I don’t do casseroles, especially tuna casseroles, too many years of church socials growing up. Jan, on the other hand, loves tuna casserole, although she has a problem with its portion control. You cannot take less of the starch and more of the veggies, since everything is mixed together. The other problem with casseroles is that the ingredients do not cook at the same rates. Some things will be under done or others will be way over done. Somewhere there had to be a solution.
I bought four artichokes earlier in the week without any clear idea of what I was going to do with them. For years I would simply steam the artichokes and serve them with my lime, chive and dill sauce. However, after making the Moroccan tagine, artichokes have taken on new possibilities. You do not have to use canned or frozen baby artichokes, mature artichokes can be trimmed and used in new and interesting ways.
I wanted to have something with noodles and fish and that used my artichokes, but like I said not a casserole. Looking for a solution I came upon Rachael Ray’s Not Tuna Casserole. I had to read the recipe very carefully to find out how it was not a casserole, but I finally understood. Rachael had separated the elements—pasta, sauce, and meat & veggies—and cooked them separately. This technique was a solution to the problem of ingredients cooking at different rates. Unfortunately, she then seems to miss the point about it not being a casserole, because she then mixes everything together and puts it in a casserole dish to serve.
One other reason that Rachael’s Not a Casserole is not a casserole is that it is not baked. About 140 years ago, the recipe that Americans now think of as a casserole was invented. In the 1860’s the taking bits of meat, vegetables, starch and sauce, throwing it all into a baking dish and then popping it into the oven was the busy housewife’s new best friend. If you are going to go through all of the extra work of breaking the recipe apart and cooking each element separately the final product should not be indistinguishable from the one that takes no effort. Let what is cooked apart stay apart.
Karl’s I Don’t Do Casseroles
1 lemon, juiced and seeded
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
1 celery stalk, coarsely chopped
4 cloves garlic, sliced
½ cup dry sherry
2 tsp. thyme
½ tsp. black pepper
¼ tsp. salt
½ lb. Rotini
½ – 1 lb. fish, cut into 1 inch pieces
½ cup green peas
2 Tbs. butter
2 Tbs. flour
1¼ cup milk, 1% lactose free
¼ tsp. nutmeg, freshly grated
1 Tbs. parsley, chopped fine
1. Fill a large pot with 6 quarts of water and a medium bowl with water.
2. Juice a lemon, remove and discard the seeds. Put half the juice in the bowl and half in the pot. Put the lemon rinds in the pot.
3. Pare the artichokes down to just the bases.
a. Remove and discard the toughest outer leaves.
b. Cut off the top third of the leaves.
c. Remove the semi-tough leaves and put in the pot with the lemon water
d. Cut a ring around where the leaves meet the base and pull the leaves free.
e. Discard the smallest center leaves, the choke and the stem.
f. Put the artichoke base in the pot with the lemon water.
g. Keep the tender inner leaves as a whole bunch and put it in the bowl with the lemon hjuice
4. Bring the pot to a boil and cover. After five minutes fish out the artichoke bases and put them in the bowl with the tender leaves. Cook the remaining leaves for 10 more minutes.
Note: Do not discard the water in the pot when you remove the leaves.
5. Fish out the leaves cool them in to a different bowl of cold water. Drain them thoroughly.
6. Scrape the “good bits” off each leaf (I use a grapefruit spoon with a serrated edge, but a knife would work). Reserve the bits for later.
7. In a deep pan or large sauté pan, sauté the onions and celery until translucent.
8. Add the garlic and sauté 1 minute more.
9. Stir in the sherry, thyme, pepper and salt.
10. Arrange the artichoke bases and tender leaves in the pan and cover. Simmer for 5 minutes.
11. Melt the butter over in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Sprinkle in the flour and stir until well combined. Whisk in the milk and cook, stirring frequently, until the sauce begins to thicken. Stir in the nutmeg.
12. Strain the artichoke lemon water and bring it back to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain and put in a serving bowl.
13. Arrange the fish pieces around the artichokes and scatter the peas and artichoke bits over all. Cover and continue simmering for 5 minutes.
14. Pour the sauce into the pan. Cover and continue simmering until the fish is done and flakes easily (about 5 minutes).
Tip: If the sauce seems a bit thin, add a mixture of corn starch and cold water (1 tsp. each) and heat the sauce 1 more minute before adding it.
15. Garnish with parsley and present the sauce in the pan with the pasta on the side.