This week I made my menu choices based on what I was craving not what I thought I should eat. After reading so much on health and nutrition I’ve found myself more often considering the health benefits of a dish than whether it satisfies something greater for me. It seems like my food choices seem to be on a teeter totter either leaning toward total indulgence or pure fuel. As much as I try to balance the two it’s not always easy. Trusting yourself to make good choices intuitively can be even harder. This week though I was having a seemingly tricky time deciding what to make so taking a cue from my cravings seemed the best way to get myself excited about my weekly menu. Randomly, Creamed Peas and Tuna on Toast came to mind.
I haven’t had this dish since living at home in Minnesota, where I was introduced to it by my grandmother (mother’s mother). It was one of the dishes in our repertoire for meat-free Fridays during Lent. I’m not certain if anyone in the family besides the two of us enjoyed it, but I certainly loved it. (As a sidebar, I find it interesting that eating meat free had to be a conscious decision for me then whereas now I do it unintentionally.) Her version was a mix of canned cream of mushroom soup, tuna, and frozen peas (although I am sure there is something else I am forgetting) all over perfectly crisped toast. My internet research suggests that this dish and similar ones gained popularity in the 1950′s as canned and frozen foods became the rage. In fact, until I typed ‘Creamed Peas and Tuna on Toast’ into Google I was unaware of how widespread this recipe was or how many variations there really are.
I decided to invent my own recipe for a couple of reasons. One, even though I wanted to respond to my cravings I didn’t want to completely forget about my health. And two, I wanted to be able to control the quality of my ingredients as well as my salt intake, which is MUCH easier with fresh ingredients. The following recipe is the result. It’s missing the grandmotherly love that came with the original, but is still pretty good in my opinion.
The cream sauce is just rich enough to satisfy, but not so thick that you feel heavy after eating it. The toast is especially good once it has had a chance to absorb the sauce. It’s tender interior becomes a perfect compliment to the crisp crust. In fact, the variety of textures is one of the things I love overall. The fresh peas that burst in your mouth are wonderful juxtaposed against tender, mild tuna, and a lovely creamy sauce. I bet this would be equally good with shrimp or salmon, although this is one dish where my nostalgia makes it hard to drift too far from the original.
Kelly’s Tribute to Creamed Peas and Tuna on Toast
1 8 oz. package Baby Bella mushrooms, sliced (or other mushrooms of your choice)
2 1/4 cups low-fat milk
2 1/2 tablespoons butter or extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 sweet onion, chopped
1 clove minced garlic
2 1/2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried herbs of your choice (I like Penzey’s Green Goddess blend)
1 cup fresh peas, blanched
2 tins good quality tuna (I like Italian)
8 slices 100% whole wheat bread, toasted
Chopped parsley, optional
1. Saute mushrooms in a pan coated with cooking spray until softened and browned, remove from pan.
2. Heat the milk in a small saucepan over low until hot, but not scalded or boiling.
3. Meanwhile, heat butter or olive oil in a medium nonstick pan and saute onions and garlic until onion is translucent. Whisk in the flour and whisk constantly for 2 minutes taking care not to let the flour brown.
4. Whisk in the hot milk at once and continue to whisk to break up any lumps of flour. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and then reduce heat to a simmer. Whisk continuously as sauce thickens to ensure nothing sticks to the bottom. Cook until the sauce has thickened to the consistency of cream, about 5 minutes.
5. Remove from the heat and stir in herbs, salt, peas, and tuna until all ingredients are well distributed.
6. Serve over toast and garnish with parsley if desired.