Dinner:  March 27, 2008

I’ve admitted in the past that I have a secret love for canned soup casseroles, but it has been years since I’ve made one at home because I just don’t cook that way anymore. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I’ve missed them, and from time to time, I think about how I might put one together without adding a can or three of that sodium-laden, over-processed cream-of-whatever to the mix.

Dinners this week have been largely unplanned. All of the energy I would normally have put toward sketching out a meal plan for the week has been directed elsewhere: to making lists, making plans, making arrangements and sorting out the numbers in preparation for our move. And again, there is the matter of clearing the freezer and pantry, paring things down so we can start fresh at our new home.

By the time lunch rolled around yesterday, I was in the unfamiliar (for me) position of still not knowing what I was going to cook for dinner. We are, as you can imagine, trying to be particularly thrifty these days so going out wasn’t really an option, and though I could have had Mike stop and pick up something fresh to cook up, that really goes against the whole culling thing that we’re trying to do. So I thought back to the cupboards, fridge and freezer, and inspiration struck: I had half a brick of cream cheese left over from Wednesday night’s stuffed chicken breasts, a couple of cans of good tuna on the shelves, and the last of the peas I shelled, blanched and froze last summer. The cream cheese, when mixed into a basic béchamel sauce, might just work as the base for a tuna noodle casserole…

It did work, and beautifully, making a thick, creamy and flavorful sauce to bind the cooked pasta, fresh peas, drained and chunked tuna and some mushrooms which I had chopped and sautéed until golden with shallot, sherry and dried marjoram. As with all good canned soup casseroles, this one got a cheesy, crisp topping of grated parm and dried breadcrumbs, which baked to a golden crust. This was the comfort food of my youth elevated to a new (guilt-free) level, and I can’t wait to play with future variations.

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