Home cooked comfort is what the best classic tuna noodle casserole is all about, and this one tastes even better thanks to pantry staples and a super simple from scratch sauce.
My mom has given up cooking and I can appreciate why. Being retired and with nobody at home but her and my dad, it’s easier for them to go out on lunch date or dinner rather than cook a big meal for two. But my mom does still have a handful of recipes up her culinary sleeve. Her famous spaghetti with meat sauce. The best potato salad you’ll ever eat. And of course her homemade fudge.
So when she told me she was whipping up a tuna noodle casserole to cure my dad’s cravings, I was happy to hear she hadn’t completely given up her cooking chops yet.
For this tuna noodle casserole recipe, I took inspo from my mama’s recipe and combined it with a recipe from the New Classic Family Dinners cookbook by the chef of Los Angeles’s storied Campanile restaurant. I may not live in Los Angeles anymore, but I can still eat like I do.
Here’s what I like best about this recipe:
- There’s no canned soup! Instead, this homemade sauce makes a noodle casserole that’s lush and silky instead of clumpy and goopy.
- The sliced olives give a pickled spunk to each bite. So tasty with tuna.
- And the crunchy bread crumb topping is the perfect compliment to the creamy, cheesy noodles.
A mix and match affair, this is how I used both of their noodles to create my own easy, homemade tuna noodle casserole from scratch.
What’s in Tuna Noodle Casserole
In this recipe, I replaced the canned soup called for in my mom’s version to make a tuna noodle casserole from scratch with Chef Peel’s béchamel sauce from his recipe. Then, because his casserole was on the plain side, I gussied it up with my mom’s addition of olives and peas. I also replaced Chef Peel’s tuna confit with canned tuna from my pantry but I did keep his crispy topping.
Here’s what’s in this comfort food classic:
For the Béchamel Cream Sauce:
- All-purpose flour
- Shallots or onion
- Bay leaves
- Cold milk, whole or 2% milk fat
- Kosher salt
For the Casserole:
- Egg noodles
- Canned tuna in water or oil
- Grated provolone, or other white melty cheese like mozzarella, fontina, gruyere, Monterey Jack or Italian blend
- Frozen peas
- Sliced green olives with pimentos
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Panko bread crumbs
- Parmesan cheese (finely grated)
How to Make Tuna Noodle Casserole From Scratch
Make the béchamel cream sauce. Béchamel is a French-style white cream sauce made from butter and flour and cooked into a roux, with milk added to thicken it into a lush, silky cream sauce. Start with equal parts butter and flour that is cooked to lose its floury taste with milk added in. Whole or 2% milk fat works best. To avoid clumps, make sure the milk is very cold and add the milk into the roux, whisking swiftly as you do.
Cook the noodles before adding them to the tuna casserole. I use egg noodles in this casserole but a shell, spiral, or short tube pasta works too. Cook the noodles just until al dente and still somewhat firm, about 2 minutes less than the package directions. The noodles will continue to cook and soften in the oven as the casserole bakes so you don’t want them to overcook and turn mushy.
What Type of Tuna is Best for Tuna Casserole
Choose the best quality canned tuna. I prefer big chunks of flaky white tuna so I buy the highest quality I can find. Choose tuna packed in water for a drier tuna, or tuna packed in oil for a more creamy bite. Drain the tuna well and break it up gently so it doesn’t completely disappear into the sauce.
Gently fold the ingredients to mix. The tuna will break up more as the mixture is combined so be gentle when mixing.
Add a Crisp and Crunchy Casserole Topping
In this recipe, a crunchy topping is a tasty contrast to the creamy center baking underneath. I topped the mixture with a panko bread crumb, Parmesan cheese, and parsley topping.
Besides this cheesy panko bread crumb topper, other crisp and crunchy topping ideas include:
- Crushed butter crackers or saltine crackers
- Crushed potato chips
- Fresh bread dried or toasted and whizzed in the food processor
- Chow mein noodles
- Fried onions, fresh or canned
What to Substitute Instead of Peas
Some people just do.not.like peas—my mom included! So you can pick around them as my mom does, or try a different veg like:
- Green beans
- Red bell pepper
More Easy Casseroles and One-Pot Meals to Make Now
- 30 Easy Comfort Food Casseroles To Make Now
- One-Pot Creamy Chicken And Rice
- Salsa Verde Chicken Enchilada Casserole
- One-Pot Penne Pasta With Turkey And Spinach
- The Best Homemade Mac And Cheese
If you make this recipe, please let me know! Leave a rating on this recipe below and leave a comment, take a photo and tag me on Instagram with #foodiecrusheats.
The BEST Tuna Noodle Casserole From Scratch
For the Bechamel Cream Sauce
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup minced shallots or onion
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 ½ cups cold milk , whole or 2% milkfat
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
For the Tuna Noodle Casserole
- ½ pound egg noodles
- 10 ounces canned tuna in oil or water , drained (2 cans)
- 2 cups grated provolone , about 4 ounces., or other white melty cheese such as mozzarella, fontina, gruyere, Monterey jack, or Italian blend
- 1 cup frozen peas , thawed
- 1 cup sliced green olives with pimentos , drained
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ½ cup panko bread crumbs
- ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
To Make the Bechamel Cream Sauce
- Melt the butter in a medium saucepan or skillet over medium heat. Add the flour and stir together until combined. Continue stirring until the mixture becomes golden and fragrant, about 4-5 minutes. Add the shallot or onion and bay leaves, stirring and cooking until the onion softens and releases moisture and loosens the roux, about 3 minutes.
- Whisk in the cold milk all at once and bring to a simmer. Whisk continuously while simmering gently, until the sauce thickens for about 10-15 minutes. Season with the kosher salt, adding more to taste, and stir in the nutmeg.
For the Tuna Noodle Casserole
- Preheat the oven to 375°F. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the pasta until al dente and still chewy, about 2 minutes less cooking time than the package directions. Before draining, reserve 1 cup of pasta water. Drain the pasta.
- Pour the drained pasta into a large mixing bowl with the bechamel cream sauce. Crumble the tuna over the pasta with the grated cheese, peas, olives, kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Gently fold the mixture together. If the mixture feels too thick, add 1-2 tablespoons of pasta water and fold to thin.
- Butter a 2-quart baking dish and pour the noodle mixture into the dish. In a small bowl, mix the panko bread crumbs with the Parmesan cheese and chopped parsley. Sprinkle evenly over the noodle mixture. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes, remove the foil, and bake for another 10 minutes until lightly browned and the casserole is bubbly and warmed through. Remove from the oven and let stand for a few minutes to set before serving.
More Pantry Staple Recipes
- Tuscan Tuna And White Bean Salad
- Outrageous Herbaceous Mediterranean Chickpea Salad
- Sausage And Gnocchi Soup
- Strawberry And Avocado With Tuna Salad Recipe
- Easy Taco Soup (Stove Top, Crock Pot or Instant Pot)
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I need to save $$ in these inflationary times (without sacrificing quality) so I decided to try this.
It was great!
The batch was big enough for 8 large servings, 6 of which I froze for weekday dinners.
I used fresh grated Parmesan Reggiano. Didn’t have peas so used diced carrots & celery.
Don’t skip the green pimento-stuffed olives; they’re an essential acid to cut the richness of the cheeses.
Extra good with a little Aleppo pepper (fruity middle eastern Chile pepper) afterward.
I might add sautéed mushrooms next time. And maybe double the crunchy panko topping (always the best part, right?)
I wouldn’t make these every week, but they will definitely be part of my batch-cooking rotation.
Thank you for a very good recipe.