Tuna mornay is an Aussie classic that's easy and budget-friendly as it requires minimal prep and active cooking time. Make the mornay (which is just bechamel sauce with cheese) with some onions and garlic, boil pasta, mix everything in, top with cheese and bake. That's it! Simple and yum.
Not a fan of canned tuna's fishy smell? Me neither. A simple squeeze of lemon juice will help with just that.
- Frozen peas and corn kernels are the perfect veg to add to this tuna pasta bake. No washing or chopping involved. You can also substitute the peas with parboiled broccoli cut into small florets.
- Cheeses I'm a huge advocate of buying cheese in blocks and grating at home. Not only is this a more economical option, more importantly, cheese blocks don't have any added anti-caking agents that store-bought shredded cheeses have. Anti-caking agents add weight to cheese and stop them from melting as well (as just pure cheese). It takes just seconds to grate cheese at home. Go with blocks.
- Milk full cream is preferred for that rich creaminess otherwise, skim milk will work just fine too.
- Heavy cream aka thickened cream adds richness and also helps thicken the creamy sauce (mornay).
- Dried pasta any small pasta will work with this recipe, I like using fusilli as it catches the sauce really well.
This is how you make it
First, preheat the oven to 210°C/410°F and get the pasta going.
Whilst pasta is cooking, make the creamy tuna sauce.
Make the mornay (bechamel sauce with cheese)
To make a bechamel sauce (aka creamy white sauce), all you need is butter, flour, milk and season with salt and pepper. But we want to add some flavouring ingredients to help oomph up this tuna mornay. In come cooking staples: onions and garlic. For convenience and make our lives easier, this recipe will merge the cooking process of softening onions and garlic with the making of bechamel sauce.
To begin, soften finely diced onions and minced garlic with some unsalted butter. About 5 minutes on low heat. You can use salted butter if that's all you've got on hand. Just keep that in mind when seasoning.
Now add flour, mix well until a thick doughy paste is formed. Then add about a third of the milk, stir and mix well. Repeat x2 until all of the milk is in the pot.
Continue to mix as the milk heats up. Once there are no more lumpy bits of flour, turn the heat up to high. Then add stock, canned tuna, peas, corn, heavy cream and a squeeze of lemon juice. About 1 tablespoon (roughly juice of half a lemon).
Lemon juice lifts the sauce through its acidity and more importantly, strips aways that strong fishy smell from canned tuna.
Stir and bring the creamy sauce up to boil then turn the heat off.
Mix in half a cup of shredded cheese. Taste adjust with salt and pepper.
Combine and bake
By now, the pasta should be cooked. Ideally to al dente (with a slight bite in texture). Drain and place pasta into an oven-safe casserole dish. I used an oven-safe large fry pan. Pour in the tuna mornay. Mix well.
You'll find there's a lot of sauce - like the pictures above. Don't worry, this won't come out soupy. The pasta will continue to cook in the oven and absorb most of the lovely creamy sauces.
Top with shredded cheddar cheese and grated parmesan cheese. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden and bubbly.
Most tuna mornay recipes are topped with breadcrumbs (as well as cheeses). I've tried it and don't get it. It adds an odd dry texture (grainy too if not using panko breadcrumbs) to the topping which, in my opinion, ruins the golden cheeses.
The only acceptable way for me is using chunky torn crusty bread soaked with milk (then squeezed) and let the oven crisp up the bread. So basically croutons.
But then this extra step just doesn't bring in enough yum factor for it to be worth it. This is a quick and minimal prep recipe after all. Hence, I decided to completely exclude the whole breadcrumb situation.
Let's hero what's most important here: cheesy creamy tuna pasta.
Look at how creamy this tuna mornay pasta bake is!
Top tips for making this creamy tuna pasta bake
- Make sure to turn the heat off before adding cheddar cheese to the creamy mornay. Boiling cheese with the sauce will risk the cheese (and therefore, the whole sauce) turning grainy.
- Grate your own cheese.
- Drain the tuna well before adding it to the sauce.
- Keep your eyes on the pasta, don't overcook it. The cooking process will continue in the oven and pasta cooked to al dente means there's room to soak up the creamy sauce.
Good to know (FAQs)
Up to 3 days. Store in an airtight container.
Up to 2 months, in airtight containers. Simply transfer to the fridge the night before eating. This pasta bake tastes great even cold. If you really want to reheat it, squeeze in a little more lemon juice to help combat that inevitable fishy tuna smell.
Made this recipe? Let me know your thoughts or questions by dropping a note in the comments section below! I'd love to hear from you 🙂
Happy cooking! - Gen
- 425 g / 15oz canned tuna 1 large can, drained
- 250 g / 9oz dried pasta fussili or penne
- 2 cups milk full cream or skim
- 2 cups chicken or veg stock
- ⅓ cup heavy cream aka thickened cream
- 1 cup frozen peas
- 1 cup corn kernels frozen or drained if canned
- 1½ cup shredded cheddar cheese (note 1)
- ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese (note 1)
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice or juice of half a lemon
- 2 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 onion finely diced
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- ¼ cup plain flour
- Preheat oven to 210°C/410°F. Cook pasta according to packet instructions to al dente.
- Whilst the pasta is cooking, make the creamy sauce. In a medium-sized pot, soften onions and garlic with butter on low heat for about 5 minutes.
- Add flour, mix well then add ⅓ of milk, mix well. Repeat x2 then turn the heat up to high.
- Add stock, peas, corn, tuna, heavy cream and lemon juice. Stir regularly until boiling.
- Turn the heat off and stir in ½ cup of shredded cheddar cheese.
- Combine cooked pasta with creamy tuna sauce in an oven-safe casserole dish. (note 2) Mix well, top with remaining 1 cup of shredded cheese and freshly grated parmesan cheese. Bake for 25 minutes until golden and bubbly.
- Serve immediately!