This is an easy tuna noodle casserole that can be made during the week for your family! It’s a delicious twist on the classic tuna noodle casserole that you’re used to using sun dried tomatoes, peas and roasted red pepper and real cream instead of cream of mushroom soup.
Tuna Noodle Casserole without Soup
I had trouble with this one because I am not a big fan of casseroles in general and especially tuna noodle casserole.
I have a serious fear of all condensed “cream of something” soups and any meat or seafood that can be canned, left on a shelf for months and not refrigerated. How can a dairy product not need refrigeration?
Leaving me to come up with creamy concoctions using the basics: cream, butter, milk and to overcome my phobia of canned meats and fishes. Easy to put together, so why in the world do people do the “cream of something” soup? This is more of a tuna alfredo casserole, if you will.
This tuna casserole also adds peas for texture and tangy sun dried tomatoes with roasted red peppers. Seasoned bread crumbs give it the buttery crunch you love from your best tuna noodle casserole recipe, although feel free to add those classic crunchies like potato chips, corn flakes or even fried onions.
The end result was not your mother’s can of tuna + cream of mushroom soup + potato chips. Instead it was more of a baked alfredo with sophisticated flavors and a variety of textures, hence fancy tuna noodle.
What are the Ingredients of Tuna Noodle Casserole?
You might have to run to the store for a few of these. A couple of pantry staples and a few bought special, however they all have a long shelf life. Designate this as an “end of the week” dish if you shop over the weekend.
- Olive oil – This is what we’ll use to saute the garlic and breadcrumbs. You could use avocado oil, melted butter or any other neutral oil that you have.
- Panko bread crumbs – Breadcrumbs are the perfect base for the crunchy topping that everyone loves in this classic comfort food.
- Garlic cloves – I much prefer to use fresh garlic rather than the jar of minced garlic you can buy at the grocery store. It’s so much more flavorful that way.
- Vegetables – I like to use a blend of mushrooms, onion, frozen peas, roasted red peppers and sun dried tomatoes. Make this classic tuna noodle casserole recipe your own by adding your favorite veggies. Green beans, bell pepper or green onions would all be great additions.
- Butter – Any time I cook, I always try to use unsalted butter. That way I can control the amount of butter that goes into the recipe. You can always add more salt later if you need to.
- Flour – In order to thicken creamy casseroles, we use a combination of all purpose flour and butter to make a roux. This is basically a paste that is a great way to thicken recipes.
- Heavy cream – If you don’t have heavy cream on hand, you could also use whole milk. This is the base for our homemade creamy sauce. We make our own rather than using cream of celery soup or cream of chicken soup. But canned soup is great if you’re in a hurry.
- Salt and pepper – I use a combination of coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. This classic recipe is pretty flavorful on it’s own, so we need minimal seasonings.
- Farfalle pasta – You will want to make sure this is cooked to al dente and drained. Alternatively, you can use elbow macaroni, tender egg noodles or any other noodles you’d prefer. Cook noodles according to package instructions.
- Solid white tuna – You can certainly use caned tuna fish if you’d like to, but solid white albacore tuna is what takes this easy tuna casserole recipe up a notch.
- Parmigiano-reggiano cheese – You can also use fresh parmesan cheese, but I always suggest grating your own. Pre-shredded cheeses have an additive to prevent it from sticking together. But it also prevents it from melting smoothly.
How to Make Tuna Noodle Casserole
Make this easy dinner recipe ahead of time and then bake when ready!
- Prepare oven and baking dish. Preheat the oven and coat a large casserole dish with cooking spray and set aside.
- Make crunchy topping. In a medium skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, cook for a minute. Then add the panko bread crumbs, tossing to coat. Continue to brown until fragrant.
- Saute mushrooms. Using the same pan, return to medium heat and add the mushrooms, using just the leftover oil. Reduce to half the size and spoon out to a dish. Set aside.
- Sauté onions and make roux. In the same pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion and sauté until it is soft and opaque. Mix in the flour until it makes a paste, and continue stir until light brown.
- Add cream and veggies. Whisk in the cream, bringing to a simmer. Add the frozen peas, sun dried tomatoes and roasted red peppers. Toss to coat and remove from the heat. Season with salt and pepper.
- Combine all ingredients. In a large mixing bowl, combine cooked pasta, cream mixture, tuna, and cheese. Mix until all ingredients are fully combined and then transfer to dish.
- Add topping. Top with the seasoned panko topping.
- Bake. Bake covered for 20 minutes, then remove the lid or aluminum foil and cook for another 5 minutes or until casserole registers at 145°F. Allow to rest before serving.
We love to hear about your customizations- make sure to tell us all about them in the comments!
