Posted by: Erica Retrochef | April 11, 2016

Macaroni Casserole


There are some times when making a retro recipe gets to be a little tiresome. Not the food, actually, but the writeup.

Cream of something soup. Tuna fish. Pimiento. Processed cheese. Recombined in dozens of ways, by different food companies… with oddly similar results each time.

But then I realized I have learned quite a lot over the years of doing this. And since I got into this project to be a better cook, I was quite proud to consider all those lessons and how they’ve benefitted me.


2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni
1 10-1/2-oz. can condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 cup milk
1 tbsp. chopped onion
1 tbsp. chopped pimiento
2 tbsps. chopped green pepper
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 lb. processed sharp cheese (grated or cubed)
1 No. 1/2 can Star-Kist Tuna

Cook macaroni according to directions on package. Set aside. Combine soup, milk, chopped onion, pimiento, green pepper and black pepper. Place over low heat, add grated cheese and stir occasionally, until cheese is melted. Mix macaroni and Star-Kist Tuna in 1-1/2-qt. casserole. Blend in cheese sauce. Bake in moderate oven (325 F.) about 20-min. Serves 6.


I have learned that it’s worth my time and money to invest in higher quality versions of the traditional ingredients. Cream of mushroom soup using portobello is better than the cheapest store brand available.


I’ve learned how to make cream of something soup from scratch (a quality roux is one of my favorite fundamental skills), but also learned that it is simpler to open a can. (OK, maybe I didn’t learn that so much as repeatedly proved the fact.)


I’ve learned that cheddar cheese is far superior to American cheese, especially when a recipe calls for shredded cheese.


I’ve also learned that canned fish other than tuna comes with all sorts of surprising fish parts (especially spines), and I’ve learned that I really, really don’t like spines in my food.


I’ve learned that wonderful things can happen from mixing unlikely ingredients, and trusting a new recipe is exciting and makes the cooking process an adventure instead of a necessity.


I’ve learned that food can be actually pretty. Like this!


And I’ve learned that I can actually really like tuna casserole.

The assortment of vegetables mixed into this casserole made it more interesting than the tuna casserole I grew up with. And even though I wouldn’t expect cheddar and tuna to be a thing, it really worked well here. The kids even cheerfully ignored the mushrooms (their least favorite ingredient) and admitted this was “not terrible” as they went back for second helpings.

I really like learning from history like this, even if it’s just for my own kitchen. Plus I get to have tasty food… or the occasional great story for parties.

This learning experience disguised as a casserole recipe was posted in the Flickr photostream of thenoirkitten.


  1. “…trusting a new recipe is exciting and makes the cooking process an adventure instead of a necessity.” Yep. When I imagine cooking as art, that you can mix ingredients like paints — it makes every new recipe the first step on a potentially epic journey. I’m impressed that this has made you a better cook! It has, for the rest of us, at least given us lots of new ideas of things to essay, if we dare…

    • *laughing*
      That would be ASSAY, not essay. That’s what I get for being fancy.

      • Either one works in this situation, although the two possibilities certainly give the comment different tones.

  2. So THAT’S tuna casserole! (Well, one of many variations.) All these years I’ve heard commercials, etc., with people that complained about tuna casserole, but never really thought about what actually went IN it. Well, as Schoolhouse Rock told me, it’s great to learn, and knowledge is power!

    But seriously, retro recipes…AMERICAN cheese is not cheese. It’s not even cheese food. It’s the stuff that somehow worms its way into every fast-food sandwich EVER–along with mayonnaise. Stop it with the “American” “cheese!”

  3. In at least one recent edition of Joy of Cooking, there is a recipe for tuna casserole that begins with making what’s essentially a concentrated homemade cream of mushroom soup using fresh mushrooms. The result is very good.

    High-quality ingredients help. I don’t think I could put shredded processed cheese (of late fairly available in local grocery stores) in anything I planned to eat or to serve to anyone I like. Sometimes one has to throw authenticity aside…

    I’ve been giving Aldi’s generic version of Velveeta to my church’s food pantry: $4 for 2 lbs. rather than over $6 for real Velveeta. I tried making cheese soup from it… now I don’t know how anyone can eat it with the least pleasure… Mind you, genuine Velveeta may be little better.

  4. From what I can find on line, a “No. 1/2 can” holds (held?) eight ounces. The standard can of tuna in the late Sixties when I was a lad was only seven. Now it’s five, with some flavored tuna only 4 1/2. I’d just use two 5-ounce cans for this recipe.

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