Stovetop Tuna Noodle Casserole is the comfort food you all know and love, but with this recipe, you can make it in about 30 minutes without having to heat up the oven! And, it even comes with a buttery crumb topping!
Tuna Noodle Casserole is a quintessential comfort food - tender noodles, creamy sauce, tuna and a bit of veggies all mixed together, with a buttery, crumbly topping. Sounds heavenly! With this recipe for Stovetop Tuna Noodle Casserole, you can have all this, but in only about 30 minutes AND only using your stovetop!
If you're into classic comfort food but are short on time, you will love this recipe. Here's a few reasons why:
- This recipe is super versatile so it's a good pantry recipe when you're low on supplies. There are a ton of options when it comes to subbing out the veggies and meat called for in the recipe.
- Even without using the oven, you can still enjoy the best part of the casserole (in my opinion) - the buttery crumb topping! Torn bread chunks are sauteed in butter first until they're nice and crispy and brown. Then, after you've scooped up a nice serving of the noodles, sprinkle on as many of those buttery morsels as you like!
- And of course, you can have this entire dish ready, from start to finish, in about 30 minutes!
Here's what you need to make this recipe for Stovetop Tuna Noodle Casserole. (I give substitution suggestions for some of these ingredients in the following section.)
- Pasta: any short shape will do (fusilli, bowties, shells, etc.)
- Bread: any old leftover bread you have laying around will work. This will get torn or cut up into chunks for the crumb topping.
- All purpose flour
- Seasonings: you'll need salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, and a pinch of cayenne (this is optional).
- Milk: or a mix of milk and cream if you're feeling extra indulgent!
- Cream cheese: my secret ingredient for an extra creamy and flavorful sauce!
- Broccoli: peas are more traditional, but I really like the extra texture broccoli adds
- Canned tuna: I like using solid white albacore because you get bigger chunks in the finished dish, but chunk light works great too!
- Chives (not pictured): this is a purely optional garnish just to add some extra fresh flavor and color to the top of the dish. You could also use a bit of fresh parsley if you've got some.
As I mentioned before, this is a very flexible dish. You can definitely adjust the recipe based on your personal tastes and what you have in the house. Here are a few substitution ideas I had, but of course don't be constrained to stick with these ideas. If you make substitutions aside from the ideas I mentioned here, I would love to know how your version turned out!
Substitutions for tuna
I know this whole dish is kinda based around the tuna (it's in the name!). But, that doesn't mean you can't switch it up a bit. How about swapping in canned salmon? Or canned chicken? Or even chopped up ham? All sound delicious!
Substitutions for broccoli
The next thing that would be easy to change up would be the broccoli. I already mentioned that peas are actually the more traditional choice and would be a great option. Chopped spinach would be interesting, or even 1 inch pieces of asparagus!
substituting fresh vegetables
If you're using fresh versions of any of those vegetables, you should be fine following the same instructions listed in the recipe for the broccoli - adding them in with the boiling pasta water during the last few minutes of cooking. You may need to adjust the cooking time however, depending on the veggie you choose and how tender or crisp you like your veggies. (For example, I would probably only cook the spinach for 1 minute, or maybe even less, since it's so delicate.)
substituting canned vegetables
If you want to use canned vegetables instead, the swap couldn't be easier. Just drain the vegetables very well so the extra moisture doesn't water down the sauce. Then add the drained canned vegetables directly to the finished sauce right at the end before you combine the sauce with the noodles.
substituting frozen vegetables
You could also use frozen vegetables, including frozen broccoli instead of fresh as the recipe calls for. If you're going to use frozen veggies (either peas, broccoli, or something else), I would just cook them separately according to the instructions on the bag, drain them well, and then add them into the final sauce. I wouldn't add them in frozen to the boiling pasta water, because the cold veggies will pretty much halt the boiling of the pasta and will mess up the pasta cooking time.
Just to recap, the seasonings this recipe calls for are salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, and cayenne (which is optional). I'm assuming you have salt and pepper, but what if you don't have garlic powder, onion powder or cayenne?
If you've got garlic powder but not onion powder (or vice versa), just add a little more of the one you do have. If you don't have either, try a crushed garlic clove added directly into the melted butter, right before adding the flour for the roux. Or even a bit of chopped fresh onion added at the same time.
