tuna macaroni | a family favourite

Growing up we always called zucchini slice – ‘zucchini pie’ cause Mum made hers in a pie dish. And that’s what she called it. Similarly, we’ve always called this dish ‘tuna macaroni’ even when Mum used pasta shells instead. We’ve called it this because that’s what the original recipe states; a recipe given to Mum by her good friend Ginta way back in 1976!

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Now if you have a close look at this recipe you’ll see it includes ‘a dash of noncaloric liquid sweetener’. What the? I use brown sugar instead. Mum’s always loved the last line of Ginta’s recipe too, directing the cook to invite her over for dinner once completed. She’s also included her phone number. Classic.

They say you learn something new every day. Well that’s certainly true of today. Whenever I use bay leaves in cooking, I put them in whole, discarding them before serving. (Think spaghetti bol and all sorts of ragu and stew recipes). This recipe says to use crushed bay leaves so thats what I did. Gosh it gives it a lovely depth of flavour. I also added some tomato passata to avoid it being dry as I up’ed the amount of pasta.

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Gosh there is SO much I can say about ‘tuna macaroni’. It was an absolute staple in our house back in the day. Having 5 kids in the family, Mum was always looking for meals that were filling and could easily feed a crowd. It is tasty, affordable, can be made in 20 minutes flat and uses ingredients that can be in the pantry or fridge to be whipped out at a moments notice.

When I was 18 I went on a gap year to England. The first of us kids to move overseas (and for a whole year at that) it was kind of a big deal for the Thomas’. Looking back, I think Mum and Dad were probably counting down the days till I was home. Mum’s one rule for her spirited and often up-to-no-good daughter was that I wasn’t allowed to speak to any male that didn’t hold an Australian passport! They sure didn’t want to lose me to the mother country for good.

So after an agonising year, and excited for my return, Mum waited in anticipation for my answer to her question “What do you want me to cook for dinner the first night you’re home?” I’m sure she was thinking something kinda special like a roast leg of lamb with Yorkshire puddings (another favourite in our household) or something exotic maybe inspired by my travels?

She was flabbergasted upon hearing my reply – “tuna macaroni!”

I guess we all just need that little taste of home every now and then.

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I couldn’t find a more nostalgic and comforting dish if I tried.

tuna macaroni

400 grams of pasta, (rigatoni or pasta shells are preferred)
1 x large brown onion, finely chopped (or 2 small ones)
3 x garlic cloves crushed
1 x 400 gram tin of chopped tomatoes
1 x good teaspoon of brown sugar
1 x cup of passata
A good sprinkling of dried oregano
Fresh parsley, finely chopped (or dried is fine)
1 x dried bay leaf, crushed really well in to small pieces*
1 x 425 gram tin of tuna chunks in olive oil, drained and flaked
A dash of olive oil
Canola oil spray, for greasing the dish
Salt and freshly cracked pepper
Mixed salad leaves, to serve

for the topping
1 x cup of breadcrumbs
1 x cup of grated cheese (tasty or mozzarella)
2 x tablespoons of melted butter

  • Cook the pasta in salted water until al dente. (Do not overcook). Strain once cooked.
  • Preheat the oven to 180℃ and grease a baking dish with canola oil spray. Set aside.
  • Add a dash of olive oil to a frypan and sauté the onion and garlic until soft.
  • Add the tinned tomatoes, sugar, passata, oregano, parsley and bay leaves and bring to the boil. Season well with salt and pepper. Back the heat off to a low simmer and let it cook for about 8 minutes. (By this stage, your pasta should be cooked).
  • Mix together the cooked pasta, tomato mixture and tuna in the saucepan that the pasta was cooked in and then spoon in to the baking dish.
  • To make the topping, simply combine the breadcrumbs, cheese and butter together in a bowl. Spoon this mixture over the pasta and bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until browned nicely on top.

Serve with some mixed salad leaves.

Lo’s tips

  • *Be careful that you crush the bay leaf in to very small pieces because you don’t want anyone biting in to a large chunk of what looks like something that belongs in the garden.
  • Whatever you do – please don’t overcook the pasta! No-one likes soggy pasta.
  • Mum adds tomato sauce and a splash of water to hers, instead of the passata.
  • I didn’t have celery in the fridge when photographing the meal, but do add some finely chopped celery to the pan when frying the onions if you have some.

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If you make this tuna macaroni, please leave your comments below. xx

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