Many of our kitchens have become well-seasoned because we’ve been compelled to cook a few meals – not because we want to, but because necessity has called upon our cooking angels to pull us back into the flames because of COVID-19.
We are still weathering this pandemic and in many parts of the country, restaurants are only open for takeout. And those that are open for business are for the most part al fresco (outdoors) or have limited indoor seating.
This is why today's home-cooked meals rank right up there with baseball, hotdogs, and apple pie.
A good home-cooked meal starts with a well-stocked pantry. Just having an array of staple pantry and refrigerator ingredients saves so much time when you finally step up to that cutting board. It also inspires a range of epicurean possibilities when inspiration strikes or when guests arrive unexpectedly.
My Lemony Tuna Noodle Casserole was totally inspired by ingredients I had on hand. My early memories of this classic dish weren’t that thrilling. It was merely a staple in my dinner rotation because it was quick to make, inexpensive and it fed my ravenous family of four.
This zhuzhed up version is a delicious departure from the cheesy version I used to make. It’s still budget-friendly but it’s certainly not your mom’s or grandma’s tuna noodle casserole. It has a light, delicate sauce made with evaporated milk and fresh grated parmesan cheese infused with fresh lemon juice and grated lemon zest. The albacore tuna that gets added to this dish kisses the lemony sauce that clings to the pasta like a long lost relative. Oh and this recipe brushes aside traditional elbow macaroni and instead uses orecchiette pasta – which is such a family-friendly and fun shape for the kids.
Are you ready to try this reimagined tuna noodle casserole? Dive right in! Make sure to listen to my podcast as I step you through how I made it and hear about some of the basic pantry and refrigerator ingredients I keep on hand.
For a list of my recommended ingredients click here. Keep in mind this is in no way an exhaustive list. It’s just a baseline to build on so. Pay special attention to my tips on how to level up this recipe for you and your quarantine boo. It’s a goodie - you are welcomed!
Lemony Tuna Noodle Casserole
1 large can Albacore tuna (12 ounces)
2 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon finely lemon zest
16-ounce package of pasta (orecchiette featured here or use elbow, spaghetti or any pasta of your liking)
Salt for pasta water and to season later
5 ounces can evaporated milk (or ¾ cup)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
¾ cup fresh, finely grated Parmesan
1 ½ cups reserved pasta cooking water
Freshly ground black pepper
Red pepper flakes (optional)
Gather all your ingredients.
Drain tuna. Empty contents onto a plate and break apart with a fork.
Zest one whole lemon which should yield about 1 teaspoon of zest. A microplane grater works best. Cut lemon in half and into a small bowl, squeeze out enough juice to yield 2 tablespoons of juice. Set aside.
Begin your pasta and add salt to the water. Make sure to add lots of salt to your pasta water, about a tablespoon works best. Remember this is your only opportunity to really get favor into the pasta.
Cook pasta according to the package directions. Stir pasta occasionally until it is al dente (pasta will finish cooking at the end in the sauce you will prepare later).
While the pasta is cooking, add evaporated milk and lemon zest to a separate saucepan and cook over medium heat, whisking often, until it begins to simmer about 2 minutes.
Reduce the heat to medium-low. Add unsalted butter and stir until melted.
Add fresh, finely grated Parmesan cheese and lemon juice and whisk well until the sauce is creamy and emulsified. Then, remove cheese sauce from the heat.
Scoop out 1½ cups of pasta cooking water just before pasta is al dente.
Drain the pasta when done. Add cheese sauce to the pasta and stir thoroughly.
Stir in the flaked tuna and 1 ½ cup of the reserved pasta cooking water. Taste and add additional salt, pepper, pepper flakes and lemon juice to taste. Stir well and cook on medium heat about 3 minutes.
Remove from heat. Cover with the lid and let set aside about 10 minutes. The sauce will appear loose but it will tighten up very quickly as it cools.
Garnish with fresh chopped parsley if desired.