This tuna pesto pasta recipe is easy to make in only about 20 minutes! Canned tuna, grape tomatoes, pesto sauce and a squeeze of lemon are tossed with pasta for a hearty and satisfying 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.
By using store-bought pesto sauce, you can have this entire meal on the table in only about 20 minutes. In fact, the longest part of the prep process is waiting for the water to boil!
Note: this post was originally published in 2021 and updated in 2022 and 2023 with new photos and improved instructions. The recipe was also simplified and improved.
Why this recipe works
- This pesto tuna pasta is a hearty and filling meal, including lots of protein from the canned tuna.
- This recipe is super easy to make with only five ingredients (not including salt and pepper).
- Prep is incredibly easy; it's only a smidge more effort than just dumping sauce on pasta. But, it tastes about 200% more interesting and delicious than plain pasta with tomato sauce!
- There are a ton of easy ways you can dress up and customize this pesto pasta tuna recipe to suit your own tastes!
- Pesto: I have made this recipe with both store-bought and homemade pesto, and both are delicious! Store-bought pesto will save you a ton of time on prep, so if you're in a hurry that's the way to go.
- Grape tomatoes: you can also substitute cherry tomatoes cut in quarters. If you want to use a larger tomato, remove the pulp and seeds first to avoid making the sauce watery. I discuss how to do this in my post for creamy tomato cucumber salad.
- Tuna: this recipe calls for tuna packed in oil. Tuna packed in olive oil is great, but if you can't find it, any kind is ok. I talk more about types of tuna to use and substituting tuna packed in water in the Recipe FAQs section below.
Step by step photos
Here's how to make this quick and easy tuna pesto pasta, step by step. For a brief slideshow of these steps, check out my pesto pasta tuna recipe web story!
1. First put a large pot of water on the stove to boil. When the water boils, add a generous few pinches of salt and cook the pasta according to the directions on the package.
While you waiting for the water to come to a boil, you can cut the grape tomatoes in half vertically.
2. When the pasta is done, scoop out a little pasta water (careful not to burn yourself!) and keep it on the side. This is to keep in case you want to thin out the pasta sauce at the end.
Then, drain the pasta and add it back to the pot, along with the tomatoes, pesto, and cans of tuna, undrained. And, don't forget the squeeze of lemon!
3. Stir the pasta and the other ingredients together until everything is evenly combined.
If you want to thin the sauce out a bit, you can drizzle in the reserved pasta water, a little at a time, until you are happy with the consistency.
4. Taste the pesto tuna pasta and season it to your liking with salt and pepper. You can also add in a little more lemon if you think the pasta needs it.
Tips and tricks
- Don't forget to generously salt the pasta cooking water. This is the best way to make sure the pasta itself is seasoned.
- Feel free to adjust the amount of pesto in this pesto pasta tuna recipe to suit your tastes. If you like a more generous coating of pesto sauce on your pasta, don't let me stop you!
- When mixing the pasta together with the other ingredients, try not to overmix so you can preserve the texture of the larger chunks of tuna.
- This tuna pesto pasta is delicious served hot. But, it is also great enjoyed at room temperature or even cold, like a pasta salad!
Additions and substitutions
As I mentioned at the beginning, this pesto tuna pasta is so easy to customize to your own tastes, because you can just swap in or add whatever ingredients you like when you are mixing the pasta at the end.
- To garnish the pasta, try torn pieces of fresh basil and/or extra wedges of lemon.
- For a pop of sharp, nutty flavor, add a generous sprinkle of grated Parmesan cheese. Or, try a handful of shredded mozzarella for an even cheesier experience (or why not both?)!
- Add sliced sun dried tomatoes for more intense tomato flavor, either instead of or in addition to the grape tomatoes.
- For extra veggies, try adding in quartered artichoke hearts, steamed broccoli florets, sautéed onions, or your favorite cooked veggie cut into bite-sized pieces.
- For more fiber, you can add in a drained and rinsed can of garbanzo or white beans.
- Try adding a sprinkle of crushed red pepper flakes if you like things spicy!
- Instead of tuna, you can use drained canned chicken, salmon or even crab!
- If you don't have fresh tomatoes, you can use sun dried tomatoes as mentioned above. Or try swapping in chopped roasted red bell peppers!
Storage and reheating
- Tuna pesto pasta tastes best the day it's made, in my opinion. However, once prepared, you can store the pasta in the fridge, tightly covered, and it will keep for 3 - 4 days.
- Because the pasta will continue to absorb moisture as it sits in the fridge, leftovers may seem a little dry when you go back to enjoy them the next day.
- Therefore, I suggest mixing in a tablespoon or two of additional pesto to re-moisten the pasta before reheating. If you don't have extra pesto, just sprinkle a little bit of water over the leftover pasta instead.
