Friday, April 6, 2012

Pantry Pasta Perfection: Tuna Noodle No Casserole

A week or two ago I was in the middle of spring cleaning which really means spring re-organization. Just about every surface was covered with something. My stomach was rumbling and I wondered what was for dinner. Takeout does not satisfy the way a home cooked meal does.

Why not pull from the pantry? I was spring cleaning after all.

Digging in the pantry I gathered, two cans of tuna, a can of anchovies, a can of string beans, a can of condensed mushroom soup, and two 13.25 oz boxes of whole wheat spaghetti.

First, I filled my pasta pot (with insert) with water and turned on the flame. While that heated, I got out my trusty 7 quart dutch oven. Into the pan, I dumped the entire small can of anchovies plus the packing oil. The tuna was drained before it made it to the pan. I added a touch more olive oil to help sauté the fish.

The very thought of canned anchovies may repulse some of you. For you food snobs out there, the canned product I buy is very nice with wide, firm fillets. Jarred anchovies are nice too because you can just use a few from the jar at a time. Jarred anchovies are also hard to find unless you spend mucho moola more for the same product. This is especially true if the anchovies are packed in salt. Not to mention having to drive to the specialty food store which isn’t worth it if you are only going for one or two items. For those who say, “eww anchovies,” you are missing out on something truly wonderful. Anchovies are not only good for you, they disintegrate as they sauté giving the finished dish an underlying deliciousness.

Canned tuna will never be anything like fresh tuna. I don’t use tuna packed in olive oil because again it is hard to find. I happened to have two cans of solid white in oil in my pantry. This oil is drained because I do not like using soybean oil in my food. Plus they add broth to oil packed tuna.

Before I turned on the heat under the pan, I added a bunch of dried spices. Those included: onion, garlic, thyme, red pepper, oregano, basil, and black pepper. After a quick stir while on a medium flame, I drained then rinsed the green beans. The beans were added to the pan and quickly stirred.

Dried herbs and spices are great. I find them just as good as fresh and when you are pressed for time or space they work very well. The flavor of dried herbs are much more pungent than their fresh counterparts. Some herbs, such as oregano, are actually better dried. The oils become much more concentrated and cooking them in a little oil first helps to coax the flavor out of them. When my garden is in full swing, then I’ll use fresh over dry.

Canned veggies need to be rinsed before using. They tend to keep the flavor of the can, which can completely ruin a great dish.

Once I could smell things cooking, I sprinkled seasoned breadcrumbs to just cover the bottom of the pan. The breadcrumbs absorbed the oil as I stirred them to get them toasted lightly.

The water came to a boil and I added some salt before dropping the pasta in the water.

Salt is added to the pasta water to give pasta a little oomph. Otherwise, pasta can taste like cardboard. In cooking, I typically use kosher or sea salt. But in pasta water, I use regular inexpensive table salt. Be careful though, you can over salt the water. The sauce does not need any salt. The soup, fish, beans, and breadcrumbs all already have copious amounts of salt.

As the pasta cooked according to the package directions, I dug the soup out of the can adding it to the beans and tuna. To that, I added a half a can of milk. Because I drink skim, about a quarter can of half and half was thrown into the mix. And, I can’t forget the splash of dry vermouth. Everything was stirred well. A knob of butter gave the sauce a smooth finish.

Resist the urge to add more milk. The breadcrumbs will absorb the liquid. Adding a second can of condensed soup or too much milk will make the sauce soupy. A soupy sauce can turn any pasta into mush rather quickly. If you find that you have too much liquid, cook the sauce without the lid so the excess liquid can evaporate.

The “sauce” was thickish. I turned the sauce down to low while the pasta finished cooking. Once the pasta was ready, I dumped it into sauce pan. Using my wooden spoon, I stirred the pasta and sauce to coat. If it doesn’t coat well, add a couple of ladles of pasta water. The pasta water loosens the sauce and allows it to coat beautifully.

The pasta was creamy without being heavy. The touch of red pepper flakes gave such a balance. This delicious dinner served 4 hungry adults with leftovers to serve at lunch the next day.

I wish I had taken pictures but, before I could breakout the camera or the camera phone we ate it. Imagine a plateful of taupe colored spaghetti with hints of mouth melting tuna punctuated with cut green beans.

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Leftovers were spread into a buttered 8-inch square pan. I added milk to the pan to give it more moisture. The top was lightly sprinkled with seasoned breadcrumbs then dotted with butter. It was baked in a 350F degree oven until hot and bubbly which took about 30 minutes.

2 comments:

  1. Hmmm...perhaps you should also author cooking books.

    ReplyDelete
  2. One is already in the works with my mom as co-conspirator.

    ReplyDelete