Well Dined


Grown Up Tuna Noodle Casserole

Well Dined | Tuna and Spinach Stuffed Shells

Okay, I am not a huge canned tuna fan.  But I saw this recipe for stuffed shells with tuna, spinach, and roasted garlic topped with bechamel and buttery bread crumbs and I had to try it.  I even had a couple of tins of really nice smoked albacore (pretty much the only canned tuna I like).  You guys, this is not your grandmother's casserole.

Well Dined | Tuna and Spinach Stuffed Shells

The first thing that makes this dish special is the roasted garlic, which is super easy to make.  Just chop the top off of a whole head of garlic, place it on a sheet of foil, drizzle it with olive oil, wrap it up, and roast away.  When it's done it becomes creamy and sweet and is delicious spread on bread, but we will be using the whole thing in this recipe.  Just squeeze to pop out all the cloves - I find this to be creepy but fascinating.  All that sweet roasted garlic goes into a creamy bechamel sauce.

Well Dined | Tuna and Spinach Stuffed Shells

The filling is tuna, spinach, and breadcrumbs - simple, but good.  After it is all mixed up, half of the garlic bechamel goes in to make it nice and creamy.

Well Dined | Tuna and Spinach Stuffed Shells

Then that mixture gets stuffed into cooked pasta shells.  I tried to find whole wheat shells, but no luck.  Then you are going to frantically lick the bowl, and the spoon, and your fingers - because this filling is soooooo good.

Well Dined | Tuna and Spinach Stuffed Shells

 The other half of that bechamel gets poured over top, along with buttery breadcrumbs.  And a little part of you dies because you have to wait 30 minutes to eat it while it bakes in the oven.

Well Dined | Tuna and Spinach Stuffed Shells

But then it comes out and it is bubbly and golden and gorgeous and smells amazing; and you know that the wait was worth it.

Well Dined | Tuna and Spinach Stuffed Shells

It is ooey gooey and creamy with crispy toasted breadcrumbs, and the smoked flavor and roasted garlic give it depth, and you pretend that it's healthy because there is spinach...  Please never make tuna casserole another way ever again.

Tuna and Spinach Stuffed Shells
adapted from Bev Cooks
serves 4-6

1 head garlic
4 tbsp olive oil, divided
1 small white onion, diced
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups milk (any is fine, but I prefer 2%)
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 whole wheat English muffin or heel of bread, torn into chunks
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1 (10 oz) pkg frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed
2 (6 oz) cans tuna in water, drained
20 jumbo pasta shells (1/2 a 1 lb box), cooked and drained
1 tbsp butter, melted
coarse salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 450 deg F.

Slice the top off the head of garlic, place in a small piece of aluminum foil, and drizzle 1 tbsp oil over it.  Wrap it up and roast in the oven for 30 minutes.  (This is a good time to cook your pasta.)  Once roasted, set aside to cool.

Lower the oven heat to 375 deg F.

In a food processor, add the torn English muffin or bread slice, Parmesan, crushed red pepper, and a pinch of salt and pepper.  Pulse until you get breadcrumbs.  Transfer half of the breadcrumbs to a larger bowl.

Bring the remaining 3 tbsp oil to a medium high heat in a large pot.  Add the onions and sauté until they start to soften, 6 to 8 minutes.  Add the flour and whisk until it starts to brown and the flour smell cooks out, about a minute.  Then slowly add the milk, whisking constantly until it’s smooth and thick between 5 and 10 minutes (it should coat the back of a spoon).

Squeeze the garlic cloves out of their skins, chop roughly, and mix into the sauce.  Add the nutmeg and a good pinch of salt and pepper.

To the bowl with the breadcrumbs, add the thawed and drained spinach, tuna, and half of the creamy sauce.  Stir until it’s well combined and taste for salt and pepper.

Fill each cooked shell with the mixture and arrange in a 9 x 13 baking dish, or something around 2 quarts.  Pour the remaining sauce over the shells.  Combine the remaining breadcrumbs with the melted butter and sprinkle them on top of the shells.

Bake in the oven until bubbling and golden brown, about 30 minutes.

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