Tuna pasta bake – how to make a processed food healthier (and tastier)
I do not refuse convenience food completely. It has its place in the modern society and kitchen, depending on what it is. I do not go to fry food outlets so I am not a regular customer at Mac or KFC. However, I used to buy (and still sometimes go for) ready meals when I worked shifts and tuna pasta bake was my favourite, besides chicken korma or similar tasty dishes. And when I don’t feel like cooking while not willing to spend a fortune on a proper meal in the restaurant or regular basis, I go for an easier option.
Saying that, my processed meals are not as straightforward and bland as you would get them when following the original recipe. Take my lastly made tuna pasta bake. I buy the sauce in a jar, I use the tinned tuna and dried pasta. And I sprinkle some cheese on top before it is finished. Would that be enough?
Maybe for some other people yes, but not for us. I like experimenting with meals and utilizing the resources I have. Many times I have had some left-over broccoli, so I cut it into small florets and the stem into small bits, steamed it and added to the mass before the second round of baking. Firstly I added raw broccoli right at the beginning, but it often dried and burned on the bits not covered by the sauce, so I have refined my recipe a bit.
Adding broccoli to this simple meal has been a big success with my husband and I liked it this way as well. But last time, which happened to be today, I got another idea, remembering that the ready meal also had more of it in the portion – tomatoes! Although the sauce already contains some tomatoes in it, sometimes quite a big piece(s), this time I gave it another boost and cut into quarters several super rich in flavor tomatoes ripened on the vine and added them to the half baked pasta with tuna, together with the already steamed broccoli.
Then I mixed it and sprinkled grated mozzarella on top, before putting it back to the oven for about 18-20 minutes, according to the original recipe on the jar.
And this is what came out at the end.
As usually, the meal was very tasty and I earned another thank you from my husband for that. This is one of our favorite dishes. The tomatoes added another dimension to the experience and next time I will add more of them. The broccoli does not even have to be there when tomatoes are added. I have also used two tins of tuna instead of one. It does not hurt the final result and it makes it richer and more satisfying.
A simple one. If you want to make this dish even healthier, you can swap white pasta for the wholewheat one. Although the indigestible fiber is not essentially a nutrient, it definitely helps in slowing down the digestion and absorption, regulating the blood glucose levels and satiety and also making the toilet visits more regular and a better experience.
The choice of ingredients matter
As always. You could see that I do not mind presenting the brand of the sauce I use. There is a reason for it: avoid the cheap Ragu brand. Once I bought it because the shop did not have my favorite brands like Homepride or Dolmio. When I emptied the Ragu jar into the baking dish I noticed straight away that it had less rich (opaque) texture than what I used to see in other brands. The taste was also rather bland. It is obvious that they do not give the customers the real value. Instead, they just add cheap starch to thicken a low-grade product.
Although I was not impressed with the content of the John West tuna this time, which had rather the consistency of flakes than chunks (read more about this issue here), it was acceptable for this meal. I took a picture again for you to see that you cannot always rely on brands. It is like that Forrest Gump’s metaphore of life: a box of chocolates – you never know what you’ll get. This product would probably need to be labelled chunks with flakes, because that was what it was: more of flakes with a few chunks in it.
And finally – the tomatoes. You could see how ours were beautifully red, rich in colour and you can bet they were delicious. We especially buy the more expensive ones, ripened on the vine, which are beyond comparison to the cheap cherry tomatoes which are often lacking colour and therefore the nutrients. Lycopene is the red pigment in tomatoes and it is a very potent antioxidant. Tastewise, the cheap cherry tomatoes are often just sour and not enjoyable at all. Think about it when you do the next shopping. The choice of a variety can mean difference between the acceptance and refusal of a particular vegetable or fruit, especially by young children and picky eaters.