ultimate comfort food: ode to the tuna casserole

Twenty years ago, as I was leaving home after university, my mom gave me a gift. "My mother gave me one of these when I was leaving home, and now, as you leave home, I give this to you." And she pressed the item meaningfully into my hands.

It was a brand new Betty Crocker cookbook.

I will admit to you that I have made very few recipes from this cookbook (more a comment on my laziness than the book's contents), but there is one dish I did make soon after receiving the book: the creamy tuna casserole. In true Betty Crocker fashion, this thing was laden with all the fat you could possibly desire, and my heavens, did it taste sublime. Over the years, I've tweaked it quite a bit, adding and subtracting here and there, and perfected it -- and I have to tell you, I've never disappointed with this recipe. It is the ultimate comfort food, and because the preparation takes very little time, it's perfect for a good home cooked meal after returning home from a long trip, or sticking to your ribs on a cold winter's night, or welcoming a prodigal child home.

Marcus was down and out this past weekend having caught my consumption; and so, Saturday night, I decided to whip up a batch of tuna casserole to see if it might make him feel better. I won't tell you that the recipe has powerful medicinal properties, but ... well, he's feeling a lot better now.

Anyway, if you've ever felt like tapping into your inner 60's domestic deity, here's the recipe -- not nearly as fat-laden as Betty would have you make it, but still packing a bit of a cholesterol punch. But hey, if I took all of the bad stuff out, it wouldn't be called "comfort food" anymore, would it?


- 12 ounces cooked penne pasta (I use whole-wheat, but regular works fine)
- 1 12-1/2 oz can of tuna packed in water, drained
- about 1 cup of fresh sliced mushrooms
- 1 small (or 1/2 large) onion, diced (I actually grate the onion, so that Alex doesn't spend the entire meal picking them out -- she likes the taste, but not the texture, so if you have a similar aversion, grating's the way to go)
- 1-1/2 cups light sour cream (the original recipe called for full-fat, but to be honest, I don't notice much of a difference in taste by using the light version)
- 3/4 cup low-fat (2%) milk
- salt to taste (I use seasoned salt, like Tony Chachere's original Creole seasoning)
- black pepper to taste (if you use seasoned salt, you may find you don't need the black pepper)
- 1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 4 tablespoons butter, melted (I told you it wasn't completely good for you!)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (175 degrees Celcius).

2. In a large mixing bowl, mix together the pasta, tuna, mushrooms, onion, sour cream, milk, salt and pepper, and pour into a 2-quart casserole dish.

3. Mix together the breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese and melted butter, and sprinkle over the tuna mixture.

4. Bake uncovered until hot and bubbly, about 35 to 40 minutes.  Serves 4, with seconds for everyone.