Bake this pasta dish with canned tuna and panko in the oven for an extra special weeknight dinner in a hurry!
I’ve been longing to make this dish again. I first made it a few back before John.e came into my life. It was one of those dishes that was so fast and easy to prepare after work. And, there were always leftovers which were easily reheated for lunch at work the next day or for dinner the next night.
I remember the first time I was presented with a Tuna Pasta Bake. It seemed a little strange to me. My mom had never prepared a baked pasta dish with canned tuna in it. Neither did my ex-wife. But, they both prepared cold macaroni pasta salads with tuna, so why was I so aprehensive?
A big bowl of the piping hot pasta was placed in front of me and I respectfully and politely took a small fork full. To my surprise, I was absolutely delighted and couldn’t believe I was so worried about this strange canned tuna with frozen veggies and pasta, which was baked in the oven until the panko on top turned a light toasty colour. I was in food heaven!
In the year between my divorce and meeting John.e, I must have had Tuna Pasta Bake at least once a month. But, after life started with John.e, the vegetarian, incorporating canned tuna into a pasta dish like this became a thing of the past.
I could have made it for myself, but this is a lot of pasta for one person. It was just easier to not make it at all, to be honest! And, even though I will eat leftovers once, I can’t eat the same dish three days in a row. Oh, and freezing pasta is a last resort. It just turns to gloppy mess after it’s thawed.
A few months ago – I think I was in the middle of a breakdown actually – John.e decided to introduce fish back into his diet after more than 25 years of being a strict vegetarian. He agreed to eat what I call clean fish, which is basically salmon, cod, tilapia, tuna, etc.
Anything in a shell or remotely close to shell-like is completely unacceptable. In actuality, he never has to worry about it, because I wouldn’t eat shrimp to save my life! I won’t eat trout either for that matter. What? I have my reasons! (I think it’s best I keep them to myself though. Haha!)
So what makes this Tuna Pasta Bake so good? I think it’s just a combination of everything really. First of all, you can’t beat a good bechamel or cheese sauce. If you take the time to make it from scratch, the difference is really noticeable. Use the best pasta you can. What I mean by that is use one that you trust and like the taste and texture of. Again, it will make a difference.
When it comes to cheese, I never buy that pre-shredded stuff you find in the bags in the cool section of your grocer. Buy a nice chunk of cheese and shred it yourself. It will taste better and most certainly will melt down better than that pre-shredded stuff!
Since canned tuna is probably the most expensive thing in the list of ingredients, buy one that has nice chunks to it. You can certainly use the tuna that’s packed in water, but I find the tuna packed in oil is best for this recipe. It’s the only time I buy the packed in oil type.
That’s it, Dear Reader. Dig in while it’s still hot. The cheese sauce is gooey and creamy. The tuna is flaky and fibrous against the softness of the pasta. And, the crunchiness from the panko is divine! Enjoy!
Tuna Pasta Bake
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 3 tablespoons all purpose flour
- 1 1/2 cups milk
- 2 cups cheddar cheese, grated
- 500 grams pasta, cooked according to package instructions, drained and cooled (use rigatoni, bowtie, or penne pasta)
- 1 cup frozen corn
- 1 cup frozen peas
- 1/4 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
- 10 ounces canned flaked tuna, packed in oil (drain off the excess oil)
- 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
- non-stick cooking spray
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Lightly grease a deep casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.
- In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions, salt, and ground black pepper. Cook the onions until well done – about 7-8 minutes.
- Sprinkle in the flour and stir into the butter and onion mixture. Cook for 2-3 minutes.
- Next, whisk in the milk. Continue to cook and whisk over medium heat. The milk will thicken. This will take about 5 minutes.
- Add the grated cheese and turn off the heat. Stir in the cheese until melted completely. Set aside.
- Add the cooked pasta, corn, peas, and parsley to the cheese sauce. Stir well to combine.
- Add in the tuna. Stir into the pasta mixture, but not too much. Try to keep the tuna pieces from breaking up too much.
- Poor the entire mixture into the prepared casserole dish.
- Top with panko and bake covered for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake for 20 additional minutes.
- Serve hot from the oven.