Upscale Tuna Noodle Casserole

I get a kick out of foams, froths, sous vide, and all the other modern wonders of molecular gastronomy.

But sometimes, I just want to kick it old-school.

And it doesn’t get any more back-in-the-day nostalgic than tuna noodle casserole.

Like so many of you, I grew up on the beloved casserole made with cream of mushroom soup and canned tuna baked in the trusty ol’ Pyrex dish.

That’s why when I spied the recipe for “Campanile Tuna Noodle Casserole” in the cookbook, “New Classic Family Dinners” (Wiley), I knew I had to make it. The book is by Chef Mark Peel of Campanile, that beloved landmark restaurant in Los Angeles, which you must try if you haven’t yet.

This dish can actually be found on the menu there, and it’s always a hit with children and adults alike, Peel writes.

I can see why, because it’s a taste of childhood but with way better ingredients and punched-up flavor.

The dish gets its lovely richness from whole milk, Gruyere and Parmesan. It gets its satisfying taste in part from the genius use of the olive oil from imported canned tuna. A little gets tossed into the drained, hot pasta. A little more gets stirred into the parsley-breadcrumb topping.

The recipe calls for a small dried red chile, but I just used a pinch of dried red pepper flakes.

The result is a most wonderful dish for the ages.

Campanile Tuna Noodle Casserole

(Serves 6)

For bechamel:

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/4 cup minced onion or shallot

1 small dried red chile (preferably Japanese), whole

1 small bay leaf

Kosher salt

2 1/2 cups whole milk

For casserole:

1/2 pound calamarata or elbow macaroni

2 tablespoons olive oil from tuna

Two (6-ounce) cans imported tuna packed in olive oil

4 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated (1 cup tightly packed)

3 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

1 1/2 cups (2 ounces) fresh bread crumbs

1 1/2 ounces Parmesan cheese, freshly grated (1/3 cup tightly packed)

Make the bechamel: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt butter and add flour. Stir together with a wooden spoon until roux is just barely golden and has a popcorn aroma, about 5 minutes. Add onion or shallot, chile, and bay leaf and continue to cook, stirring, until onion softens slightly and the raw onion smell is gone. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt. The popcorn smell will dissipate and the roux will thicken, and then, after 2 to 3 minutes, it will loosen up.

Change from the wooden spoon to a whisk and whisk in milk all at once. Bring slowly to a simmer, whisking. Whisk continuously until sauce thickens. Use a heatproof rubber spatula to scrape the sauce from the bottom and edges of the pot so it doesn’t stick and burn. It helps to cook the bechamel in a wide pan you can tip to see the bottom to make sure the sauce is not sticking. Reduce heat and simmer gently, scraping sides and bottom of the pot from time to time, for about 15 minutes, until there is no trace of a floury taste.

Remove from heat and strain immediately, while hot, through a medium strainer into a bowl. Taste and adjust the seasoning (you will probably want to add up to 1/4 teaspoon salt); it should be well seasoned and medium thick. You can store bechamel for a few days in the refrigerator. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly over the surface to prevent a thick skin from forming. When you reheat, whisk vigorously.

Assemble the casserole: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 2-quart baking dish. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add a generous tablespoon of salt. Add pasta and cook for a minute less than usual. It should be cooked through but a little more al dente or chewy than you’d like it if you were serving it right away, about 10 minutes for calamarata. Remove a ladleful of the cooking water and set aside in a bowl. Drain pasta and toss with a tablespoon of oil from the tuna in a large bowl.

Crumble tuna into the bowl with the pasta and toss together. Gently fold in the bechamel, grated Gruyere,ร‚ย  and 2 tablespoons parsley. If the sauce seems to coat the pasta too thickly, thin out with a small amount of pasta cooking water (2 tablespoons or a little more). Spoon into baking dish. Mix together bread crumbs, Parmesan, remaining tablespoon ofร‚ย  parsley, and the remaining tablespoon of olive oil from the tuna. Sprinkle over the top in an even layer.

Cover casserole with foil and bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes. Remove foil and continue to bake for another 15 minutes, until top has browned and the casserole is bubbling and hot all the way through. Remove from heat, let stand until no longer bubbling, and serve.

From “New Classic Family Dinners” by Mark Peel

More: Pasta With Tuna and Saffron Oil

More: Penne with Ricotta, Parmesan and Peas

More: Drunken Clam Linguini

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  • A lovely casserole! I’ve grown up eating that kind of dish… Yummy!



  • Tuna is pretty pricy over in Asia. So, I normally use frozen dori fillet or any other fresh water fish such as snakehead fillet for my fish & chip & casserole. They taste as wonderful. This recipe sounds fantastic. I’m sure my kids will love it! Have a nice day!
    Cheers, Kristy

  • Looks so yummy with the crispy topping! I do something similar but with instant mushroom soup ,lazy me =P

  • The Campanile cookbook has some terrific recipes in it, huh? I’ve always been a fan of tuna noodle casserole.

