Mmm, look at all that cheesy goodness! It would be fair to say that Tuna Macaroni Cheese is one of the boys’ favourites; a comforting thought given that this comfort food is on high rotation in our house, especially throughout Lent, in winter months, when we are going to be out and need a quick and easy meal prepared earlier – well, you get the picture! And a good basic Mac and Cheese recipe means that you have lots of options available. Feeling fancy? Put in some sundried tomatoes and basil. Not a tuna lover (or none in the pantry)? Fry some finely diced onion with the butter and add a good dollop of mustard. Believe me, this is GREAT boy food, and my boys would be happy to eat weekly (if their poor old mother’s hips could stand that sort of punishment!) This is not something we grew up with. I do recall when my sister was first married in the early 80’s, her dinner party starter of choice was Tuna and Asparagus Mornay. Did we think that was the height of sophistication! Tinned asparagus of course (none of that fresh tasty stuff) and served in a clam shell. Very classy! Anyway, I can cross my heart and say I have never made Tuna Mornay (in a clam shell or otherwise) and did not really venture into Macaroni Cheese until I had small children, and it was an easy and safe option when they had little mates around for a meal. Short pause for a mother moment; sighing and wondering why my baby boys have grown up so fast (I am wiping away a little tear). But back to the Mac and Cheese….
Start by cooking 400g pasta in lots of boiling salted water. As you can see, I took the opportunity to use up some pasta that was left in two packets in the pantry, and this was a great way of cleaning and sorting through those bits and pieces that get left behind when you are rushing. These were the same brand of pasta – don’t try with different brands as the cooking times vary too much and it just doesn’t work (trust me people – I have tried and failed, not just once but many times!) I also sometimes use the tricoloured veg pasta in my endless bid to sneak more “green” into TM’s diet. It comes in a 375 g pack so no leftovers in the pantry – yeah!
While the pasta is cooking, grab the other ingredients:
I use tuna in oil (Italian style) but you can use tuna in springwater if you prefer that taste. And please, only do it for the taste – we’re making pasta with cheese, calories are not being counted with this meal! For the cheese, I use a mixture of cheddar, Colby and parmesan. The Colby has a higher moisture content and melts beautifully, but I like a good sharp cheddar and about 1/4 cup parmesan for a good flavour. You can use whatever combination you like, and if you want to use one of those pre-grated combos, you will get no judgement from me – this is a meal about comfort and convenience!
I then mix the pasta and the tuna, peas and parsley together in a bowl. There are two reasons I do this. Firstly, the oil in the tuna stops the pasta from sticking together, and this mixing also ensures an even spread of the ingredients throughout. The second reason I use a bowl to mix is that the dish I bake in is just right Goldilocks – if I try to mix in there, everything ends up all over the bench!
Next to the easy cheesy sauce. This is a good one to master. It is the basis for cauliflower cheese and lasagne and to be frank, I don’t think that there is anything that couldn’t be improved with a lovely oozy trail of cheese sauce. Heat some butter in a large saucepan and stir until melted. Add flour and stir until a paste forms. Now cook this for a few minutes – you want to make sure that the flour cooks – the browned the “roux” gets, the nuttier the taste. Again, this is up to you, and I apologise for not having taken a photo, but to be truthful, I had started to add the milk before I remembered! So here is a link to Gordon Ramsey making one – we are probably on par for swearing! Now add the milk slowly, stirring constantly and adding more milk as it is incorporated. If you heat the milk a little in the microwave or a pan, this process will be faster, so you choose – less waiting or less washing up. Once all the milk has been added, continue to stir until thickened, then take off the heat and add about a cup of the cheese and stir until melted. Yumm!!!!
Now to pop the pasta and tuna into the dish that you will be baking in. I like to put some cheese sauce in the bottom first – this ensures that the bottom is not dried out, and as I have mentioned, the dish I use does not give me much room for stirring once it is all put together. Pour in the pasta and tuna mixture and top with the cheese sauce. Scatter with the extra cheese and some parsley or even breadcrumbs.
Don’t you love this dish? It was one of the things Mum gave me when I moved out to go to Uni – very retro! And as I have mentioned, a perfect size for this Tuna Macaroni Cheese. Now, if you are cooking and eating straight away, you can pop this into a preheated 180°C oven for 15-20 minutes or until the top is golden and brown. If you are making to serve later, cover with an oiled piece of foil, cool completely and place in fridge. To reheat, remove from fridge and bring to room temperature, place in moderate oven for 20 – 25 minutes to heat the macaroni through, then remove foil and brown the top. Too easy! Lovely served with a light green salad, or as it so often is in our house, just in large bowl all by itself. Buon appetito!
- 400g pasta
- 185g tin of tuna in oil *
- 1 cup frozen peas
- handful of parsley, roughly chopped
- Cheese Sauce:
- 60 g butter
- 3 tbs flour
- 2 cups milk
- 11/2 cups of grated cheese (try a combination of Cheddar, Colby and Parmesan)
- Preheat oven to 180°C.
- Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente. In a large bowl, mix drained tuna, peas and parsley with the drained pasta.
- Cheese Sauce:
- Melt the butter in a pan over medium heat. Add flour, and stir until a paste or "roux" forms. Cook for a minute, then gradually add the milk, stirring constantly to avoid lumps. Stir until sauce is thickened.
- Remove from heat and stir through about 1 cup of grated cheese, reserving rest for the top of the dish.
- Place a layer of cheese sauce on the bottom of a large oven proof dish, then pout pasta and tuna mix on top. Pour over remaining cheese sauce and sprinkle with reserved cheese.
- Place in oven and bake for 20 - 30 minutes, until top is bubbling and golden and pasta is heated through.
If making ahead of time, cover dish with a greased piece of foil and refrigerate. When ready to reheat, allow to come to room temperature, place in oven for 25 minutes, then remove foil and cook for a further 10-15 minutes until cheesy top is golden