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Recipe: Mom’s old-fashioned tuna casserole gets a boost and an update with spicy white beans

Tuna Casserole with Spicy White Beans.Sally Pasley Vargas

Serves 4

The tuna casserole of my youth includes a picture of a frazzled mom feeding four kids with a tuna-noodle casserole made with spaghetti, cream of mystery soup, and frozen peas, all packed into a Pyrex baking dish and topped with buttered breadcrumbs. Mom just wanted to get it done and we devoured it. It's a whole new world and you can still make the casserole -- with a twist. This one uses spicy white beans flavored with tomato paste toasted in a skillet, a dash of smoked paprika, cayenne pepper, and a little lemon. Add canned tuna packed in olive oil and top with breadcrumbs. It's still a one-pan dish, almost like Mom's, but with a modern interpretation. Shop in your own pantry.

BREADCRUMBS

½cup panko or other plain, dry white breadcrumbs
2tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
2tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1. In a small bowl, combine the panko, olive oil, and a pinch each of salt and pepper.

2. Use your fingers to mix the breadcrumbs and oil until the crumbs are saturated. Stir in the parsley.

CASSEROLE

2tablespoons olive oil
1small onion, finely chopped
2cloves garlic, finely chopped
2tablespoons tomato paste
¼teaspoon cayenne pepper, or more to taste
¾teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika
2cans (15 ounces each) white beans, drained
1cup water
Grated rind and juice of 1/2 lemon
2cans (5 ounces each) tuna packed in olive oil
1tablespoon chopped fresh parsley (for garnish)

1. Set the oven at 400 degrees. Have on hand a 10-inch skillet with a heatproof handle.

2. In the skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 3 minutes more, or until the onions are softened and lightly browned.

3. Push the onions and to one side of the pan. Set the pan so the onions are slightly off the burner (hold the handle securely so the pan does not tip). Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the empty space in the pan. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the tomato paste goes from bright to rusty red. Stir in the cayenne and paprika. Add a pinch more cayenne if you like extra spice.

4. Return the pan so it sits entirely on the burner. Add the beans and water to the pan. Stir them into the tomato paste and onions. Bring to a simmer. With the back of a spoon or a potato masher, mash about 1/4 of the beans, just enough to release some starch to make a thick broth. Stir in the lemon rind and juice.

5. Without draining the tuna, gently stir chunks of it into the beans with its oil. Taste for seasoning and add more salt, cayenne, or lemon juice, if you like.

6. Spread the breadcrumbs on the mixture. Transfer the skillet to the oven. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the liquid is bubbling at the edges and the crumbs are golden. Sprinkle with parsley.

Sally Pasley Vargas

Serves 4

The tuna casserole of my youth includes a picture of a frazzled mom feeding four kids with a tuna-noodle casserole made with spaghetti, cream of mystery soup, and frozen peas, all packed into a Pyrex baking dish and topped with buttered breadcrumbs. Mom just wanted to get it done and we devoured it. It's a whole new world and you can still make the casserole -- with a twist. This one uses spicy white beans flavored with tomato paste toasted in a skillet, a dash of smoked paprika, cayenne pepper, and a little lemon. Add canned tuna packed in olive oil and top with breadcrumbs. It's still a one-pan dish, almost like Mom's, but with a modern interpretation. Shop in your own pantry.

BREADCRUMBS

½cup panko or other plain, dry white breadcrumbs
2tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
2tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1. In a small bowl, combine the panko, olive oil, and a pinch each of salt and pepper.

2. Use your fingers to mix the breadcrumbs and oil until the crumbs are saturated. Stir in the parsley.

CASSEROLE

2tablespoons olive oil
1small onion, finely chopped
2cloves garlic, finely chopped
2tablespoons tomato paste
¼teaspoon cayenne pepper, or more to taste
¾teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika
2cans (15 ounces each) white beans, drained
1cup water
Grated rind and juice of 1/2 lemon
2cans (5 ounces each) tuna packed in olive oil
1tablespoon chopped fresh parsley (for garnish)

1. Set the oven at 400 degrees. Have on hand a 10-inch skillet with a heatproof handle.

2. In the skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 3 minutes more, or until the onions are softened and lightly browned.

3. Push the onions and to one side of the pan. Set the pan so the onions are slightly off the burner (hold the handle securely so the pan does not tip). Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the empty space in the pan. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the tomato paste goes from bright to rusty red. Stir in the cayenne and paprika. Add a pinch more cayenne if you like extra spice.

4. Return the pan so it sits entirely on the burner. Add the beans and water to the pan. Stir them into the tomato paste and onions. Bring to a simmer. With the back of a spoon or a potato masher, mash about 1/4 of the beans, just enough to release some starch to make a thick broth. Stir in the lemon rind and juice.

5. Without draining the tuna, gently stir chunks of it into the beans with its oil. Taste for seasoning and add more salt, cayenne, or lemon juice, if you like.

6. Spread the breadcrumbs on the mixture. Transfer the skillet to the oven. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the liquid is bubbling at the edges and the crumbs are golden. Sprinkle with parsley.Sally Pasley Vargas