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Editor’s note: This is part of The Know’s series, Staff Favorites. Each week, we will offer our opinions on the best that Colorado has to offer for dining, shopping, entertainment, outdoor activities and more.
I know that it can be unhealthy to equate food with love, but when your daughter is having a bad week and you’ve run out of words, what is left but to say, “Honey, you want me to make tuna casserole tonight?”
Or chocolate chip cookies? Or spaghetti casserole? (Notice how most comfort foods are high in fat and calories? It’s so unfair. But here we are. Go back to Whole30 recipes tomorrow.)
Sure, some of us have taken the concept of comfort foods to an extreme since the start of the pandemic (hello, 30 extra pounds), but who can blame us? Resolve can go out the window when you get kicked in the teeth one too many times.
I got this tuna casserole recipe from a friend 15 years ago, and it’s been a family favorite ever since. I’ve made it for ailing friends and pot lucks (remember those?) and it always gets rave reviews. Noodles. Cheese. Pasta. Potato chips. How can you go wrong?
We’re also including a recipe from our entertainment editor, Beth Rankin, who says she loves riffing on this Low-Commitment Wedding Soup (great name, too, isn’t it?) from Bon Appetit. It’s certainly not as easy to make as the tuna casserole, but it’s so comforting and versatile.
What’s your favorite comfort food? Send me a recipe and we’ll publish a selection of them.
Cheesy Tuna Casserole
Makes 4-6 servings.
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 10-ounce can cream of mushroom soup
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk
- 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- 2 cups cooked macaroni
- 1 7-ounce can of tuna, drained
- garlic salt, to taste
- crushed potato chips or bread crumbs (or if you want a zing, use jalapeno-flavored potato chips)
In a medium-sized pot, saute onion in butter until translucent. Stir in soup, milk, 3/4 cup of cheese, tuna and macaroni. Add garlic salt to taste (about 1/2 teaspoon or so; you can always sprinkle more on when eating it). Pour into greased 1 1/2 quart casserole dish. Top with remaining cheese and potato chips or bread crumbs. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes until the top gets slightly brown and bubbly. Mmmmmmmm.
Cook’s notes: I always double this because it goes so fast, and use a 9-by-13 casserole dish. And sure, you can add peas, but why mess with perfection?
Low-Commitment Wedding Soup
“This recipe takes all the right shortcuts and none of the wrong ones,” writes Claire Saffitz of Bon Appetit. “We doctor up sweet Italian sausage for the meatballs, opt for adding canned beans instead of boiling pasta in a separate pot, and still manage to make an uber-flavorful soup without having to call for boxed chicken stock. It’s one-pot, one-bowl magic.”
We also love that this recipe has plenty of swappable ingredients if you’re trying to clean out the fridge. We’ve swapped fennel for leeks, beans for sliced potatoes and escarole for kale or any other greens that need to be used up.
Makes 8 servings.
- 1 pound sweet Italian sausage
- ¾ cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs), divided
- 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 8 garlic cloves, divided
- Kosher salt
- 1 medium head of fennel with fronds
- 2 medium onions
- ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 1 4-ounce piece Parmesan with rind
- 1 15-ounce can cannellini (white kidney) beans
- 1 small head of escarole
Cut shallow slits in each sausage link, then remove sausage from casings; transfer sausage to a medium bowl. Add ½ cup panko, 2 tablespoons oil, and 2 tablespoons water. Peel and finely grate 1 garlic clove on a microplane into bowl. Season lightly with salt and mix with your hands until breadcrumbs are evenly distributed.
Portion meat into small meatballs about 1 inch in diameter (oil your hands to help with rolling if mixture gets sticky) and transfer to a plate. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a Dutch oven over medium. Add meatballs, spacing evenly apart, and cook undisturbed until first side is dark brown, about 5 minutes. Using tongs, turn meatballs and cook until other side is also well browned, about 4 minutes. Transfer back to plate and set aside.
Remove pot from heat and prep the rest of the soup ingredients: First, remove fennel fronds from 1 head of fennel and save for garnishing the soup. Cut fennel head in half lengthwise. Cut a V-shaped notch in each half to remove the core. Place halves cut side down, then thinly slice crosswise.
Peel and trim 2 onions. Cut in half lengthwise and coarsely chop. Smash 6 garlic cloves (keep remaining clove for the end) and peel. Place Dutch oven back over medium heat and add fennel, onion, and smashed garlic; season with salt and ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are golden brown and softened, 6–8 minutes. Stir in ½ cup wine and scrape bottom to dissolve any remaining stuck-on browned bits.
Add 8 cups water; season generously with salt. Slice down along Parmesan rind to remove and add to soup; set cheese aside. Bring to a simmer, then reduce to a gentle simmer. Cook uncovered until broth is golden and flavorful, 25–30 minutes. Season with more salt if needed.
Open 15-ounce can beans and pour into a strainer or small colander. Rinse beans and shake to remove excess water, then transfer to pot along with meatballs. Bring back to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until broth is slightly thickened from beans and meatballs are cooked and have released some of their flavor into the broth, 10 to 15 minutes.
While soup is simmering, separate leaves from 1 head of escarole and rinse to remove any dirt. Tear into small pieces, then stir into soup in batches to wilt. Remove soup from heat. Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a small saucepan over medium. Finely grate remaining 1 garlic clove into skillet. Add remaining ¼ cup panko. Season with salt and cook, stirring often, until panko is golden, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat.
Prepare your other garnishes: Finely grate about ½ cup cheese from reserved hunk of Parmesan (you might not need it all). Finely chop fennel fronds. Taste soup and season with salt if needed. Ladle soup into bowls and top with chopped fronds, grated cheese, and toasted panko.
Cook’s notes: Bon Appetit readers made suggestions for this recipe, among them: Use spinach or kale instead of escarole; add carrots; use chicken sausage; add a bit more salt; add more red pepper flakes, or some diced chiles or hot pepper; or use chicken broth for a richer flavor.
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