The best classic tuna noodle casserole starts with a homemade sauce from scratch. This one is deliciously cheesy, creamy, and easy with no soup from a can.
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 leaf, stirring and cooking until the onion softens and releases moisture and loosens the roux, about 3 minutes.
Use a whisk to 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.
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.
If making the bechamel cream sauce ahead, cool, transfer to a container, and cover tightly before refrigerating for up to 5 days.
To freeze this tuna noodle casserole, place the noodle mixture in an oven safe container (or containers), top with the bread crumb topping, and cover tightly with a lid. Freeze for up to 3 months. To cook, bake from frozen for 50-60 minutes or until warmed through and bubbly.
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