Sunday, February 20, 2011

Waxing poetic about Tuna Casserole

When I was a kid there were certain meals that my mother made that became legendary.

On Thursday nights she would bake challah, and set some of the dough aside for pizza.

Once she started working, home cooking became a bit scarce. By this time I was a teenager and I'd tease her about throwing the bologna and rye bread on the table, with the bellow, "Supper's ready!".

Not exactly healthy living, I guess, but to this day those foods evoke in me memories of that time, where I can almost reach out and touch and taste and feel--and be there.

But there is one dish that I have missed. I've never seen this dish served in a restaurant, nor have I heard my friends discussing their recipe for it. When the girls were much younger, I tried to re-create it for them. The vehement negative feedback I received from them and from Isaac was such that, traumatized, I have never attempted to make it again.

What is it about Tuna Casserole that brings out this impassioned response in people?

"I hate the word casserole", shudders my friend Efrath.


Is it the noodles, flat and broad, with just the right texture?

Is it the tuna fish--only American used for this recipe?

Is it the cheese, liberally sprinkled through and on top, melted and browned to perfection?

Or is it the Cream of Mushroom soup, so thick it doesn't pour when you open the can? That when mixed with the noodles, cheese and tuna makes this satisying slurpy, wet sound?

Alas, it had been years and years since I inhaled that essence, heard that sound and savored that taste.

And then I moved here. And met and befriended Tammy and Alan. And discovered, a mutual affinity between Alan and myself for this gourmet dish. We found our memories of how the dish was made similar and began to plan for a time when we would sit down and embrace this meal again in spite of the ridicule of our respective families.

Alan and Tammy provided the Cream of Mushroom and American Tuna. I provided the other ingredients and baked it. Tammy made pizza for the rest of our families.

Last night we sfinally sat down to dinner together--in the middle of the week! on a school night! As I took that first bite, I closed my eyes and saw my mother pulling the white scratched casserole dish out of the oven in our tiny Brooklyn kitchen. I remembered that sometimes I'd sneak in and pull the cheese off the top and when she'd ask who did it, I'd say , "Not me". I can still see that dish soaking in hot water and soap after it had been devoured and her putting it away in its spot to wait for next time.

Isaac and the girls wouldn't go near the stuff last night. Neither would Tammy and Alan's daughter. But their son did try it, and--surprise--asked for more.

The next generation of Tuna Casserole lovers has been born.

In case I had you salivating, here's the recipe:

Tuna Casserole

1 package of broad, flat pasta, cooked al dente
2 cans American white tuna fish
3 cans Cream of Mushroom soup
shredded cheese, lots of it

Boil up the noodles according to instructions. Place in a lasagna (9 X 13) pan or aluminum tin. Add the tuna, flaked. Add the mushroom sauce (You can also add mushrooms) Add the cheese, mix it through and sprinkle on top. Bake, covered for about 20 minutes and then uncover. Continue baking until cheese is browned.