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.


Mrs. S. said...

1) Welcome back! We missed you!

2) That's exactly how I used to make tuna casserole back in the Old Country* - except that I'd use 3 cans of tuna and 2 cans of mushroom soup and add corn or broccoli. Yum!

* i.e. way back, before carbs became a dirty word... ;-)

Unknown said...

What?!? No crushed potato chips on top? I'm from Boston. Perhaps that was a regional thing...

mother in israel said...

And here I expected a professional analysis of bilingualism.
My mother did not make this, but she made macaroni and cheese with canned tomato soup and Velveeta. And some Worcestshire sauce. Maybe I should post that recipe?

Rachel said...

My kids won't eat it, so I make it once a year, during the 9 days, when they are in the states ; )

Gila Rose said...

ohmigod ohmigod ohmigod. This post speaks to me! I, too, LOVED tuna casserole growing up - it was a Leibtag family staple. I continued to make it when we got married; somehow, it became our traditional after-fast food. In Israel, I tried recreating it by reconstituting mushroom soup powder, So it's been a while. Thanks for allowing me to enjoy it vicariously.

Anonymous said...

Baila - All these years here in Israel, and I never realized there were other tuna casserole lovers/longers out there! That is the dish I miss the most from the "old country" and hard as I've tried - just cannot seem to find a canned-mushroom-soup substitute in Israel. Please save some for me, it has literally been years....


Baila said...

Wow. Who knew there were so many TC lovers out there? Frankly, that's a relief for me. Perhaps we should form some kind of support group for those of here in Israel with little access to cream-of-mushroom and American tuna.

BTW, adding corn, broccolli or potatoe chips is fine, as long as you understand these are VARIATIONS of TC, and not the ORIGINAL.

And that velveeta cheese thing--I probably would have loved it.

Unknown said...

thanks for the memories you were not the only one "stealing" the cheese

Anonymous said...

Tuna casserole is the best. No two ways about it.

Baby Things I Want said...

Strange -- I grew up with TC and now serve it to my family and never even knew that it was a hated food by others.

p.s. we add breadcrumbs on top and some peas inside. And i use the light tuna here in israel; don't see the need for white.

Anonymous said...

Two comments. 1) Baila, I thought you loved MY tuna casserole! and 2) My kids' favorite dish is MY tuna caserole and we have it AT LEAST once a week.