Basically I'm a lazy person, and that's why I LOVE casseroles. I mean, you toss a bunch of ingredients into a baking dish, pop it in the oven, and VOILA - - - a balanced dinner all in one dish. I think I may be a casserole queen.
We love tuna 'round here. Fisherhubby would probably eat a tuna sandwich for every meal without complaining if I just threw him a strip of extra thick crispy bacon every now and then "on the side."
Over the years I've experimented with, tweaked, and perfected (she said modestly) tuna casserole. Now I call it "Not Yo Mama's Tuna Casserole."
Here I've gathered MOST of the ingredients together for a family picture.
I like to use Wacky Mac because it is made using beets, spinach, and tomatoes. VOILA! Three vegetables right there.
To get started putting "Not Yo Mama" together, get your Wacky Mac cooking. I fill a two cup pitcher to overflowing with dry bow ties, then toss them into the boiling salted olive oiled water.
While those are cooking up to a nice al dente texture, I go on with the other steps of preparation.
And perspiration - - - but that's another blog post.
This is a bag of what I call "the holy trinity." I blatantly stole that phrase from Food Network cooking shows.
Holy trinity is a combination of chopped onion, peppers, and celery. I found this bag/brand of holy trinity all chopped and ready to go in the freezer section of our local IGA.
Yep - - - we still have IGA around here.
I keep several bags of this stuff in my freezer at all times. Most dishes are better if the flavor base STARTS with sauteed trinity. This is SECRET INGREDIENT #1 of "Not Yo Mama's."
I figure why chop myself if I can find it already done for me. That's not only lazy, it's smart! I have more important things (like blogging and football watching) to do with my time than spend it chopping.
So, in a small frying pan sautee a "healthy bit" of salted, cayenne peppered trinity in olive oil until it softens and becomes transparent.
If your kids, your hubby, or you think you don't LIKE onion and/or peppers it is probably the look and texture more than the taste. So, trick everybody. Mash it all up after it sautees so they won't SEE the chunks in the dish, but the flavor will still be there. If you close your eyes while you mash, you'll even be able to fool yourself.
While the trinity is sauteeing-up (that's a technical cooking term, "sauteeing-up") in the pan, I turn my attention to getting the casserole binder put together.
I start the binder with SECRET INGREDIENT #2, real Mayo. Do not grab Miracle Whip and think it is mayo - - - IT IS NOT.
I drop in a dallop of mayo about the size shown above.
I am a mayo lover. If you, or your kids, or your hubby are NOT mayo lovers you could start with a smaller dollop. But you really don't want to SKIP this secret ingredient. It does something so "je ne sais quoi" for the binder. It is a MUST.
Next add a can of condensed cream of mushroom soup and thoroughly blend the mayo and soup with a fork.
By now your trinity has probably finished sauteeing-up, so it is time to throw SECRET INGREDIENT #3 into the sautee pan with the trinity.
Yes, I have used green peas. Then one day when I didn't have any peas, I tried corn. OH MY!!! So much better. You may still use peas if you insist, but go ahead - - - be brave - - - try corn!
This is a brand of frozen corn that I buy at IGA. Never heard of this brand before IGA, but it is absolutely the BEST and sweetest frozen corn I've ever found.
I drop a generous pile of frozen corn into the sautee pan with the trinity just to let it thaw and begin to heat through.
I can't be bothered with measuring.
I'm all about dallops, piles, and scoops.
Meanwhile - - - back at our binder. Once the soup and mayo are thoroughly blended, drop in a can of drained mushrooms, a can of drained sliced water chestnuts, and a couple hand fulls of grated cheese. Use real cheese - - - this IS a Wisconsin dish, after all. The processed varieties of cheese are just too slimy. I used a blend of cheddar and mozzarella.
Water chestnuts are SECRET INGREDIENT #4. If I feel like it, I sometimes chop the sliced chestnuts into smaller pieces. If you aren't sure you LIKE water chestnuts you could do the same.
However - - - being a lazy person and since both Fisherhubby and I LOVE water chestnuts, I usually just dump them in exactly as they come from the can.
These are going to give "Not Yo Mama" a special "tender crunch" texture. They are awesome.
If you HAVE a small jar of pimentos, drain them and toss them in at this point too. They are SECRET INGREDIENT #5. They add color and an interesting bit of flavor to "Not Yo Mama." However, I didn't have any that day so we will proceed without them.
Stir up your binder, mushrooms, and water chestnuts.
Now add your sauteed mixture and stir it in until all the bits and pieces are well coated with binder.
Next open and drain two small cans of tuna. You could use one family size can instead, but I rarely buy that size, so I go with two small cans.
If you are tuna haters at your house, you could try just one can of tuna or even chicken instead. However, I've used chicken in this dish and was sorely disappointed. The flavor just wasn't there.
Gently fold the tuna into the binder mixture so that some of the larger chunks of tuna are left intact.
Now you are ready to drain your bow tie pasta (you can use any pasta you like, I just enjoy a macaroni with a fun shape!) and GENTLY fold it in. Again, gentle is important here so you don't tear up your pasta.
Now turn your casserole out into a well "pammed" baking dish. Spread it out evenly.
Now it's time for SECRET INGREDIENT #6, Pepperidge Farm crumbled stuffing mix.
Around here, this stuffing mix disappears out of the stores shortly after Christmas. So, when it comes in at Thanksgiving time, I buy up several bags. Here you see my refrigerator top handy dandy storage spot for unopened stuffing.
If all you have is the cubed variety - - - place some of it in a heavy zip lock freezer bag then roll it with your rolling pin until it is broken into small bits.
Sprinkle the dry mix over the top of "Not Yo Mama." This will add a flavor and texture layer that is magnifico!
Next, thoroughly cover the stuffing mix with grated cheese - - - ditto the REAL CHEESE part.
You want to be sure and get a good, thick covering of cheese. If you don't cover the stuffing mix adequately, once the cheese melts the stuffing crumbs can get too hard and crunchy.
Bake "Not Yo Mama" in a 350 degree oven for about 40 minutes - - - until the cheese is melted and browning and the casserole is bubbling up.
Serve and enjoy!