This tuna pesto pasta is easy to make in less than 30 minutes. Canned tuna, onion, garlic, grape tomatoes and pesto are tossed with pasta for a hearty but not too heavy weeknight meal.
Who doesn't love a quick and easy pasta dish on a busy weeknight? This tuna pesto pasta is just the thing when you need a quick dinner but want something a little more special than basic pasta with tomato sauce.
The addition of tuna to this pesto pasta makes for a filling meal, without making the dish overly heavy. Plus, onion, garlic, grape tomatoes and Parmesan add a ton of flavor! And, you can make this recipe in under 30 minutes, so you will be satisfying your pasta craving in no time at all!
- Onion: I used yellow onion; you can also use a sweet onion or a white onion (basically whatever you have on hand will work!).
- Pesto: I used store-bought pesto to keep things simple. If you have homemade pesto, that would be fabulous too of course!
- Parmesan: feel free to replace the Parmesan with another similar hard cheese like Pecorino. Here is a helpful list of other cheeses that would work in place of Parmesan!
- Grape tomatoes: you can easily substitute cherry tomatoes cut in quarters for the grape tomatoes. If you want to use a larger tomato, I would remove the pulp and seeds first to avoid making the sauce too watery. I discuss how to do this in my post for Creamy Tomato Cucumber Salad!
- Tuna: this recipe calls for tuna packed in oil; I used the brand Genova. I also discuss how to substitute tuna packed in water in the Recipe FAQs section below. Either way, for more texture I like to use tuna with larger pieces, like solid white albacore or solid light yellowfin, versus chunk light. But, this is personal preference so feel free to choose the tuna you like best.
Step by step photos
1. Before you do anything else, set a large pot of water on the stove to boil. Once the water starts to boil, you can add in the pasta and cook it according to the package directions.
While you are waiting for the pasta, you can continue on with the steps to make the tuna pesto sauce. The first step is to prep your produce: dice the onion, finely chop the garlic, and cut the tomatoes in half. Then, sauté the onion in a large skillet until it just starts to brown.
2. After that, add in the garlic (and red pepper flakes if using), and cook for another minute or so. You just want the garlic to become fragrant; if it's starting to brown more than just slightly, turn the heat down.
3. Then, add in the undrained tuna and cut tomatoes. You can break up the larger chunks of tuna with your spoon, but I like to leave some decent-sized pieces for some texture, rather than breaking everything down into very small pieces.
Cook for another minute just to warm the tomatoes and tuna up. You don't want to heat the tomatoes too long or they will start to become a little mushy.
4. Turn the heat down to low and mix in the pesto sauce.
5. Next, add the cooked, drained pasta to the skillet and mix it gently to combine. Mix in the finely shredded Parmesan. Taste a bite and add in a sprinkle of salt, black pepper, or more red pepper flakes if you like, and enjoy!
Tips and tricks
Pasta timing tips
As I mentioned in the Step by step photos section above, you should start heating up the pasta water before you start any of the other steps. That large amount of water can take a little while to come to a boil. You can use that time to start prepping the other ingredients and to begin cooking the tuna pesto sauce. While you are working on the tuna pesto sauce, just keep an eye on the pasta pot to see when it starts to boil.
Ideally, the pasta will be finished right around the same time as the sauce, or a little bit later. So, once the pasta water begins to boil, I found that a good time to start the pasta cooking is when you are at the stage of sautéing the onions (or later). This works well for most dried pasta that cooks in 8 - 10 minutes; adjust the timing as needed if you are using a pasta that takes much less or more time than this.
When in doubt, you can always start the pasta cooking a little later on in the process of making the tuna pesto sauce. The sauce will keep just fine on the stove, with the heat down on the lowest setting, or with the heat off if it needs to keep for longer than a few minutes.
Other tips and tricks
- Because the pasta is added into the skillet with the tuna pesto sauce, make sure you use a skillet that is large enough to accommodate. I'm using a 12 inch skillet which was the perfect size.
- If the pasta needs a little additional moisture after mixing in the tuna pesto sauce, you can stir in a splash of the pasta cooking water!
- Feel free to adjust the amount of pesto and Parmesan in the recipe to suit your tastes. If you like a more generous coating of pesto sauce on your pasta, don't let me stop you!
- However, be careful of adding too much salt right out of the gate; the pesto sauce, tuna, and Parmesan are all salty (unless you buy no salt added tuna and/or make your own pesto without salt). So, that's why I chose not to add any salt to the onions during cooking as I usually would. I found it was enough to just taste the pasta at the end and sprinkle a little in then if needed.
