It’s a popular, and perhaps cliche, thing to say that the joy of cooking comes from sharing your creations with the ones you love. What if the joy of cooking comes from your love of eating?
My husband and I fall on opposite sides of the flavor landscape: I prefer acidic, aggressively seasoned food with lots of spice and heat (perhaps because of my upbringing on creole and southern food) while my husband prefers creamy, rich food with lots of dairy and starch (most likely because of his upbringing in the Midwest). So, needless to say, I often feel as though I’m cooking to suit my own palate rather than please my husband, or vise versa.
But sometimes the stars align and we find a recipe that matches our individual tastes and makes us both extremely happy. Take, for instance, this Tuna and White Bean Casserole. It’s full of salty anchovy paste, red pepper flakes, and lemon (my taste) and mashed beans, milk, cheese, and potato chips (my husband’s taste). This isn’t the sort of recipe that looks great at face value, but it tastes really great and you’ll be surprised how much flavor you can get out of these simple pantry ingredients. In the original version of this recipe, author Melissa Clark describes it as Tuna Noodle Casserole, minus the noodles.
For the casserole:
For the topping:
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. In a large oven-safe skillet, heat a few tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring occasionally until they start to turn golden brown (about five minutes). Add the anchovy paste, red pepper flakes, garlic cloves, and a big pinch of salt to the skillet and stir for a few minutes until the anchovy paste melts and the garlic is fragrant.
Add in the beans and white wine. Increase the heat to medium high so that the wine begins to bubble and reduce. Stir the beans around, breaking them up with a wooden spoon as you go. We don’t want completely pureed beans, but we want about half of them to be smashed so their starchiness will thicken the casserole. After a few minutes, you should have a thick bean mixture and the wine should be evaporated.
Take the skillet off the heat and add in the tuna (don’t drain the cans – add the oil in the cans directly into the skillet), lemon zest, milk, and Gruyere. Mix everything together until the tuna is flaked and the milk, zest, and cheese are well incorporated. Add a generous amount of black pepper and taste for salt. Remember that we’re adding salty potato chips on top, so feel free to leave the filling just a tad less salty than you might otherwise.
Crush the potato chips in your hands directly on top of the tuna and bean mixture in the skillet. It’s okay if some chips are completely crumpled, but we do want some larger shards to remain. After you get a nice, thick layer of chips across the skillet, sprinkle the remaining cheese on top and drop small cubes of butter all over the surface.
Place the skillet in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. At the 20 minute mark, turn on the broiler to let the chips and cheese brown a bit. Remove the skillet from the oven and serve. Finish each serving with a healthy squeeze of lemon juice to brighten things up.