The Absolute Best Tuna Noodle Casserole

The ultimate classic comfort food. Tender egg noodles and chunks of tuna, dotted with roasted red peppers and vibrant peas, luxuriating in a scintillating, satiny, EASY homemade cream sauce that boasts garlic, onion, parsley, and paprika. With hints of parmesan and toasted bread crumbs in every bite, tuna-noodle casserole will never be the same. Watch me make it HERE!

Bet you never thought you'd hear the term "scintillating" used to describe tuna-noodle casserole! That's where I come in. Traditionally, the recipe gets its creaminess from condensed soup, sour cream, or some combination of the two. I chose to dodge both high-fat, sometimes highly processed items and created a creamy, herb-infused sauce from scratch. When this dish was first created, I'm sure pantry staples came into play. Just as we're relying on them now. And, trust me, the cream sauce is easy. It's made with fridge and pantry staples, and comes together in about 5 minutes on the stovetop. You can make it while the noodles cook!
I also love that this dish is totally customizable. You can add any vegetable you want, and/or change up the cream sauce. For the sauce, I added Dijon, garlic, onion, parsley, and paprika. You can swap/add/delete and still get amazing results. Try oregano, thyme and basil instead of parsley. Or smoked paprika instead of regular. You can't go wrong with just 1/2 teaspoon of anything. Unless you try cinnamon.
About the tuna: Water-packed tuna is best, and it can be light, albacore, or your favorite tuna in a pouch or can (or leftover from a previous meal). Try to avoid oil-packed tuna because it's a little too greasy. It can still work, but blot it dry before adding it to the pasta mixture. You can also use chicken, turkey or ham! There are no rules!

About the roasted red peppers: Not entirely traditional, but WOW, they add a wonderful smokiness to the dish. If you don't have roasted red peppers, you can substitute pimentos, a sautéed bell pepper, or leave them out.

I chose extra wide egg noodles for this dish, but any egg noodle will suffice, including egg yolk-free noodles.

Want to prep ahead? No problem! Prepare the casserole as directed but stop just before adding the panko topping. Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days or freeze for up to 3 months. Defrost completely (preferably overnight) before baking. Pull the casserole dish from the fridge about 30 minutes before baking so you don't start with a cold pan. Top with the panko mixture and add about 5 to 10 minutes to the cooking time.

Want to freeze leftovers? Again, no problem! Cool the casserole completely and then wrap it in plastic wrap and then foil; seal it well and freeze for up to 3 months. Defrost overnight in the fridge and reheat as desired (I prefer a 300-degree oven for about 30 minutes).

The Absolute Best Tuna Noodle Casserole

Cooking spray
6 ounces (about 3 1/2-4 cups) wide or extra wide egg noodles, regular or egg yolk-free
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups milk (I used 2%)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon paprika
Salt and ground black pepper
12 ounces chunk tuna of choice, from a can or pouch, white or light, preferably water-packed
1/2 cup diced roasted red peppers or pimentos
1/2 cup frozen peas, keep frozen until ready to use
4 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese, divided
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs or regular bread crumbs
Chopped fresh parsley for serving, optional

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Coat a 2-quart baking dish with cooking spray.
Cook the noodles according to the package directions, stopping when they're still al dente. Drain and set aside.
Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. When the butter is bubbly, whisk in the flour until smooth. Whisk in the milk and bring to a simmer. Whisk in the mustard, dried parsley, onion powder, garlic powder, paprika, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper and return to a simmer. Remove the pan from the heat and fold in the noodles, tuna, roasted red peppers, peas, and 2 tablespoons of the parmesan cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan.
In a small bowl, combine the panko bread crumbs and remaining parmesan cheese. Mix well. Sprinkle the mixture over the tuna-noodle mixture.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the top is golden brown. Cool slightly and top with chopped fresh parsley before serving.
Serves 4-6