Tuna-Stuffed Shells

December 22, 2021
2 Ratings
Photo by Melina Hammer
  • Prep time 40 minutes
  • Cook time 1 hour 20 minutes
  • Serves 6
Author Notes

It's time for tuna noodle casserole to get a major upgrade! Made famous by Campbell’s soup in the mid 20th century, tuna noodle casserole became beloved in America for its convenience. All you needed was a can of condensed mushroom soup, a can of tuna, some dried pasta, and cornflakes or crackers. A 1946 recipe called it “an excellent emergency dish.” This modernized take calls for more ingredients and more time—but wow, is it worth it. It’s deeply savory, but also bright, thanks to Dijon mustard, capers, white wine, and buttermilk. Delicata squash adds a sweet butteriness, making the pasta do less of the heavy lifting. It’s a perfect deep-winter snow-day project and is sure to warm you up, inside and out. —Melina Hammer

What You'll Need
  • Unsalted butter, for greasing the pan
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus more as needed
  • 2 delicata squash, halved crosswise, seeded, cut into ⅛- to ¼-inch rings
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 8 ounces cremini mushrooms, rinsed and sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, grated
  • 2 tablespoons capers, chopped
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 3 ounces Parmesan cheese, finely grated (about 1 cup), divided
  • 2 (5- or 6-ounce) cans oil-packed tuna, drained, coarsely shredded
  • 7 ounces jumbo pasta shells
  • 1/2 cup panko
  • 1/3 cup fresh dill sprigs
  1. Grease a 9x13-inch casserole dish with butter and heat the oven to 400°F. Set a large pot of water over high heat and bring it to a boil.
  2. In a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil. Arrange as much squash as you can in the skillet in a single layer; season with salt. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes, mostly undisturbed, until soft and caramelized in places. Flip and continue to cook for another 3 to 4 minutes, until browned. Transfer the squash to a large plate and repeat with the remaining squash. Let cool slightly. Arrange the thicker slices (just over half of the squash) as a base layer in the casserole dish.
  3. In the same skillet, swirl another tablespoon of the oil. Cook the onion, stirring occasionally, for 7 to 9 minutes, until translucent.
  4. Add the mushrooms and season with salt, plus a small drizzle of oil if the pan looks dry. Cook, stirring frequently, for 5 to 7 minutes, until the mushrooms give up their liquid and become tender.
  5. Add the garlic and capers and cook, stirring frequently, for about 3 minutes, until the garlic is fragrant.
  6. Add the wine and cook, stirring frequently, for 3 to 5 minutes, until most of the wine has been cooked off.
  7. Stir in the mustard, then the flour. Cook, constantly stirring, for about 1 minute (it will be clumpy—that’s okay), until no streaks of flour remain. Stir in the stock; season with pepper. While stirring constantly, bring to a boil, then keep stirring and cook for about 5 to 7 minutes, until the liquid has thickened slightly.
  8. Stir in the cream, then return to a boil. Stir in the buttermilk, then remove the pan from the heat. Stir in two-thirds of the Parmesan. Pour half of the sauce into a heatproof bowl and fold in the tuna. Taste and adjust the seasonings as needed.
  9. Generously salt the boiling water. Parcook the shells for about 8 minutes, until very al dente (so you can bite a piece but the inside is still hard). Strain and arrange the shells flat side down on a dish towel.
  10. Spoon heaping tablespoons of the tuna sauce into the shells. Arrange them on top of the squash layer, then tear the remaining squash rings in half and nestle them between the shells. Pour the remaining sauce on top.
  11. In a small bowl, combine the remaining Parmesan, panko, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Sprinkle the Parmesan mixture on top of the shells. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, until bubbling and golden. For a deeply golden crust, you may set the oven to broil in the last 3 minutes.
  12. Scoop the shells and squash into shallow bowls and garnish with the dill.

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Melina is the author of 'A Year at Catbird Cottage' with Ten Speed Press. She grows an heirloom and pollinator garden and forages wild foods at her namesake Hudson Valley getaway, Catbird Cottage. Melina loves serving curated menus for guests from near and far seeking community amidst the hummingbirds, grosbeaks, finches, and the robust flavors of the seasons.

1 Review

Jessica January 15, 2022
This was really good! I made it exactly as written except I couldn't find squash so I omitted those steps and ladled a bit of the reserved sauce into the bottom of the pan before adding the stuffed shells. I also put a handful of frozen peas into the filling. The mustard and capers really added something special. This made a very cozy, comforting, winter dinner. Thanks for sharing the recipe!