I think the difference between high-end restaurant food and a good home-cooked meal is a sauce. A well-made, carefully seasoned sauce.
I used to be okay with my risotto method. I always sought out Carnaroli rice, deglazed with a very drinkable wine, and finished with a generous pat of butter. It was good—predictable, but good. Then, I had risotto at Big Sur Bakery that was perched on top of a pool of rich salty broth. It was a heavenly sauce. Each bite of creamy risotto was made even better with a dip in silky beef stock. I now pair my risotto with a similar sauce. I’ll have to share this recipe another day.
Same thing with my pot stickers. I go through the trouble to make a delicious scallion-ginger chicken filling, sear the dumplings properly and serve them with a small bowl of soy for dipping. But, after pot stickers in Japantown in San Francisco, I realized that dipping sauce is not just soy: it’s soy with the tiniest droplets of sesame oil scattered across the surface, toasted chile flakes and finely minced scallion. What a difference a sauce can make in a standby recipe.
It’s not easy to find the energy or time on a weeknight to make a great sauce. But, let’s do tuna noodle casserole right. Let’s make it with a rich cream sauce, and take the effort to sauté fresh vegetables. What you end up with is a decadent meal for two that you wish made enough for leftovers….sorry ‘bout that.
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 cup milk
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- ⅛ teaspoon nutmeg
- 2 cups egg noodles
- 1 teaspoon canola oil
- ½ cup diced onion
- ½ cup chopped cremini mushrooms
- ½ cup finely diced celery
- ½ cup peas
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- ⅛ teaspoon pepper
- ¼ teaspoon lemon zest
- 1 6-oz. can tuna packed in water, drained
- ½ cup whole wheat bread crumbs
- 1 tablespoon butter, melted
- Preheat the oven to 350.
- First, make the sauce. Melt the 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat in a saucepan. Whisk in the flour slowly and cook for 1-2 minutes while constantly stirring. Next, slowly pour in the milk and cream while whisking. Continue to cook over low heat until mixture thickens and comes to a bubble. Stir in salt, pepper and nutmeg and set aside off the heat.
- Meanwhile, boil the egg noodles in plenty of salted water until al dente. Drain and set aside.
- In a skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Once hot, add the diced onion, mushrooms and celery. Saute while stirring occasionally for about 8-10 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Add the peas, salt, pepper, lemon zest and drained tuna and remove from heat.
- In a medium bowl, combine the sauce, filling and noodles. Stir well to combine, then divide the mixture between 2 10-oz. ramekins or other small baking dish. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs on top, drizzle with the melted butter and bake for 20 minutes, or until bubbling.