I spotted this recipe in last month’s Better Homes and Gardens magazine. I looked at the ingredient list and saw the following: pasta and potatoes (Double carbs!), Provolone and Parmesan cheese (Double cheese!), Asparagus (a spring favorite), kalamata olives, and lemon zest YUM! Next on the list I saw 3 cans of tuna… What?! Are you kidding me? You want me to zest a lemon for that? All of those lovely ingredients and the recipe insults them with canned tuna. Some people have a moral issue with canned tuna but my issue does not stem from my morals. I hate canned tuna purely because it tastes bad. One taste of a grilled fresh tuna steak and a sane person would never go back to the canned version again. It is like canned pineapple vs. fresh. No comparison.
I still wanted to try the recipe so I found a way to give it some dignity. Our butcher sells Yellowfin tuna trim, these tasty little cuts weigh about 4-5 ounces each and are not the prime parts of the fish but tasty if prepared correctly, sort of like the fish version of a chuck roast. I bought 2 of these pieces for a total weight of 12 ounces for just over $4, about the price I would pay for 3 cans of tuna. What I did with it is this…
Makes: 6 servings
12 oz. tuna trim
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 cup dried penne pasta
1 pound tiny new potatoes, diced (½-inch pieces)
3 tablespoons butter
¼ cup chopped onion
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 ¼ cups milk
Zest of 1 lemon
4 ounces provolone cheese, shredded or cubed
½ cup pitted kalamata olives, halved
1½ pounds green, white, and/or purple asparagus, trimmed, cut in 1-inch pieces
¼ cup soft bread crumbs or Panko
¼ cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese
1. Preheat oven to 375°F. line a 9×13 baking pan with foil. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of the olive oil on the foil and place the tuna on it. Season with salt and pepper. Bake for 15-20 minutes just until the tuna flakes and is still slightly pink on the inside. Coarsely chop and set aside. Discard the foil from the pan and set the pan aside to use for baking.
2. Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package directions, adding the diced potatoes during the last 4 minutes of cooking time. Drain and set aside.
3. While the pasta is cooking make the sauce, in a 6 qt. saucepan melt 2 Tbsp. of the butter. Cook onion and garlic in butter about 3 minutes, until tender. Stir in flour and a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook and stir 2 minutes more. Whisk in milk all at once. Zest lemon into the mixture. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly.
4. Whisk in provolone cheese until melted. Gently fold the pasta, potatoes, tuna, olives, and asparagus into the sauce.
5. Grease the 9×13 pan that the tuna was baked with 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil and pour the mixture in.
6. For the topping, in a small bowl melt the remaining 1 Tbsp. of butter. Stir in bread crumbs and Parmesan. Sprinkle on casserole. Bake, uncovered, for 25 to 30 minutes, until heated through and topping is golden.
Note *If tuna trim is not available you can use 3 (4½ oz.) cans tuna packed in garlic olive oil and omit the garlic and oil in the recipe. If tuna in garlic oil is not available, substitute tuna packed in oil and add 4 cloves of minced garlic when cooking.