Homemade Tuna Noodle Casserole

Sometimes it's nice to take an old classic recipe from your childhood and make an adult version. This rendition of Tuna Noodle Casserole doesn't use a can of soup, but makes it entirely from scratch - and it's easier than you think!

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Tuna Noodle Casserole in an oval white ceramic dish.

What is Tuna Noodle Casserole?

To be honest, tuna noodle casserole was NOT a dish I grew up with. Along with meatloaf, tuna noodle casserole was something I first experienced when I was at university in Canada, living with four other university students. That’s when I learned that you could combine a can of tuna, a can of cream of mushroom soup, frozen peas, grated Cheddar cheese and some cooked egg noodles in a casserole dish, top it with breadcrumbs (or other crunchy topping) and bake it into a meal that can happily and inexpensively serve five young college students. I expect I’d never had it at home growing up because my mum was a “from scratch” cook and wouldn’t think to use a can of soup in a recipe. I expect if I asked her today whether or not she knows what tuna noodle casserole is, she’d say she has no idea. 

Ingredients on a countertop - a can of tuna, noodles, peas, mushrooms, cheeses, breadcrumbs, vegetables, milk, stock and sherry.

How to Make Tuna Noodle Casserole from Scratch

You don’t have to make tuna noodle casserole with processed condensed soup. It’s actually quite easy to make a homemade tuna noodle casserole by making a mushroom-y white sauce in lieu of the soup and I bet you’ll find it even more delicious than your childhood versions. You’ll just need the three ingredients for a basic béchamel sauce (milk, butter, flour), some chicken stock and some mushrooms. To me, celery is an important addition to this dish, but it’s not critical. The same goes for the sherry. Sherry and mushrooms go together so nicely, but you could leave the sherry out if you don’t want to include it. Peas? Well, that’s up to you. My friends used to call this dish Tuna Pea Wiggle, so the peas seem essential to me. As with all meals that you make to nourish your body, go for the best quality ingredients you can find. Pick up a good quality can of tuna and get some good sharp Cheddar cheese and some grana padano Parmesan cheese (the cheaper version of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese). 

Onion, celery and mushrooms cooking in a pan with a wooden spoon.

When Was Tuna Noodle Casserole Created?

I would have sworn that Tuna Noodle Casserole was invented by the Campbell’s Soup Company as a way to promote their cream of mushroom soup, but in fact this recipe in some form has been around since the late 1930s in the Pacific northwest of the country and the combination of tuna with pasta probably dates back much farther than that. Of course, Campbell’s Soup made the dish famous as it’s can of soup turned it into a meal that anyone could make relatively mindlessly. You can read more about the history of the dish here.

The sauce for tuna noodle casserole in a saute pan with a wooden spoon.

Sauce for Tuna Noodle Casserole

The sauce for this recipe is very easy. Simply start by sautéing your onions and celery. Add the mushrooms and fresh thyme. When everything is tender, sprinkle flour over the vegetables and cook for just a couple of minutes before adding the sherry (if you’re using it), milk and chicken stock. Bring the mixture to a boil and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Easy. It is important to note, however, that this sauce should be relatively thin and loose. The noodles are going to absorb liquid as they bake in the oven, so let the sauce provide that extra liquid.

Tuna noodle casserole in an oval white casserole dish before going into the oven.

Different Toppings for Tuna Noodle Casserole

This recipe uses homemade fresh breadcrumbs and some Parmesan cheese for a delicious crunchy topping on a layer of Cheddar cheese, but there are other options. If you prefer, you could crumble up some potato chips, your favorite crackers or dried Italian seasoned breadcrumbs and use those instead. This recipe should take you back to the Tuna Noodle Casserole you enjoyed as a kid, so go back to what you used to enjoy on top of this classic.

A hand serving a spoonful of tuna noodle casserole out of a white dish.