If you don't have cayenne but still want a bit of heat, add a dash of hot sauce!
How to time the pasta to be finished when the sauce is ready
This is an issue I always run into when making pasta with a homemade sauce. Sometimes it can be tricky to know exactly when to start the pasta cooking so it can be ready right around the same time as the sauce, especially since various pastas have different cooking times.
Ultimately, this only really matters if you want dinner on the table ASAP! (I hear that!). Because when in doubt, you can just err on the side of finishing the sauce first. Let the sauce sit on the burner, but turn the heat off. It will be just fine! You can give the sauce a quick whisk occasionally if you remember.
If you do want to try and get the timing as close as possible, here are a few tips that can help:
- Take note of the pasta cooking time before you start cooking
- Start heating up the pasta water right in the beginning
- If your pasta water starts boiling before you are ready to add the water, just turn down the water slightly to keep it at a simmer. Then, a minute or two before you need to add the pasta, turn it up again and it should get up to a boil quickly.
- When I made this recipe, it took me 15 minutes from start to finish to complete the sauce portion. Although your exact timing may vary, use this as a rough guide to inform when you start your pasta cooking.
Other helpful tips
I've gathered a few additional tips for you to make sure you hit this recipe out of the park!
Tip #1: Drain the tuna and pasta very well
Make sure you drain the tuna very well before adding it to the sauce. Especially if you are using chunk light tuna, which is very watery compared with albacore. Same deal for the pasta, especially shells, which catch little pockets of water. And if you are adding canned vegetables instead of fresh, make sure to drain those well too. Any extra water you introduce into the dish will also water down the flavor and the creaminess of the sauce.
I like to plunk the tuna into a fine mesh strainer and squeeze the tuna with my hands to make sure I remove as much moisture as possible. If your strainer is large enough, you can set it aside and use it to drain the pasta as well.
Tip #2: Don't walk away when you are making your sauce!
Usually, I'm the kind of person who gets something going on the stove and then tries to squeeze in a million other prep steps while the food is cooking. This can work for some things, but I advise against it when you are making the sauce! Both the roux (the mixture of flour and butter) and the sauce itself can easily burn if you're not watching. In fact, I fell back into old habits the first time I made this recipe, and the sauce scorched on the bottom. No good!
Once it's time to make the sauce, just stay close by. You don't need to stir every second, but pretty consistently. In fact, if you are diligent about stirring, you can actually get away with turning the temperature up a bit, helping the sauce to thicken faster. But only if you are willing to stir almost constantly, including the corners of the pan!
Tip #3: How to incorporate the cream cheese into the sauce
Once the milk has thickened, it's time to add the cream cheese. The cream cheese will incorporate the quickest into the sauce if you cut it into small pieces rather than large chunks. Pro tip: it's much easier to cut the pieces small if you take the cream cheese straight out of the fridge, rather than letting it sit on the counter first.
And, if you're worried you messed up your beautiful sauce with little chunky bits of cream cheese floating everywhere, don't worry! Just keep stirring until the cream cheese begins to melt. If it still doesn't seem to be melting in, your burner heat may be too low. Turning the heat up a little bit will also help a lot with this process - just make sure you keep whisking to avoid scorching the sauce (see tip #2 above!).
If you’ve tried this recipe for Stovetop Tuna Noodle Casserole, please let me know what you thought about it in the comments down below, I would love to hear from you! You can also follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest to see more delicious recipes from Nibble and Dine!
And before you go, I've got some other great 30 minute comfort food recipes that you may like! Here's my recipe for 30 Minute Stovetop Chicken Enchiladas, and another one for Creamy Cajun Chicken Pasta. And for another quick and easy seafood recipe, try Panko Crusted Cod!
Stovetop Tuna Noodle Casserole
A comfort food classic ready in about 30 minutes! You can make this creamy pasta dish only using your stovetop, and it even includes a buttery breadcrumb topping!
- Prep Time: 12 minutes
- Cook Time: 18 minutes
- Total Time: 30 minutes
- Yield: 4 - 5 servings 1x
- Category: main course
- Method: stove top
- Cuisine: American
- 12 ounces short pasta (penne, fusilli, shells, etc.)
