Stove Top Tuna Casserole

bowl of tuna noodle casserole with spoon.

4.8 from 4 reviews

A comfort food classic ready in about 30 minutes! You can make this creamy pasta dish, that's like a homemade tuna helper, with only your stove top. And, it even includes a buttery breadcrumb topping!


Units Scale

For the pasta:

  • 12 ounces (340 g) short pasta (penne, fusilli, shells, etc.)
  • 2 cups small florets of broccoli (can also include chopped pieces of stem)

For the buttery crumb topping:

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups small (between 1/4 - 1/3" size) pieces of bread (either torn or cut) (see note 1)

For the sauce:

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, or to taste (3/4 teaspoon for fine salt, or to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • pinch cayenne (optional)
  • 4 ounces (113 g) cream cheese, cut into small pieces
  • two 5 ounce cans tuna, well drained


  1. Cook the pasta: Set a large stock pot of water on the stove to boil for the pasta. When the water begins to boil, add a large pinch of salt and the pasta to the water. Cook the pasta according to the directions on the package. During the last 2 minutes of cooking, add the broccoli. While waiting for the water to boil, and while the pasta cooks, proceed with the following steps (see note 2 re: timing for the pasta). (For instructions on finishing the pasta, go to step 8.)
  2. Make the buttery crumb topping: Add 2 tablespoons of 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.
  3. Make the sauce: In the same saucepan (it's ok if there are still a few small crumbs left!), set over medium heat, add the remaining 2 tablespoons butter. When the butter is melted, sprinkle in the 2 tablespoons flour. Using a whisk, stir the mixture frequently, letting it cook until it is a light golden brown color (about 1 - 2 minutes).
  4. Add in the milk very slowly, whisking continuously. Continue whisking until the mixture is smooth, then add in the 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt (or 3/4 teaspoon fine-grain salt), black pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, and (optional) cayenne. 
  5. 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!) 
  6. Add in the cream cheese pieces and continue to whisk until the cream cheese has fully incorporated into the sauce (about 3 minutes).
  7. Add the well-drained tuna into the sauce, whisk to combine.
  8. Finish the pasta: Once the pasta and broccoli have finished cooking, drain them very well and add them back into the empty 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.


If you don't have fresh or leftover bread, you can substitute 3/4 cup store-bought bread crumbs (preferably panko).

To finish the pasta and sauce around the same time, check how long your pasta needs to cook and time accordingly; for pastas that take about 12 minutes, starting it around when you are adding the milk to the sauce works well for me. If needed, you can always start the pasta cooking a little later in the process, since the sauce will keep well on the stove with the heat off (just whisk the sauce occasionally).

The nutrition information below is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator, and should not be considered a substitute for professional medical, health, or nutritional advice. The nutrition counts of your dish will vary based on the brands and exact amounts of ingredients used. See our full nutrition disclosure policy.


Keywords: stove top tuna casserole, homemade tuna helper, tuna casserole recipe without soup