Recipe: Creamy Avocado Noodles and Tuna Casserole

Here’s a modern update on a retro favorite, tuna noodle casserole: Creamy avocado sauce surrounds penne pasta, tuna and red pepper. Everyone will love it — especially when it shows up on their doorstep.

It’s the perfect dish to drop off to a brand-new mom, a friend who broker her arm or your grandmother — just because.

And it’s a breeze to make. Instead of standing over the stove to stir a classic white sauce, you make the creamy avocado sauce by simply tossing warm milk, avocado and cheese into a regular blender and giving it a whiz. Then just add tuna, noodles and homemade flavor-bomb breadcrumbs.

In terms of nutrition, this casserole is a step up from past versions, which often included high-sodium, gloppy canned cream of mushroom soup. This new, fresh recipe has:

Avocado: This fruit (yup, it’s a fruit!) contains 3.5 ounces of naturally good fat per 1-ounce serving. It also has folate, potassium, magnesium and 2 grams of fiber per serving.

Whole-grain noodles and breadcrumbs: Using a healthy mix of half whole-grain pasta and half regular pasta makes everyone happy. Whole grains increase the fiber and B vitamins in this recipe.

Canned white (albacore) tuna: News flash: Not only is canned tuna OK for pregnant and nursing moms to eat, but it’s recommended that new moms eat 8 to 12 ounces of a variety of seafood — including canned tuna — every week for the brain-boosting benefits to baby.

Here are a few more tips if you plan to drop this dish on a friend’s doorstep:

1: Make it in a new casserole dish, and make that part of the dinner gift. Or prep it in a disposable baking tray so your friend doesn’t have to return your dish.

2: Include a bag of fresh salad and a tote of apples or oranges to round out the dinner — because folks who are home with a broken arm or a new baby generally avoid heavy grocery-store purchases like a big bag of fresh fruit.

The third tip would (obviously!) be: Call ahead, and don’t really leave the casserole on the doorstep (unless you want to make a second casserole, because your friend’s neighbors will certainly find it delicious).

Creamy Avocado Noodles and Tuna Casserole

Makes about 7 to 8 servings

Ingredients:

2 large ripe avocados (1 1/4 pounds avocados)

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

7 ounces (about 2 cups) dry whole-grain penne pasta

7 ounces (about 2 cups) dry regular penne pasta

1 1/2 cup low-fat (1%) milk

3 cloves garlic, sliced

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 medium red bell pepper, diced

3/4 cup fresh Italian parsley leaves, roughly chopped

2.5 ounces (about 3/4 cup) shredded Parmesan cheese

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 12-ounce can white (albacore) tuna, drained and flaked

For breadcrumbs:

2 slices toasted whole-wheat bread, crumbled into crumbs with fingers

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon ground paprika

1 teaspoon olive oil

Directions:

Coat a 3-quart casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray; set aside. Heat oven to 400 degrees F.

Remove peel and pit from avocados, cut into cubes and place into a small bowl; pour lemon juice over avocados and toss gently. Remove 1/2 cup of avocado cubes and set aside separate from the avocado with lemon juice. You will have 1 1/2 cups of avocado cubes left in the first bowl.

In a large stockpot, cook regular and whole-grain penne according to instructions on the regular pasta package.

While pasta is cooking, in a small saucepan, heat milk, garlic and oregano over medium heat until boiling, stirring often to prevent burning. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally; remove from heat and cool for 3 to 4 minutes.

To a blender add warm milk mixture, parsley, cheese, salt, pepper and reserved 1 1/2 cups avocado with lemon juice. Process in blender until smooth.

When pasta is 4 minutes from being done, add diced red pepper to pasta water to cook until tender-crisp. When pasta is done, drain pasta and red pepper and return to stockpot; pour blended cheese mixture over pasta. Add tuna and reserved 1/2 cup avocado chunks and toss gently; pour into prepared casserole dish.

To make breadcrumbs, in a small bowl, combine crumbled bread, garlic powder, paprika and olive oil; sprinkle breadcrumbs over casserole.

Bake uncovered for 15 minutes until heated through and breadcrumbs are golden.

*Cook’s Notes: If you want to deliver this dish to a friend, prepare up through step 8. Deliver the casserole with instructions to “Bake at 400 degrees F for 20 to 25 minutes covered, until heated through. Remove cover for last 10 minutes of baking so breadcrumbs can crisp.”

The avocado oxidizes somewhat during baking, so don’t be surprised when the baked dish comes out a bit browner than it was before you put it in the oven. If you want some of the avocado to remain as green as it began, leave the last 1/2 cup of chopped avocado out of the casserole and serve it as a garnish to the casserole at the table.

Per serving (1/8 of recipe): Calories 346; Fat 10 g (Saturated 3 g); Sodium 343 mg; Carbohydrate 46 g; Fiber 9 g; Sugars 6 g; Protein 21 g

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Serena Ball, M.S., R.D., is a registered dietitian nutritionist. She blogs at TeaspoonOfSpice.com, sharing tips and tricks to help readers find cooking shortcuts for making healthy, homemade meals. Her recipes are created with families in mind.

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