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Tuna Noodle Casserole is a hearty classic dish that is total weeknight comfort food fare made with pantry staple ingredients like canned tuna, pasta, cheese, and a crunchy, buttery breadcrumb topping. My version is made from scratch with a homemade sauce in place of the traditional condensed cream of something soup!
Call me old-fashioned, but I love a good casserole for a weeknight meal. Some of our other favorites are Chicken Spaghetti Casserole, Poppy Seed Chicken Casserole, Cheesy Chicken Broccoli and Rice Casserole, and Baked Spaghetti Casserole.
Tuna Noodle Casserole
This post is for my husband’s co-worker, Andrew, who asked for my best tuna casserole recipe!
With Paul working from home nowadays, we have been having a lot more family meals together and it has been a really wonderful experience for us. His long hours and long commute, combined with all the girls after-school activities and early bedtimes since they are still young, have conspired to make weeknight family dinners difficult for us, so staying at home has been wonderful for us in many ways!
As I was sauteing the onions and celery in butter, Paul wandered into the kitchen sniffing and declaring that it smelled just like his grandma’s house in the best way. She was an amazing cook, and I love to make some of our favorite recipes of hers like her apricot pork chops or her english toffee. I’m fairly certain this is the kind of dish she would have made for her family in the 50’s and 60’s when casseroles were all the rage.
Most classic tuna noodle casserole recipes call for cans of cream of chicken, cream of celery, or cream of mushroom soup to be mixed with mayonnaise, cooked pasta, peas, cheese, and of course, cans of tuna. They are all pantry staple ingredients that most people have on hand and it’s super fast to mix them together and pop in the oven until hot and bubbly around the edges.
But it maybe takes an extra 10 minutes to make the sauce from scratch, and honestly, it’s so much better than the cans of condensed soup. I love this recipe because it just tastes so much more real and satisfying to me when tuna noodle casserole is made from scratch! If you are really in a rush or have a bunch of cans of cream of something soup that need to be used up, you could skip making the sauce and just use the cans instead though.
Ingredients in tuna noodle casserole
- Tuna: It doesn’t really matter what kind of tuna, although I personally like to mix the less expensive canned light tuna variety that is pink-ish and “fishier” tasting with a can of solid white albacore tuna that is more mild.
- Pasta: Any small pasta will work. Medium shells, wavy egg noodles, bowties, penne, or elbow macaroni are all common shapes that would serve well in this recipe.
- Peas: This is a great time to pull that bag of frozen peas out of the freezer. I don’t recommend using canned peas.
- Mushrooms: Sliced baby bella or crimini mushrooms are so good in this dish!
- Cheese: Classic tuna noodle casserole calls for cheddar cheese, but you could also use monterey jack, mozzarella, or even pepperjack for a little kick. There is also some freshly grated parmesan cheese in the mix for flavor.
- Panko breadcrumbs: Everybody has their favorite casserole topper, but I’m partial to good old Panko breadcrumbs or crushed Ritz crackers. Crushed potato chips, crumbled french fried onions, or cornflakes all add that buttery, crunchy textural element to the top of this hearty, creamy dish.
- Finely diced celery
- Chopped onion
- Fresh parsley: I don’t usually find dried parsley to be a good substitute for freshly chopped Italian flat leaf parsley in this recipe.
- Butter: You use butter for sauteing the celery, onion, and mushrooms, some to cook the flour and create a roux for the creamy white sauce, and a little more to toss with the breadcrumbs for topping. This isn’t exactly diet food.
- Chicken broth: You can use 1 can of chicken broth, which is just under 2 cups, or make your own with chicken bouillon and hot water. I find the Better Than Bouillon chicken base is fantastic and saves me space since I can just store a jar of it in my fridge to always have on hand.
- Milk: My preference is whole milk for a richer sauce, but even skim will work here. You could even use evaporated milk for an even creamier sauce.
- Sour cream
- Flour: This gets cooked with the butter to create the roux that thickens the sauce.
- Fresh lemon juice: A touch of acid helps most creamy dishes out and lemon does the trick here.
- Salt & pepper
How to make tuna noodle casserole from scratch
- Cook the noodles. Set a big pot of salted water to boiling on the stove, then cook the pasta according to the package directions until it is al dente. Drain well and set aside.
- Saute the veggies. Melt butter in a large pan over medium-high heat, then add the diced celery and onion, sauteing for 2-3 minutes until they start to soften. Add the garlic and mushrooms and continue to cook for another 2-3 minutes until the vegetables are softened and the mushrooms have released a lot of their liquid. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
- Make the sauce. Melt the remaining butter in the same pan, then sprinkle with the flour and whisk it in to form a roux. Cook for 1 minute, then whisk in the chicken broth and milk, a little at a time to avoid lumps. Add the parsley, parmesan cheese, and lemon juice, and season with the salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer until thickened.