- The recipe calls for one 7 ounce can of tuna; if you can only find 5 ounce cans, you can use 1 & ½ cans (or, use 2 whole cans for an extra tuna-y pasta!).
Tuna packed in oil is so flavorful and my favorite choice for this pasta, but you can definitely substitute tuna packed in water.
Tuna packed in oil is actually packed with a mixture of liquid and oil. So, to get a similar effect with tuna packed in water, I like to drain out about half of the liquid in the can before adding it to the pan (you can just eyeball it). Then, add in an additional 2 teaspoons of olive oil.
I think this pasta tastes best the day it's made. However, once prepared, you can store the pasta in the fridge, tightly covered, and it will keep for 3 - 4 days. During that time, you may find that the pasta has dried out some when you go to reheat it; try mixing in an additional tablespoon or two of pesto to liven things up once more!
To complement this pasta dish, you can serve it with a fresh green salad or a side of sautéed vegetables. You could even mix some bite-sized cooked vegetables right into the pasta if you like. Good vegetable options that I think would pair well with the flavors of this dish include zucchini, eggplant, broccoli, or red bell pepper.
This is an easy main course that's hearty and filling but not too heavy, perfect for a weeknight dinner. Chunks of tuna, tomatoes, garlic, onion and pesto add tons of flavor to this pasta dish! Best part - you can sit down to this satisfying dinner in under 30 minutes!
- 8 ounces short pasta (campanelle, cavatappi, fusilli, etc.)
- ½ large onion, diced
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
- ¼ cup finely shredded Parmesan, plus more for garnish
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- pinch crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
- one 7 ounce can tuna packed in oil, undrained (see notes 1 - 2)
- ½ cup pesto sauce (store-bought or homemade)
- kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
Prep the ingredients:
- Set a large pot of water to boil on the stove. While the pasta water is coming to a boil (and while the pasta is cooking), continue with the remaining steps. (See notes 3 - 4.)
- Prep the veggies: dice the onion, finely chop the garlic, and cut the grape tomatoes in half, set aside.
- If needed, finely shred the Parmesan cheese, set aside.
Make the tuna pesto sauce:
- Heat the 2 teaspoons olive oil in a large skillet set over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the diced onion and sauté for 3 - 4 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onion softens and begins to brown slightly.
- Add the finely chopped garlic and crushed red pepper flakes (if using) to the onions, stir and continue to cook for 1 minute, or until the garlic is fragrant (avoid getting too much color on the garlic; turn down the heat if necessary).
- Add the halved grape tomatoes and undrained tuna to the pan, stir gently to combine. Break up the larger chunks of tuna with the side of your spoon. Cook for 1 - 2 minutes, just to gently warm up the tuna and tomatoes.
- Turn the heat down to low, stir the pesto sauce into the tuna and tomato mixture. If the pasta has not finished cooking yet, turn the heat off but keep the pan on the stove.
Cook the pasta and assemble the dish:
- When the pasta water begins to boil, add a generous pinch of salt and stir in the pasta. Cook the pasta according to the package directions.
- Drain the pasta but reserve about ¼ cup of the pasta water.
- Add the drained pasta to the pan with the tuna pesto mixture. Gently stir to combine the pasta with the sauce. Stir in the finely shredded Parmesan. Taste the pasta and add a sprinkle of salt, black pepper, or crushed red pepper flakes if needed. If the pasta needs more moisture, mix in a splash or two of the reserved pasta water.
- Garnish the pasta with additional red pepper flakes and Parmesan and serve.
- You can substitute tuna packed in water for the tuna packed in oil if you prefer. Just drain about half of the liquid from the can before adding it to the pan, and add in an additional 2 teaspoons of olive oil at the same time.
- Tuna that comes in larger pieces provides a nice texture to this dish. Solid white albacore and solid light yellowfin are good options.
- Although the recipe includes the directions for making the tuna pesto sauce before the directions for cooking the pasta, you don't need to wait for the entire sauce to be finished before starting to boil the pasta.
- To finish the pasta and sauce around the same time, check how long your pasta needs to cook and time accordingly; for pastas that take 8 - 10 minutes, starting it around when you are sautéing the onions worked well for me. If needed, you can always start the pasta cooking a little later in the process, since the sauce will keep just fine on the stove while the pasta finishes cooking.
Keywords: tuna pesto pasta, tuna pasta