I’m not mad at tuna noodle casserole. I’m just disappointed.
And lately, I wonder how it happened that Americans finally stopped smoking cigarettes but continue eating this “comfort food classic” well into the 21st century.
I ask as a person with fond but long-ago memories of the dish. And also someone who recently had a bad experience with it, brought on by an afternoon spent recounting all the mistakes I’ve made in my life.
“Why, I’ll just make a tuna casserole!” I told myself.
Google the recipe and you’ll notice it invariably entails canned tuna, a cream base (usually canned cream of mushroom — green nausea face emoji — or cream of celery soup), a few vegetables (onion, frozen peas, jarred mushrooms), and pasta, topped by something crunchy. You’ll also find “updated,” “reinvented,” or “light” versions (homemade white sauce, wild mushrooms, fresh herbs, leeks in lieu of onion). But be careful: I found a recipe in a vintage cookbook incorporating lima beans, which haunts me still.
I was excited and hopeful when my tuna noodle casserole came out of the oven — the breadcrumbs lovely and browned, the cheese bubbly. I burned my mouth because I couldn’t wait for all the healing to begin!
But it tasted like my feelings: self-indulgent, poorly thought out, saltier than tears. Rather than comforting me, it upset me. I fed the rest of it to the dog, who absolutely adored it but left all the peas in her bowl.
I naturally posted a photo of my casserole on Twitter, expecting online empathy, of which I got more than enough (“warm tuna and cheese sounds like a bad decision.”)
But I also unleashed a tangly thread of defensive responses, most likely because I wrote this caption: “The American idea of classic…