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It’s January. It’s cold. It’s time for some good old fashioned comfort food.  This soul-satisfying classic is reassuringly familiar and easy on the budget – which  in the face of skyrocketing food prices and holiday Visa bills, is welcome in our kitchen any time.  Our  modern rendition of tuna fish casserole includes a nutritional boost of broccoli in a creamy basil sauce but still has all the comforting goodness you remember. Feel free to substitute  low sodium chicken broth and low-fat mozzarella to make this even healthier but if you can,  treat yourself to some good quality Parmigiano-Reggiano. It’s complex flavour will take this to a whole new level of gourmet comfort food. And if you can’t find fresh basil, dried is just fine. We’ve included the substitution for it below the recipe.

Creamy Tuna Pasta Bake

2 TBSP butter 30 ml

6 green onions, chopped 6

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped 3

4 cups sliced mushrooms 1 L

1⁄2 TSP salt 2 ml 1⁄2 

TSP freshly ground black pepper 2 ml

1⁄3 cup all-purpose flour 75 ml

2 cups light (5%) cream or milk 500 ml

11⁄2 cups Chicken Stock  or 375 ml ready-to-use chicken broth

3 tomatoes, seeded and diced 3

2⁄3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese 150 ml

1⁄2 cup chopped fresh basil 125 ml

12 oz penne 375 g

4 cups broccoli florets and chopped peeled stems   1L

 2 cans (each 6 oz/170 g) solid 2 white tuna, drained and flaked

11⁄2 cups soft fresh bread crumbs 375 ml

1 cup shredded Asiago or mozzarella 250 ml cheese

Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C).

Grease a 13- by 9-inch (33 by 23 cm) baking dish. In a Dutch oven or large saucepan, melt butter over medium-high heat. Cook green onions, garlic, mushrooms, salt and pepper, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes  until softened.

In a bowl, whisk flour with 1⁄2 cup (125 ml) cream until smooth; add the remaining cream. Add to pan along with stock. Bring to a boil, stirring, for 3 minutes or until sauce thickens. Remove from heat. Stir in tomatoes, Parmesan and basil. (Can be prepared to this point, covered and refrigerated for up to 1 day.)

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta for 7 minutes or until almost tender. Add broccoli; cook for 2 minutes or until broccoli is bright green and crisp, and pasta is just tender. Drain; chill under cold water. Drain well and return to pot. Stir in tuna and sauce. Spread in baking dish. (Casserole can be prepared to this point; cover and refrigerate for up to 4 hours before serving. Increase baking time by 15 minutes.)

In a bowl, combine bread crumbs and Asiago cheese; sprinkle over top. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until golden and center is piping hot.

Serves 8.

Tip: If fresh basil is unavailable, substitute 2 TSP (10 ml) dried basil and cook with onions.

Tip: Assemble the dish no more than 4 hours ahead to prevent pasta from soaking up the sauce.

Variation: For a vegetarian version, omit tuna and substitute 1 can (19 oz/540 ml) kidney beans, drained and rinsed.

This recipe is available in the book Best of Bridge Home Cooking.

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