, and it may not be the newest, but I'm sure you know that a 6-ounce can of tuna now is 5 ounces.
This trend is starting to annoy me! A pound container of oleo is really 15 ounces; a quart jar of mayonnaise is 30 ounces; a half-gallon of ice cream is 1½ quarts; a pound of potato chips is 10 ounces (sometimes 9, sometimes 11). They obviously do this to make it look like the price is staying the same; do they think we're stupid!? If they keep it up, it's going to throw off a lot of old recipes that call for "a can of this" or “a bag of that.”
I’m on Social Security, and this year we got a whopping 1.7-percent increase in our benefits. Big deal! If that's all the cost of living went up, I'd like to know where they shop for food!
John Nicolaus / Plum
We were hard-core Catholics: My mom wouldn't even use cream of chicken soup in her TNC because chicken is meat and meat was a no-no. So, she used cream of mushroom soup instead and topped it with crushed potato chips for a nice crunchy crust. Another of her Lent dinners was salmon. We sure didn't have Coho salmon on the grill. Since there were eight of us, we didn't get salmon cakes, either. My mom made a salmon loaf -- kind of like meat loaf only with salmon. She'd start with two big cans of salmon and mix that up with bread crumbs and eggs and some spices, then bake in the meat loaf pan. Pretty good stuff!
Susan Zelenak / Monroeville
I have been making this Tuna Noodle Casserole recipe for many, many years. It's from an old Betty Crocker Cookbook. I've tried other recipes, but none have been as good, or as easy. It's definitely a family favorite.
Carol Fiering / Greentree City
Best-Ever Tuna Noodle Casserole
8 ounces egg noodles (bowties also work well)
12-ounce can/package tuna, well drained
1½ cups sour cream (12 ounces)
3/4 cup milk
3 ounces sliced canned mushrooms, drained (can use fresh)
1½ teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/3 cup dry bread crumbs
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 to 3 tablespoons butter, melted
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cook noodles as directed on package; drain and return to pot. Stir in tuna, sour cream, milk, mushrooms, salt and pepper. Place in casserole dish. Mix bread crumbs, cheese and butter.Spread over casserole. Bake uncovered 35 to 40 minutes, or until bubbly. Serve and enjoy. Also very good reheated.
-- Betty Crocker
I couldn’t help but laugh when I read your stories about Tuna Noodle Casserole, as I grew up the oldest of five children in a household where non-meat dishes were the mainstay of every Friday year-round. Tuna Noodle also was one of my least favorites, second only to my Mom’s baked fish (frozen planks of flounder that she baked to death!). No wonder I grew up hating fish! We never had fresh fish, even though from ninth grade on my dad had retired and we lived on the Georgia coast! The only fresh seafood my mother ever bought was shrimp or crab. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I ever ordered fish at a restaurant and discovered it actually could taste good!
But I digress. Reading your article, Gretchen, had me nodding my head in agreement but reminded me that I do have ONE Tuna Noodle Casserole that actually tastes pretty good. And my kids LOVE it! So I thought I’d send you the recipe, so you could give tuna one last try!
I think it’s the boiled eggs that make this version work. Hope you will like it just a little bit! This recipe is from the “Tea-Time at the Masters” cookbook, compiled by the Junior League of Augusta, Ga., in 1977. It does say under the recipe that “Children love it”!
Mary Monfort / Jacksonville, Fla.
6-ounce package noodles, cooked
7-ounce can tuna, drained
1/4 cup onion, chopped
2 eggs, boiled and chopped
10¾-ounce can condensed cream of mushroom soup
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pepper to taste
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Dash Tabasco sauce
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped (I use 1 teaspoon dried)
1/4 to 1/2 cup sharp cheese, grated (I use cheddar)
Put layer of noodles in square casserole. Add layer of tuna, onion and eggs. Mix soup with seasonings and pour over all. Sprinkle cheese on top. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Serves 4 to 6.
-- “Tea-Time at the Masters” by the Georgia Junior League of Augusta
Here is a very old recipe for Tuna Noodle Casserole. I first made it in the 1970s on a whim, as it has rather unusual ingredients. I’m so glad I did, as it is delicious. Your article prompted me to make it again for myself. (Tuna is now packed in 5-ounce cans.)
I put it in two 1-quart casseroles and freeze one for another time. I think it can be cooked in the microwave. Hope you enjoy it if you make it.
Janet C. Kuder / Allison Park
Salmon/Tuna Noodles Romanoff
This recipe also can be baked in a greased 2-quart casserole -- for 40 minutes. The original recipe notes this serving suggestion: “Pretty and delicious with broccoli spears sprinkled with sliced pimento-stuffed olives; for dessert, lime sherbet.”
8 ounces uncooked medium noodles
1½ cups creamed cottage cheese
1½ cups dairy sour cream
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 to 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
Dash red pepper sauce or cayenne red pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 5- to 6½-ounce cans tuna, drained, or 16-ounce can salmon, drained
1/2 cup (about 2 ounces) shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Heat oven to 325 degrees. Cook noodles as directed on package; drain.
Mix noodles, cottage cheese, sour cream, onion, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, red pepper sauce, salt and salmon or tuna. Place about 1 cup of mixture in each of 5 or 6 greased baking shells or individual casseroles. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake uncovered 20 to 25 minutes.
Makes 5 or 6 servings.
-- General Mills
Helen Lamison of Carnegie sent several variations on the Tuna Noodle Casserole theme, including this one:
If desired, 1 can mushroom soup plus enough milk to make 1½ cups soup may be substituted for white sauce.
2 teaspoons chili powder (or to taste)
3 tablespoons cream
2 cups cooked noodles
1½ cups medium white sauce
1 cup grated American cheese
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 can tuna, drained
Blend chili powder with the cream; add to the white sauce. Combine remaining ingredients in white sauce. Pour into a greased casserole and bake covered at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
And finally, Deb King of Churchill offered up this microwavable recipe from Woman’s Day magazine:
When I wasn't going to be home to cook for dinner, I would quickly put this together the night before. My husband and son loved this alternative. And, if you like a little crunch that panko gives you, you won't be disappointed....a crust forms around the bowl.
Note: I would put all the cheese in so my guys did not need to do a thing and two cans of tuna instead of one.
Overnight Tuna Casserole
10¾-ounce can condensed cream of celery soup
1 cup milk
6½-ounce can water-pack tuna, drained and flaked with a fork
1 cup uncooked elbow macaroni
1 cup frozen green peas
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 cup coarsely shredded cheddar cheese (reserve 1/4 cup)
Whisk soup and milk in a 2-quart microwave-safe bowl until well blended. Stir in remaining ingredients except reserved 1/4 cup cheddar cheese. Cover and refrigerate at least 12 hours or overnight.
Cover with lid or vented plastic wrap. Microwave on high 15 to 17 minutes until bubbly.
Sprinkle with reserved cheese. Let stand uncovered 5 to 7 minutes until cheese melts.
Makes 4 servings.
-- Woman’s Day, Nov. 1990
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