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Tuna Tettrazini

I didn’t put this recipe up in time for this past Friday, the first Friday of Lent, because, like usual, it always takes me about a week to get myself in gear for this season. It’s always a challenge to remember that I’m not supposed to eat meat the first week or that I was supposed to have given something up for the next month and a half.

My brain still hasn’t activated the “You are banned from eating meat today” voice until at least the second week. In good years, this happens prior to my eating a chicken sandwich for lunch. In not-so-good years, I’ll have already had bacon for breakfast before it occurs to me that I shouldn’t have eaten it. This year, I felt pretty good about being on top of it, even having my first tuna melt on Ash Wednesday. Good thing that this is only once a year.

So, after the first Friday of pizza for dinner or fish sticks and tater tots (mmm, remember those from school lunches), it’s time to dust off the tuna recipes. Tuna Tetrazzini was among the first of the dishes that I was put in charge of making. It was usually served with “salad” (aka iceburg lettuce with bottled Italian dressing). To be a bit more grown up, I opted for having my recipe for Freshly-Shelled Peas with Sautéed Shallots as the side dish.

In discussing my cooking project with one of my sisters, she mentioned that she also hadn’t made it in a while. I have to say that, periodically, I’ve even had a craving for it. Its base is similar to that for macaroni and cheese, with a variation on white sauce (see my recipe for it here), and it has that gooey, creamy quality that is a hallmark of many a comfort food. We weren’t a tuna casserole family so there aren’t any veggies mixed into this dish, there’s no cream of anything soup as the base, or potato chips [plain crisps for my English friends] crumbled on top. (That actually doesn’t even sound appetizing as I write it, even though it was a culinary staple when I was growing up.)

Tuna Tetrazzini

Prep time: 45 minutes Serving size: 4 large to 6 medium portions

Ingredients: 1/4 c. butter (1/2 stick) 1/4 c. all-purpose flour 2 c. whole milk 1 tsp. ground mustard salt pepper 1/2 c. sherry (cooking sherry is fine) 8 oz. cooked noodles or macaroni 1 large can tuna, liquid drained 1/4 c. plus 2 Tbsp. shredded American or Cheddar cheese*

Assembly: In saucepan, over low heat, melt butter. Add flour and stir to make sure that it is completely absorbed by the butter. Cook for 1-2 minutes until golden brown, but do not let it become dark. Add milk one-quarter cup at a time, making sure to stir continuously to avoid lumps forming.

The milk needs to be whisked in thoroughly after each addition until it has been completely absorbed by the flour-butter mixture. Continue to stir over low heat until the sauce has become very thick, like mayonnaise. Add dry mustard to the cream sauce. Sprinkle in salt and pepper to taste. Then, stir in sherry and allow mixture to thicken once again.

Stir in 1/4 cup of shredded cheese to the cream sauce. Fold in tuna. Add cooked pasta to cream-tuna-cheese mixture. Pour into baking pan (I used a 9-inch by 9-inch one.) and sprinkle the remaining shredded cheese on top. Place in preheated 350 degree Fahrenheit oven (180 Centigrade / Gas Mark 4) for 20-30 minutes until cheese has melted and dish is bubbling hot.

Remove from the oven to cool for few minutes and make the peas side dish in the meantime. Serve peas immediately with the tuna tetrazzini.

*The original of this recipe called for using Velveeta, but I don’t allow that to cross the threshold of my abode. Instead, after doing a little bit of research on macaroni and cheese, I decided to go with an American and Cheddar cheese combo, which melts just as nicely.

Buon appetito!

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