- Combine the casserole ingredients. Combine the cooked (drained) noodles, peas, cans of drained tuna, sauteed vegetables, cheddar cheese, and sauce. Stir together until the pasta is evenly coated in the sauce and everything is mixed well. Spray a 9×13-inch baking dish with cooking spray, then pour everything in.
- Make the bread crumb topping. In a medium bowl, toss the Panko breadcrumbs with the last of the melted butter, then sprinkle over the top of the casserole before putting it in the oven.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes until hot and bubbly around the edges! The topping should brown slightly on top.
Tuna noodle casserole variations
- My friend Ginny says that her family loves to add sliced olives and chopped hard-boiled eggs to their tuna noodle casserole. I haven’t tried it yet, and had honestly never heard of it until after I made this recipe, but thought I would mention it in case someone wants to try it!
- I think this would also be great with some chopped roasted red peppers added into the mix. You could also add frozen diced carrots, corn, green beans, or broccoli, all of which go great in casserole dishes like this.
- You could even sub 2 cups of chopped, cooked chicken in this recipe in place of the tuna for something different.
Make-ahead, freezing, and storing instructions
- Make-ahead: You can make and assemble the casserole a day in advance. Bake like normal, but add 10 minutes and cover loosely with foil if the topping is browning too quickly.
- Storing: Leftover casserole will last for 2-3 days in the fridge and reheats well in the microwave or in the oven at 350 degree F for about 20 minutes until hot.
- Freezing: This casserole freezes really well for up to 3 months. Just make the sauce, cook the noodles, and assemble the casserole like normal. If you line the pan with foil first, then freeze the casserole, you can remove it from the pan and wrap in another layer of foil, you can get your baking dish back. When ready to serve, just slip it back into a pan, thaw in the fridge overnight, and bake the next day, adding an additional 10 minutes for it to heat through.
What to serve with tuna noodle casserole
A casserole is a meal all in one dish, but we like to serve it with a fresh salad with copycat Olive Garden salad dressing or fresh fruit like sliced watermelon or pineapple to keep things simple.
More easy dinner ideas
- Homemade Hamburger Helper
- Tex-Mex Doritos Taco Salad
- Ground Beef Stroganoff
- Navajo Tacos
- Swedish Meatballs
- Slow Cooker Beef and Noodles
- The BEST Stuffed Peppers
- Instant Pot Meatloaf and Mashed Potatoes
- Crock Pot Pork Green Chili
- 8 ounces medium shells pasta
- 1 tablespoon salted butter
- 1 celery rib, diced
- 1/2 cup yellow onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 8 ounces baby bella mushrooms, sliced
- 1 cup frozen peas
- 2 (5-ounce) cans tuna, drained
- 1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
- 3 tablespoons salted butter
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 (14.5 ounce) can chicken broth
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley, chopped
- 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
- 3/4 cup sour cream
- 1/2 cup Panko breadcrumbs or crushed Ritz crackers
- 2 tablespoons salted butter, melted
- 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil on the stovetop and cook the pasta to al dente according to package directions. Drain well. Spray a 9x13-inch baking dish with cooking spray.
- In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt 1 tablespoon of butter, then add the celery and onions, sauteing for 2-3 minutes until beginning to soften slightly. Add the garlic and mushrooms, then continue to cook another 2-3 minutes until the mushrooms have released some of their juices and the vegetables are softened. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
- In the same skillet, melt the butter for the sauce, then sprinkle with the flour and whisk to combine, reducing the heat to medium. Cook for about 1 minute, then slowly whisk in the chicken broth and milk to avoid lumps. Continue to cook and stir at a low simmer, adjusting the heat as needed, until thickened and bubbly, around 2-3 minutes. Add the salt, pepper, parsley, and parmesan cheese, stirring to combine. Remove from the heat and stir in the sour cream, then taste and adjust the salt and pepper, if needed.
- Combine the cooked pasta, sauteed vegetables, peas, drained tuna, cheese, and sauce in a large bowl or the pot used to cook the pasta, stirring to coat everything evenly in the sauce. Transfer to the prepared baking dish.
- In a small bowl, combine the breadcrumbs and melted butter. Sprinkle over the casserole, then sprinkle the remaining parmesan cheese on top. Bake for 25-30 minutes until hot through. The casserole will be bubbling around the edges and the breadcrumbs should be toasted a golden brown.
- Make-ahead: You can make and assemble this casserole 1-2 days in advance and keep it in the fridge. Add an additional 10 minutes baking time to heat it through from cold.
- Freezing: This casserole freezes well for up to 3 months. Just thaw overnight, then bake, adding an extra 10 minutes to heat all the way through.
- Recipe adapted from Our Best Bites.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 590Total Fat: 37gSaturated Fat: 21gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 11gCholesterol: 111mgSodium: 1098mgCarbohydrates: 38gFiber: 4gSugar: 7gProtein: 27g