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Classic Tuna Casserole (No Canned Soup!)

This easy Classic Tuna Casserole is creamy and cheesy with a crispy panko breadcrumb topping, and it’s made without canned soup. It’s a perfect comfort food dinner for any night of the week!

There’s a reason that an old-fashioned tuna noodle casserole has been a dinnertime staple for so long. It’s filling, comforting, inexpensive, easy to make, and absolutely delicious!

So many of us, including me, grew up on tuna casserole. My mom made it a lot, and we all loved it and got so excited when it was on the menu (even me, who was most definitely not a fish fan back then…but I did love canned tuna).

She even snuck some veggies in there…usually peas and sometimes broccoli, and our plates were always clean.

It’s an easy, budget-friendly dinner that gets you in and out of the kitchen quickly and makes everybody happy. And since it’s made with basic kitchen staple ingredients, it’s one of those recipes that you can always turn to when you don’t know what to cook.

And now that the weather is getting chillier, I am craving warm and cozy dishes just like this one!

My version of tuna casserole is very similar to my mom’s, except I skip the canned cream of mushroom soup, and I make a quick and simple béchamel sauce (fancy French term for white sauce) with cheese instead.

I also add some very finely diced celery and onion for crunch and extra flavor.

So we’ve got pasta, tuna, celery, onions, and sweet green peas tossed in a creamy, sharp-cheddar-cheesy homemade sauce and topped with parmesan cheese and buttery seasoned panko breadcrumbs. Then it’s baked until it’s bubbly and the topping is golden brown and crisp.

What’s not to love? It’s soooo good!

close-up of classic tuna casserole on a white plate with a forkful being taken out

Ingredients you need:

  • Medium pasta shells (or egg noodles)
  • Canned tuna (I use solid white albacore tuna packed in water)
  • Celery
  • Onion
  • Frozen peas (optional)
  • Butter
  • All-purpose flour
  • Milk
  • Sharp cheddar cheese (white or yellow)
  • Parmesan cheese (shredded or grated)
  • Seasoned panko bread crumbs
  • Salt and pepper
  • Cooking spray

Here’s a look at how to make Classic Tuna Casserole (No Canned Soup!):

Note: This is just a quick overview of the steps. Scroll down to the recipe card for the full recipe with detailed instructions.

2 images; one a graphic of an oven with text that says preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit; the other of cooked pasta shells in a colander with text that says cook pasta according to package directions, drain
2 images; one of the pasta shells mixed with other ingredients in a bowl with a wooden spoon with text that says in a bowl, toss noodles with tuna, celery, onion, peas, salt and pepper; the other of a roux in a pot with a whisk with text that says melt butter and add flour, cook, stirring, for one minute
2 images; one of milk added to the roux in the pot with a whisk with text that says while stirring, add milk, bring to a boil, cook, stirring, until thickened; the other of shredded cheese added to the sauce in the pot  with text that says add cheese, stir until melted and sauce is smooth
2 images; one of the sauce in the pot being seasoned with salt and pepper with text that says season sauce to taste with salt and pepper; the other of the sauce being stirred into the pasta mixture in the bowl with a wooden spoon with text that says add sauce to pasta mixture, stir until well-combined
2 images; one of the pasta mixture in a baking dish topped with parmesan cheese with text that says transfer to a sprayed baking dish, top with parmesan; the other of the casserole topped with bread crumbs with text that says combine melted butter and panko, sprinkle on top
2 images; one a graphic of an oven with text that says 475 degrees Fahrenheit and bake for 30 minutes or until; the other of the finished casserole with text that says bubbly and topping is golden brown, enjoy

Tips & Tidbits:

  • I like using medium pasta shells in this casserole (tuna–>seafood–>seashells), but wide egg noodles also work very well, and I often use them if I don’t have any shells.
  • For this recipe, I use solid white albacore tuna packed in water. To me, it is sturdier than chunk light tuna. I can flake it into the size pieces I want, and it holds its shape better rather than breaking up too much. However, you can use whatever tuna you like best or have on hand.
  • Since we’re putting in the celery and onions raw, be sure to dice them very finely so they will soften up just a bit as the casserole bakes. I love the flavor and texture they add!
    • Of course, you can always sauté them in a little butter or oil first if you’d rather (but I highly suggest giving adding them raw a try…it’s really yummy and reminiscent of tuna salad!).
  • The peas are optional. You can leave them out if you’d rather do a veggie on the side. Or you can replace them with another vegetable, such as broccoli or green beans (I suggest chopping them into small pieces so they get nicely distributed throughout the casserole).
    • If using frozen vegetables, make sure they are thawed or cooked before adding to the casserole.
  • If you don’t have any panko breadcrumbs, you can use regular bread crumbs, crushed crackers, crushed cornflakes, or even crushed potato chips on top.
  • Store leftovers in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days. Reheat in a 325°F oven, covered, until heated through, removing the foil during the last several minutes to crisp up the breadcrumbs. I also add a tablespoon or two of water to the dish to help keep the casserole from drying out while it reheats).
    • You can also reheat it in the microwave.
overhead view of classic tuna casserole on a white plate with a fork and the baking dish in the background

If you’ve never made a tuna casserole from scratch without canned soup, you’ve got to try it just once. I’m willing to bet you’ll want to make it this way from now on!

