Tuna Noodle Casserole with Crunchy Topping
Published Mar 22, 2021•Updated Jun 23, 2023
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There are no mushrooms (and no condensed soup) in this creamy homemade tuna noodle casserole with crunchy cornflake topping. Sweet peas and parmesan cheese add fresh flavor to this cozy classic.
What’s with the mushrooms in tuna noodle casserole? I’m thinking we can blame Campbell’s for this phenomenon? Don’t get me wrong, I love mushrooms in many forms, but not in this classic casserole. I would argue that the balance of creamy sauce, savory tuna, and fresh sweet peas in tuna noodle casserole does not need to be disrupted by earthy mushrooms.
I realize that I may be a tuna noodle outlier (I know you all will tell me if I am), but I ended up so far down a mushroom-filled rabbit hole when googling this dish that I ended up creating my own mushroom-less version. It is creamy, slightly rich, studded with sweet peas, and tastes a bit like spring to me.
There aren’t a lot of textures in tuna noodle casserole, so something crunchy really makes it. And because this recipe is completely retro, I vote for a retro topping in the form of cornflakes and melted butter. Buttery crunch in every single bite.
Here’s how to make it.
- Pasta – Any type of pasta will work. I love farfalle (bowties), medium shells, and fusilli. I always feel like shells (shown throughout this post) make the casserole feel more like a side dish, but larger pasta shapes like farfalle and fusilli make it feel more like a main dish, but it works well either way.
- Butter, All-Purpose Flour – These combine to make a simple thick base for the creamy sauce or “roux”.
- Celery Seeds – Celery seeds give a subtle fresh flavor to the dish. It’s a subtle nod to the crisp freshness of celery without the need to use actual celery. While technically this is optional (the dish will turn out just fine without it), I really think it takes the flavor of the casserole up a notch.
- Milk – Any type of milk will work fine here.
- Parmesan Cheese – This adds richness to the sauce. For the creamiest result, it’s a good idea to grate the parmesan yourself.
- Peas – Sweet peas add color and flavor. Frozen and defrosted, fresh, or canned peas work just fine.
- Tuna – I like tuna packed in water for this casserole. Tuna packed in oil has more flavor, but can make this creamy dish taste overly rich. That said, any tuna you like will work just fine.
- Lemon Zest – It’s worth the extra step to add some lemon zest to the dish. It’s amazing how much brightness a small amount of lemon zest adds!
Crunchy Cornflake Topping
To add lots of crunch on top of this casserole, look no further than the old-school (but undeniably delicious) topping of cornflakes mixed with melted butter. The cornflakes get deep golden brown and extra crunchy in the oven.
If I’m not careful, our entire family will stand around the kitchen counter and eat each and every cornflake off the top of this casserole before it makes it to the table.
More Cozy Casserole Recipes
- Lasagna Bolognese
- Creamy Cauliflower Baked Ziti
- Broccoli and Cheddar Baked Risotto
- Spinach and Artichoke Baked Pasta
- Creamy Chicken Enchilada Casserole
- Pyrex 2-cup Glass Measuring Cup
- 9×13 Emile Henri Baker
- Cuisinart Stockpot with Strainer
- All Clad Saucepan
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Tuna Noodle Casserole Recipe
- 9 x 13 Baking Dish
For the Casserole:
- 1 pound pasta, medium shells (substitute fusilli)
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 1 teaspoon celery seeds (optional, but they add great flavor!)
- 2 1/2 cups milk, any type
- 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 2 1/2 cups peas (use frozen and defrosted or canned, drained)
- 2 5 ounce cans tuna, drained and shredded
- 1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (optional)
For the Topping:
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 2 cups cornflakes
- Preheat oven to 350°F / 177°C. Spray a 9×13 baking dish (or any casserole dish of similar size) with nonstick cooking spray or brush with some oil.
- Boil noodles according to package directions.
- While pasta boils, heat a saucepan over medium heat. Add butter and cook until butter is melted. To melted butter, add flour and celery seeds and stir until no dry spots remain. Continue cooking until butter-flour mixture starts turns golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes.
- Slowly pour in the milk while whisking. Bring the mixture to a simmer (adjust heat as needed), whisking constantly. Simmer until mixture thickens slightly, about 3 minutes more. Remove from the heat and whisk in the cheese.
- Gently fold the cooked pasta, peas, tuna, and lemon zest into sauce. Taste and season with some salt and black pepper (don’t skip this step – the dish will be slightly salty from the cheese, but will likely need more salt).
- Spread mixture out in prepared baking dish.
- Gently stir together melted butter and cornflakes. Spread the cornflakes over top of the casserole.
- Bake until the topping is golden brown and the filling is heated all the way through, 20 to 25 minutes.
- Serve immediately.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.