What to Serve with Tuna Noodle Casserole

As a university student, I’m sure I just ate Tuna Noodle Casserole on its own and a lot more of it than I do now. These days, my portion size is quite a bit smaller and I put a green salad on the side. It seems appropriate with this more sophisticated version of the classic recipe, or maybe it just makes me feel more like a grown up – a grown up eating Tuna Pea Wiggle. 😉 

A serving of tuna noodle casserole with salad, a casserole dish and turquoise napkins in the background.

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Tuna Noodle Casserole

  • Prep Time: 20 m
  • Cook Time: 30 m
  • Total Time: 50 m
  • Servings:
    4

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 onion finely chopped
  • 2 ribs celery finely chopped
  • 8 to 10 ounces button mushrooms sliced
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves or ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 tablespoons dry sherry
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • pinch ground nutmeg
  • 8 ounces about 5 cups broad egg noodles
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 6-ounce can tuna, drained
  • ½ cup grated Cheddar cheese
  • ½ cup coarse fresh breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Instructions

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 350ºF.
  2. Pre-heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the butter and sauté the onion and celery until they start to become tender – about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and thyme and continue to cook until the mushrooms are tender.
  3. Add the flour and stir for a minute or two. Add the sherry (if using) and then whisk in the milk and chicken stock. Bring the mixture to a boil to thicken. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg and set the sauce aside.
  4. Bring a large stockpot of salted water to a boil. Cook the egg noodles according to the package directions, draining them a minute or two before they are perfectly cooked.
  5. Combine the sauce, pasta, peas and tuna together and transfer to a 2-quart casserole dish. Sprinkle the Cheddar cheese over the top of the casserole and top with breadcrumbs and Parmesan. Transfer the casserole dish to the oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the casserole is warmed through and the breadcrumbs on top have browned.

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Comments (11)Post a Reply

  1. 5 stars
    Plan on making it today. However, going over the recipe again for ingredients I noticed the directions state to add tuna mixture. What tuna mixture? Ingredients just call for a can of tuna drained, what else do we do with the tuna (if anything)?

    1. Sorry, Jim. That was a typo and I’ve fixed it now. Just mix the tuna in with the other ingredients.

    1. Hi Bob. This recipe COULD be converted to the pressure cooker, but I’m afraid I don’t think it’s worth it. You would have to use cream instead of milk, add more chicken stock in order for the noodles to cook and thicken the sauce AFTER cooking rather than beforehand with the flour. The tuna would be mixed in at the end and then you’d still have to put it in the oven to brown the top and melt the cheese, so all in all I don’t think you’d save much if any time.

  2. Hi Meredith – That’s exactly what I did and recipe turned out great. We also decided this recipe would also work substituting the tuna with shredded rotisserie chicken, flaked salmon or a tender beef (filet/NY Strip) sliced thin. Thank You!

  3. I have been making tuna noodle casseroles since my mother showed me how in the 1950s. Yours seems complicated. Here is my recipe:

    One can tuna.
    One can Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup.
    Two cups of milk – I use whole milk.
    Two cups of noodles – use directions for time, etc. ( I use mediums size.)
    One or two cans of peas. (depending on your preference) of peas. (I use canned peas drained.)

    Preheat oven to 325.
    Drain tuna. Place in large casserole dish. I personally use a very large measuring cup with spout. Add milk and stir.
    Add cream of mushroom soup and stir.
    Drain peas and add to mixture and stir. (Again, I use canned peas.)
    Add noodles (prepared by directions on bag of noodles) and stir.
    Pour mixture into casserole dish (or, use the casserole dish.
    You can use a topping if you wish. I do not.
    Cover dish and bake for one half hour.
    Remove from oven and enjoy!

  4. We love tuna casserole and this recipe sounds excellent, but I’m allergic to mushrooms. Will the recipe work if I just omit them, or should I substitute in another ingredient to replace them? If so, what would you suggest?
    Thank you!

    1. You can just omit the mushrooms in this recipe. Some substitutions that could work in this recipe would be diced carrots, red peppers or broccoli. You could also stir in some cherry tomatoes when you add the peas.

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