I hope you try this classic tuna noodle casserole recipe and love it as much as I do. Thanks for visiting today!

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Classic Tuna Casserole (No Canned Soup!)

This easy Classic Tuna Casserole is creamy and cheesy with a crispy panko breadcrumb topping, and it's made without canned soup. It's a perfect comfort food dinner for any night of the week!
4.86 from 14 votes
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Author: Michelle / Now Cook This!
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 50 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
Servings: 4
Estimated Calories: 628

Ingredients

  • cooking spray
  • 3 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 8 ounces medium pasta shells
  • 2 (5 oz each) cans solid white albacore tuna in water, drained and flaked (or use your favorite canned tuna)
  • ½ cup very finely diced celery
  • ½ cup very finely diced onion
  • 1 cup thawed frozen peas, optional
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese, white or yellow
  • ¼ cup shredded or grated parmesan cheese
  • ½ cup seasoned panko breadcrumbs
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  • Spray an 8x8x2-inch (or any 2-quart) baking dish with cooking spray.
  • Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter; set aside.
  • Boil the pasta shells in salted water according to the package directions for al dente; drain.
  • Place the drained pasta shells in a large bowl. Add the tuna, celery, onion, peas, and lightly season with salt and pepper. Gently mix until well-combined, being careful not to break up the tuna too much.
  • In a medium saucepan, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter over medium-low heat. Add the flour and whisk to combine until smooth. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, for one minute.
  • While whisking constantly, slowly add the milk, and whisk until smooth. Increase the heat and bring to a boil, whisking frequently, then immediately reduce the heat and simmer, whisking constantly, until the mixture has thickened slightly (it won't be super thick), just about a minute or two.
  • Turn off the heat and add the shredded cheddar cheese; whisk until the cheese has melted and the sauce is smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • Add the sauce to the pasta mixture and gently toss to combine. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed.
  • Transfer the pasta mixture to the prepared baking dish and sprinkle the top evenly with the parmesan cheese.
  • Combine the melted butter with the panko breadcrumbs and sprinkle evenly over the top of the casserole.
  • Bake in the center of the oven for 30 minutes or until bubbly and the top is golden brown and crisp. Serve immediately.

Notes

  • 8 ounces of wide egg noodles can be used in place of the pasta shells. 
  • Peas are optional; you can leave them out if you prefer to serve a vegetable on the side. Or you can replace them with another veggie like broccoli or green beans (I suggest chopping them into small pieces so they get nicely distributed throughout the casserole).
    • If using frozen vegetables, make sure they are thawed or cooked before adding to the casserole.
  • If you don’t have any panko breadcrumbs, you can use regular bread crumbs, crushed crackers, crushed cornflakes, or even crushed potato chips on top.
  • Store leftovers in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days. Reheat in a 325°F oven, covered, until heated through, removing the foil during the last several minutes to crisp up the breadcrumbs. I also add a tablespoon or two of water to the dish to help keep the casserole from drying out while it reheats).
    • You can also reheat it in the microwave.
Did you try this recipe? I’d love to see it!Share it on Instagram, tag @nowcookthis and use the hashtag #nowcookthisrecipes. Thanks!

Recipe Rating




Patty

Friday 7th of June 2024

I forgot to rate the recipe - if I could give a higher one, I would (see previous review).

Michelle

Saturday 8th of June 2024

Thanks again, Patty!

Patty

Friday 7th of June 2024

WOW! This recipe hit all the comfort-food feels. It was like a tuna salad melt - we loved it, and will make this a part of regular meal rotations. I love how adaptable it is from the comments and may try a few tweaks in the future. Thanks for giving home cooks a great blueprint and launching pad for meal ideas.

Michelle

Saturday 8th of June 2024

Thank you, Patty! I'm so happy that you loved it!

Natalie

Friday 17th of May 2024

Very good and easy!

Michelle

Friday 17th of May 2024

Thank you, Natalie!

Edie

Saturday 13th of April 2024

The meat of white (albacore) tuna contains a higher level of mercury than chunk light does, so I'll stick to the chunk light, and not eat it too often. But I do love tuna noodle casserole, and this recipe sounds like a great twist on my usual fare.

Michelle

Saturday 13th of April 2024

Hi, Edie! Yes, please use the tuna that you prefer...it's delicious either way. Hope you try it and enjoy it!

Karen

Thursday 4th of April 2024

Delicious! The only thing I would do different is saute the celery and onions to soften them a bit before adding to other ingredients.

Michelle

Thursday 4th of April 2024

Thank you, Karen...so happy you enjoyed it, and I appreciate you taking the time to comment and rate the recipe!