- 2 cups small florets of broccoli (can also include chopped pieces of stem)
- 1 ½ cups small (between ¼ - ⅓" size) pieces of bread (either torn or cut)
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt (plus more to season bread and salt the pasta water)
- 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
- 2 cup milk (preferably whole milk)
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- pinch cayenne (optional)
- 4 ounces cream cheese, cut into small pieces
- two 5 ounce cans tuna, well drained
- optional garnish: chives
- Set a large stock pot of water on the stove to boil for the pasta. Once the water is boiling, add a few large pinches of salt. When ready, boil the pasta according to the directions on the box. During the last 2 minutes of cooking, add the broccoli. (See notes for more information on timing for the pasta.)
- Meanwhile, add 2 tbsp. of the butter to a medium saucepan set over medium heat. When the butter is melted, add in the bread pieces. Stir the bread to evenly coat the pieces in the butter and season with a pinch of salt. Let the bread cook in a single layer, stirring occasionally, until the pieces are golden brown with some deeper brown edges (about 3 minutes). Remove the bread pieces, including any crumbs, onto a plate to cool.
- In the same saucepan (it's ok if there are still a few small crumbs left!), set over medium heat, add the remaining 2 tbsp. butter. When the butter is melted, sprinkle in the 2 tbsp. flour. Using a whisk, stir the mixture frequently, letting it cook until it is a light golden brown color (about 1 - 2 minutes).
- Add in the milk very slowly, whisking continuously. Continue whisking until the mixture is smooth, then add in the 1 ½ tsp. salt, black pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, and (optional) cayenne.
- Turn the heat up to medium high, and continue to whisk the mixture very frequently until the milk begins to boil and the sauce has thickened (about 5 - 6 minutes). (Make sure you get into the corners of the pan with the whisk!)
- Add in the cream cheese pieces and continue to whisk until the cream cheese has fully incorporated into the sauce (about 3 minutes).
- Add the well-drained tuna into the sauce, whisk to combine.
- Once the pasta and broccoli has finished cooking, drain it very well and add it back into the stock pot. Immediately pour the finished sauce over the pasta and stir gently to combine. Serve immediately, sprinkled on top with the buttery bread topping and snipped chives (optional).
Ideally, you want the pasta to be finished boiling either right around the same time or a little after the sauce has finished cooking. If the pasta water has begun to boil before you are ready to add the pasta, turn the heat down to maintain a simmer, then back up a minute or two before you want to add the pasta.
For more tips on pasta timing, see the blog section "How to time the pasta to be finished when the sauce is ready."
Keywords: tuna noodle casserole, stovetop tuna noodle casserole, canned tuna, stovetop casserole, pantry recipe, easy comfort food recipe
Delicious and fast
Thank you! 🙂 🙂
I made this for a quick lunch one day and it was a hit! the sauce was just enough like my homemade alfredo sauce that the picky teens who hate tuna actually ate some. i didn't have any bread so i didn't add any crunchy toppings but next time i will make a topping, maybe add some parmesan for extra flavor. It went much quicker than I expected so having everything lined up and ready to go would be my added tip 🙂
Thank you Lucy I'm so glad you and your family enjoyed the recipe. And adding parmesan is a great idea, I will have to try that next time I make it! Also, thank you for sharing the tip to get everything ready beforehand, I myself need that reminder! I have to admit I am totally guilty of NOT doing that and then having to scramble when I can't find something in my pantry! Haha 🙂
I just made this tonight for dinner. I had some mushrooms to use up, so I skipped the broccoli and added the sliced mushrooms into the sauce just before adding the cream cheese. I also skipped the bread portion, and added some crushed garlic parmesan croutons on top with a healthy dose of minced chives from my garden. This is a very delicious, versatile go to recipe. My husband especially loved it. Thank you!
P.S. I also noticed that the 12 ounce measurement for the pasta was definitely not a dry pasta measurement. I find it less confusing to go with 1 1/2 cups dry pasta. I initially measured 12 ounces on my digital baking scale and found it to be over 3 cups!
Hey again! Thank you for your note about the measurement - I actually used 1 box of 12 oz. pasta which is measured by weight, so I think that would be close to 3 cups depending on the shape you use. Either way I'm glad it worked for you, it sounds like your version would have more sauce, which I am all for! 🙂
Hi Tracie I'm delighted that you and your family enjoyed the recipe! And thank you for sharing the tweaks you made to the recipe, they sound delicious!