Thursday, February 19, 2009

Comfort Food

If you define comfort food as the food your mother makes, then every recipe in here will fall under that rubric. But this is true comfort food, one that everyone can agree on. Naturally, first the back story.

When I lived in Austria, my Austrian friends had an image of Americans built upon their encounters with tourists and their parents' encounters with American soldiers after the war. They therefore believed that no American ever cooked-- they always ate at restaurants (tourists) or directly out of a can (soldiers' c-rations). My friend Ulli was consequently shocked when I made a tuna casserole for her, where the only food item from a can or package was the tuna (which you couldn't get fresh in Austria for anything approaching an afforadable price). I make it truly from scratch-- no canned mushroom soup here.

Tuna Casserole

one medium onion, diced
3 stalks celery, diced, if desired
2-3 large pats of butter and equivalent amount of flour
1 1/2- 2 c. scalded milk
large can of tuna
4-5 c. egg noodles or 3-4 c. rotini
1-2 cut up carrots
about 20 small florets broccoli
parsley, caraway, salt and pepper to taste
grated cheese (a hard and/or non-oily cheese works best. I like mozzarella or romano, but Monterery Jack is also nice. Cheddar and American are wrong for this, don't use them)

You can make this hours or days ahead of when you eat it. Make it on a Sunday afternoon, then pop it in the oven when you get home from work sometime later in the week.

In a large saucepan, boil enough water for the pasta. Add the carrots when you set the pot on the stove. Two minutes before the pasta/noodles are done, add the broccoli so that it just blanches. If the pasta is done before the sauce, drain it and set it aside in a greased casserole (I use cooking spray, but you can also grease it lightly with butter).

While the pasta is boiling, make the sauce:
Scald the milk in the microwave, about 5-6 minutes at 80% power.

While the milk is scalding, cook the onions (and celery if you like it) in a 2-quart saucepan in about a 1/4 c of water, until transparent. Melt the butter in the onions; before it browns add the flour and saute over very low flame for 2 minutes, stirring constantly and not allowing it to brown. Turn off the flame; when the sizzling stops, turn the heat back on low and add about 1/4 cup of the scalded milk. This will instantly create a thick paste; immediately start adding the rest of the milk very slowly, stirring constantly to create a creamy sauce. Add the seasonings and tuna and simmer uncovered very low for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, and being careful not to let it burn.

When the sauce has thickened slightly, fold it into the pasta/veggie mixture, making sure that the fish, carrots, and broccoli are evenly distributed throughout. Lightly sprinkle just enough bread crumbs to cover the top, then same thing with the grated cheese.

Bake uncovered at 350F for 25-30 minutes (depending on how browned you like your cheese).

Serves about 4

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