Friday, November 6, 2009

Classic Tuna and Pea Loaf with Cheddar Sauce

Remember tuna casserole? It's an American family staple (certainly was in my family), and it singlehandedly refutes the idea that fish and cheese cannot work well together. Tuna casserole is easy to make, requiring only, in its simplest form, canned tuna, canned cream of mushroom soup, peas, cheddar cheese, egg noodles, and breadcrumbs or potato chips for a crunchy top. I turn this classic comfort food into an equally easy-to-prepare and comforting meatloaf--without the bread or potatoes, of course!

This loaf is creamier than average, mostly because of the cream of mushroom soup (which, as you may have learned from Chef Luis Gonzalez on Season 1 of Food Network's "Chopped," is only used by people who "can't cook." Ted Allen seems to agree.) Also, though largely based on the classic dish, this loaf has a slightly elevated flavor profile due to the use of citrus and vinegar in the sauce and fresh parsley in the loaf itself. For textural interest, top with chopped raw onion, serve with crisp lettuce, or sprinkle with crushed Revival Soy baked protein chips or Kay's Naturals protein chips or pretzels.

Ingredients for Classic Tuna and Pea Loaf
3 12-oz. cans of chunk light tuna in water, drained
16 oz. (2 packs) fresh white or baby portabella mushrooms
1/2 cup diced onions
1 and 1/2 tsp. salt, divided
1 and 1/2 tsp. black pepper, divided
1/2 cup fresh chopped parsley
1 16-oz. bag of frozen green peas [Note: Do not defrost]
5-6 roughly chopped garlic cloves
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. celery seeds
About 1/2 can 96% fat-free condensed cream of mushroom soup
1/2 cup egg substitute (I use Publix EggStirs)

Ingredients for Cheddar Sauce
Mushroom "drippings" from the sauteed mushrooms for the loaf
1 can 96% fat-free condensed cream of mushroom soup
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 cup vegetable, seafood, or chicken broth
1/2 tsp. lemon zest
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 7-oz. bag shredded fat-free cheddar cheese

Chop the mushrooms into small chunks and saute in nonstick spray with 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. black pepper on medium heat until the mushrooms release most of their liquid. Drain the mushoom "drippings" into a small saucepan for making the cheddar sauce; put the sauteed mushrooms into a large bowl.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Add all of the remaining loaf ingredients to the bowl and mix well. Do not worry about overmixing: Since the tuna is already cooked, the loaf doesn't need to set up the same way that a loaf made of raw meat would.

Pack the tuna-pea mixture into a large loaf pan. [Note: I usually shape my loaves free-hand and cook them on a flat surface like a cookie sheet or larger casserole dish. But with this loaf, you really need to pack it into a pan, as it will not hold together otherwise.]

Bake the loaf in a 375-degree oven until it is brown and crispy across most of the top, but still creamy underneath. This could take up to an hour. (If you make a flatter loaf, it will take less time but will be less creamy in the end.)

Shortly before removing the loaf from the oven, build the Cheddar Sauce. Combine all of the ingredients except the cheese in the small saucepan containing the mushroom drippings. Bring the mixture to a simmer.

Begin adding the cheddar cheese in small handfuls until the cheese is completely melted into the sauce. The consistency should remind you of cheese fondue, not too gummy.

Serve each slice of the meatloaf with a dollop of the Cheddar Sauce. Note that, unlike many meatloaf toppings, this sauce never cooks in the oven with the loaf.

Makes 20 2.5-oz servings. Consider cutting the recipe in half if you don't have many people or large appetites to serve.

Nutritional Information
1 2.5-oz slice of Classic Tuna and Pea Loaf, including a serving of Cheddar Sauce, contains 101 calories, 14.6 grams of protein, and 6.3 grams of net carbohydrates.

Squeeze fresh lemon juice over the top of each slice of this loaf; it beautifully brightens the dish. If desired, sprinkle each serving with fresh chive or parsley, which have complementary colors and flavors. This loaf can stand alone, but you could serve with a nice, light salad or soy chips/pretzels. Because the loaf itself is creamy, you will want a reasonably crisp vegetable side. If you're a carby sort of person, you could serve this alongside pasta.

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