You may wriggle your nose at it, but none-the-less, tuna casserole is classic American food. When I attended an international dinner and had to bring a dish representative of midwestern America, I chose tuna casserole over red jello with marshmallows. Sure, my selections date me; Midwestern cooking has gone gourmet now. But let’s not forget our humble, and admittedly delicious, roots.
When did the tuna casserole rise to its elevated position in midwestern-America’s culinary heritage? I think it happened decades of winters ago when our midwestern lakes were frozen, but folks wanted to eat fish on Fridays. The can of tuna was ready in the cupboard and very cheap. Families could afford tuna casserole, at least ours could. And so in the days before fresh, coastal fish flew about the U.S., our mothers turned to tuna for religious reasons. But our mothers had an even more compelling reason: kids generally like tuna casserole. Tuna casserole is mildly-flavored and usually has noodles in it, – two, kid-friendly criteria.
The recipe for tuna casserole that I grew up on was baked as most casseroles are. So I was surprised to read that the The Blue Plate Diner Cookbook’s recipe for tuna casserole is prepared on the stove-top. Monty’s Blue Plate Diner is a highly-popular restaurant in Madison, Wisconsin. It’s appeal is its menu: 20th-century, classic American food. At Monty’s you can get meatloaf, mac ‘n cheese, and a chef salad. It’s decor is in the style of a 1950’s diner. But despite it’s retro-appearance, Monty’s is subversively trying to update classic-midwestern fare. Their cookbook contains ethnic-inspired recipes such as Thai noodles, Moroccan chicken,and prosciutto peas and parmesan pasta. I haven’t dare try these yet, but I did stray over to their Aztec chicken recipe, which my family REALLY liked. Anyway, back to tuna casserole.