  • Love this dish for its creaminess and its crispy tops. I never had a chance to eat this when I was young…just rice and some vegetables and meat. Love that it’s baked….kitchen will be clean ๐Ÿ˜€

  • I love doing things the casserole way. This looks delicious and I will definitely be giving this a try sometime. Thanks for the recipe.

  • I would totally eat your version of tuna casserole. My Mom made the one you described and I always hated it.

    Yours looks so mouthwatering, I’m totally going to make this. My hubby LOVES tuna!

  • Wow, this dish sure makes a great meal…love the ingredients in it…so tasty and creamy, very rich flavor.

  • This sounds super delicious! I love the crunchy topping!

  • What an amazing recipe, I am bookmarking this one! I’ve made tuna noodle casserole for my hubbs before, he wasn’t to impressed, but this one might be a winner. Thanks for sharing this recipe!

  • Even though some people might find it silly, I love making slightly upscale versions of standard American comfort food dishes – casseroles included. This one looks amazing.

  • I haven’t had tuna casserole in ages. This sounds like a wonderful version! It’s going on my “comfort food list”… ๐Ÿ™‚

  • What a perfect comfort food casserole! I don’t know that I’ve ever made this classic dish at home. This looks like the recipe to try!

  • I do love a re-invented classic, and this looks like a winner. Here, I hadn’t thought of tuna noodle casserole in years, and now I’m craving it (this version) for dinner!

  • I never ate a tuna casserole growing up. I think because I was under the impression that I was lactose intolerant. I do love food with bread crumbs as toppings though.

  • A Friday staple in our household growing up (Catholic). I love the use of the olive oil out of the canned tuna, tuna infused oil= more tuna flavor? Your version looks fabulous!

  • I like the idea of using canned tuna in a pasta casserole like this! This dish is perfect for the weather over there right now, not the weather over here ๐Ÿ™

    p.s hope you have recovered from the cough.

  • ‘it doesnรขโ‚ฌโ„ขt get any more back-in-the-day nostalgic than tuna noodle casserole’–amen!
    and wow, it really couldn’t get more amped-up. i love the gruyere and true bechamel, complete with a little zing! great, great dish, carolyn.

  • I’m trying to think of the last time I had a good tuna casserole and its certainly been a while. Now you have me craving an oldie but goodie.

  • An old favorite of mine. It looks so good and the photography is just sublime.

  • I want, I want. You’re my kind of woman, Carolyn. If only you were single. (Or I were straight.)

    I’m thinking of marinated artichoke hearts in there, too.

  • I admit that I still love my mothers standard tuna noodle caserole made with canned tuna, mushroom soup with crushed BBQ potato chips on top. Man, haven’t had that in ages.

  • This looks great! I’ve actually been wanting to make something along these lines but was looking for the right recipe–preferably with an endorsement from someone I trust. Thanks, Food Gal!

  • Oooooooh I really want to make this! I’m licking my screen! I love tuna noodle casserole, love Campanile, and love Mark Peel! I’ve met him twice since November, first when he judged the KCRW pie contest, and then again in January when I celebrated my birthday at his restaurant The Tar Pit and he surprised me with a dessert platter and sang happy birthday to me! He is such a wonderful person!!!!! Makes me want to support his book and restaurants that much more!

  • yeah i call it on the corner pieces! mine!

  • VanillaSugar: Oooh, those are fightin’ words! ๐Ÿ˜‰
    I bet you’d arm-wrestle me for the corner pieces of brownies, too, huh? heehee

    Marni: Mark Peel sang “happy birthday” to you? How lucky you are. Now, that’s one birthday you won’t ever forget.

  • wow, I love tuna casserole, even the lowbrow style made with canned stuff… I bet this would spoil me forever! I always hear Mark Peel on the KCRW farmers market report describing what to do with the season’s bounty, I am stoked to see he has a cookbook out!

  • Can you believe that I haven’t ever made a tuna casserole for about 15 years? I think I ought to rectify that with your beauty here Carolyn! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Love the sound of this recipe too, Carol, and can’t wait to try it on my husband and in-laws! Thanks for sharing!

  • I love this recipe. I used white medium cheddar, penne pasta and nutmeg instead of red chili. The recipe has a nice balance of ingredients. Each time I have a serving of the leftovers I am in heaven.

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  • what are “fresh” breadcrumbs? would panko work as a topping, or part panko?

  • Pingback: The Tuna Noodle Casserole of Mere Mortals. The Mediocre Ones. « The Simmering Sisters

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