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Tuna-noodle casserole with a green olive-lemon-herb tapenade

3 7-ounce cans good quality tuna, drained and broken into large chunks
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup diced onion
1 cup diced celery
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups béchamel sauce (see below)
½ cup sour cream
Zest from one small lemon
Juice from one small lemon
1 tbsp. fresh thyme, chopped
1 lb. cooked pasta (farfalle, penne, or rotelli, etc.)
½ lb. Monterey Jack cheese, grated
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
¼ cup fresh scallions, sliced
Green Olive-Lemon-Herb Tapenade (see below)

Prepare béchamel sauce first, then proceed with the rest of the recipe.

Next, place the chunks of tuna into a large mixing bowl. Next, heat the butter and olive oil in a large non-stick sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onion and celery and stir and cook for several minutes, until the onions are translucent but not browned. Add the garlic and stir and cook another two minutes or so. Cool vegetable mixture slightly, then add to bowl with tuna.

Add the sour cream to the béchamel sauce along with the lemon juice, zest and fresh thyme. Stir to blend; then add the béchamel to the tuna-vegetable mixture. Add the cooked pasta and gently stir all the casserole ingredients until they are evenly coated with the béchamel sauce. Pour the mixture into a large, deep casserole dish (a lasagna pan also works well) and spread out with a spatula. Cover the casserole with foil and place into a preheated 350°F oven for about 40 minutes or until bubbly and fully heated. Remove casserole from oven, remove foil, and sprinkle with the grated cheese. Return the casserole to the oven for another 8 to 10 minutes or until cheese is melted and beginning to brown slightly. Remove casserole from oven, sprinkle with the parsley and scallions and serve hot with a spoonful of the Green Olive-Lemon-Herb Tapenade. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

1 cup fresh parsley leaves
1 large clove garlic, mincedJuice from half a lemon
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup pitted green olives (plain, mildly flavored are good)
3 tbsp. capers, drained
2 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
Salt and black pepper, to taste

Place parsley leaves, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil into a food processor bowl. Process until the parsley is very finely chopped. Add the olives, capers and thyme leaves and process again until mixture is fairly thick and not too chunky.  Add salt and pepper to taste. Tapenade is ready for use straight from the processor, but it also keeps very well when refrigerated in an airtight container. Makes about 1 ½ cups tapenade.

Béchamel Sauce:

2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. flour
1 tsp. dried thyme leaves
1 cup milk, heated (1% milk is fine)
Salt and pepper, to taste

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to bubble. Continue to stir and cook for a couple minutes longer, but do not let the mixture brown. Whisk in the hot milk, continuing to whisk while the sauce thickens. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, stirring and cooking for two or three minutes longer. Remove from heat and add salt and pepper to taste. Use within a few minutes or, to prevent a skin from forming, cover with a piece of waxed paper until completely cooled.

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