- Crunchy topping – Instead of breadcrumbs, you can also use crushed Ritz crackers. Their buttery flavor really adds another delicious element to this creamy tuna noodle casserole.
- Cheese – If you want to make a cheesy tuna noodle casserole, try adding some cheese into the actual noodle mixture. A cup parmesan or even sharp cheddar would be great.
- Seasoning – If you’d like to take the spice level up a notch, add in some onion powder, garlic powder or lemon juice for brightness.
- Noodles – I used farfalle pasta, but alternatively, you can use elbow macaroni, tender egg noodles or any other noodles you’d prefer.
- Tuna – Regular tuna can be substituted for tuna in oil with sun dried tomatoes if you choose.
Tuna Noodle Casserole Tips
There are two common reasons why tuna noodle casserole gets dry. The first is that it is cooked too long. High heat depletes the moisture from any dish, although some love those toasty little edges of pasta that peak out and get crunchy. The second is not enough moisture in the overall recipe. The noodles suck it up, leaving it dry. This is also common in leftovers. Prevent both of these issues by covering the casserole with aluminum foil during the first part of baking, using a dish that is the correct size (too big spreads it out too thin) and paying attention to the cook time to not over cook.
This iconic bootstrap recipe was seen in middle class family kitchens throughout the US during the 1950s, so it is commonly associated with places like the McCalls magazine and JELLO molds. But it was actually first seen two decades earlier in the Pacific Northwest where it was made from scratch ingredients and served cold.
It really depends on the casserole, but covering with aluminum foil while baking helps to keep the moisture in the dish instead of evaporating. Make sure there is enough moisture. When mixing the casserole ingredients, this may feel like there is too much, but it should be just right after the noodles (or rice or bread depending on the casserole) soak up some moisture.
Either! This is personal preference. If you do indulge in it cold, please make sure to cook it first, then cool it. It needs that initial bake for all of the ingredients to marry.
Store cooked tuna noodle casserole in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Eat cold or reheat. If reheating, add a small amount of cream or milk to the dish so it doesn’t further dry out while reheating. Taste test for additional salt, as chilled foods end up a little muted.
You sure can! This is a freezer friendly tuna noodle casserole recipe. Follow my easy instructions on how to freeze, store and reheat casseroles.
If you are wanting Campbell’s Tuna Noodle Casserole, then nope, this one is not for you! This is an elevated version that has color and flavor.
Storage and Freezing
Storage: You can store any leftover tuna noodle casserole in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to four days. Eat cold or reheat in the microwave or oven. Add 1-2 tablespoons of milk or cream and stir to keep from drying out.
Freezing: This casserole also freezes well when wrapped in plastic wrap. If you’d like to learn to freeze casseroles, check out my guide!
Check out some of these other easy pasta recipes:
- Pesto Pasta Bake
- Lemony Artichoke Pesto with Pasta
- One-Pot Chicken Bruschetta Pasta
- Garlic Butter Pasta Sauce
Fancy Tuna Noodle Casserole Recipe
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup panko bread crumbs
- 2 garlic cloves , pressed or finely minced
- 8 ounces sliced mushrooms
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 medium onion . finely chopped
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 3 cups heavy cream
- 1 cup frozen peas
- 1/2 cup roasted red peppers , chopped and blotted dry with a paper towel
- 2 tablespoons sun dried tomatoes , drained minced
- 1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 12 ounces farfalle pasta , cooked to al dente and drained
- 12 ounces solid white tuna , well drained
- 3/4 cups parmigiano-reggiano cheese , finely grated
- Preheat the oven to 375°F degrees. Coat a large casserole dish with cooking spray and set aside.
- In a medium skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, cook for 1 minute. Add the panko bread crumbs, tossing to coat. Continue to brown for 3-4 minutes until fragrant and browned. Remove and set aside.
- Using the same pan, return to medium heat and add the mushrooms, using just the leftover oil. Reduce to half the size and spoon out to a dish. Set aside.
- In the same pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion and saute until it is soft and opaque. Mix in the flour until it makes a paste,and continue stir until flour is light brown. Whisk in the cream, bringing to a simmer. Add the frozen peas, sun dried tomatoes and roasted red peppers. Toss to coat and remove from the heat. Season with salt and pepper.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine cooked pasta, cream mixture, tuna, and cheese. Mix until all ingredients are fully combined and then transfer to the prepared casserole dish.
- Top with the seasoned panko topping.
- Bake, covered with aluminum foil, for 20 minutes, then remove the aluminum and cook for an additional 5 minutes or until casserole registrars at 145°F. Remove and allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.
- If you've tried this recipe, come back and let us know in the comments or star ratings.