- A single serving of pasta can easily be reheated in the microwave. To reheat a larger amount of pasta, place it in a shallow pan with a lid. Cover the pan and gently warm over low heat, stirring occasionally. (Or, enjoy it cold or at room temp!)
- Tuna pesto pasta also freezes well, and will keep for 2 - 3 months in the freezer if stored in a sealed airtight container or freezer bag. But, just know that the tomatoes lose some of their integrity when thawed. So, if you don't like that, you can prepare the pasta without tomatoes, and add them in fresh after thawing.
I recommend using tuna packed in oil for this recipe. Tuna packed in oil is more flavorful and has a more supple, less "dry" texture, in my opinion! For the best flavor, look for tuna packed in olive oil specifically. But, if you can't find that, tuna packed in sunflower or vegetable oil would also work.
And, if you can find it, canned tuna that comes in larger pieces (aka "solid pack" tuna) provides more texture to the pasta. Tuna labeled solid white albacore and solid light yellowfin are good options.
If you don't have or don't like tuna packed in oil, you can definitely substitute tuna packed in water.
To substitute tuna packed in water for this pesto pasta tuna recipe, just drain out most of the water from the tuna before adding it to the pot. Don't worry about getting the tuna super dry before adding it, some moisture is fine. Then, if you like, you can drizzle in a little olive oil (about 2 - 3 teaspoons) to the pasta to replace the oil that would have come from the tuna packed in oil.
Here I am using the twisty pasta fusilli, because the nooks and crannies hold onto the pesto well. Other good options would be rotini, gemelli, or cavatappi. However, you can choose another shape of pasta you really like. I am sure that your pesto pasta will taste fantastic either way!
If you have the option, I do recommend going with a bronze-cut pasta, regardless of what shape you go for. Bronze-cut pasta has a rougher texture that clings even better to sauces. I talk more about bronze-cut pasta in my post for cream cheese pasta.
Because this pasta dish already has a protein component thanks to the canned tuna, you don't need to add much else to make a complete and satisfying meal.
Try serving tuna pesto pasta alongside a fresh green salad, bean salad, or a side of sautéed vegetables. It would also pair well with a small cup of vegetable or minestrone soup. My recipe for burrata caprese would also be a fantastic starting course. Check out the bottom of the post to see more side dish recommendations!
What to serve with pesto tuna pasta:
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Tuna Pesto Pasta
Tuna pesto pasta is an easy dinner that's hearty and filling. With minimal prep, you can make this main course in only about 20 minutes with 5 ingredients (not counting salt and pepper).
- Prep Time: 10 minutes
- Cook Time: 10 minutes
- Total Time: 20 minutes
- Yield: 4 servings 1x
- Category: main course
- Method: stove top
- Cuisine: American
- 12 ounces (340 g) fusilli (or your favorite pasta shape)
- two 5 ounce (142 g) cans tuna packed in oil, undrained
- 1 cup (227 g) pesto sauce (store-bought or homemade)
- 2 cups (307 g) grape tomatoes, halved
- 1 - 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or more to taste
- salt and black pepper, to taste
- optional garnishes: torn basil leaves, lemon wedges
- Set a large pot of water to boil on the stove.
- While the pasta water is coming to a boil, rinse and dry the grape tomatoes. Cut each tomato in half vertically, set aside.
- 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 first reserve about ½ cup of the pasta water.
- Return the drained pasta to the pot. Add in the tomatoes, pesto sauce, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and two cans of tuna (add in the entire can, do not drain first). Gently mix the pasta together with the other ingredients until combined. Do not overmix as to avoid breaking the tuna apart too much.
- Optional step: if you would like the pasta sauce to be thinner, or if the pesto needs help mixing into the pasta, drizzle in small amounts of the pasta water, stirring in between each addition, until you are happy with the consistency.
- Taste the pasta and season with salt and black pepper to taste. If needed, squeeze in a bit more lemon juice.
- Serve immediately, with (optional) garnishes of torn basil leaves and/or extra lemon wedges.
Tuna packed in olive oil provides great flavor; otherwise, you can use any kind of tuna packed in oil.
If you can find it, look for tuna labeled "solid," such as "solid white albacore" or "solid light yellowfin." Because this tuna comes in larger chunks, rather than small flakes, this will provide lots of great texture to the dish.
While tuna packed in oil provides the best flavor and texture (in my opinion), you can also substitute tuna packed in water. Drain away most of the liquid (some remaining is fine) before adding to the pasta. If you like, you can also add in 2 - 3 teaspoons of olive oil to replace what would have been added from the tuna packed in oil.
The nutrition information below is an estimate only, provided by an online nutrition calculator. The nutrition counts of your dish will vary based on the brand and exact amounts of ingredients used. This nutrition estimate should not be considered a substitute for professional medical, health, or nutritional advice. See our full disclosure policy.
- Serving Size: ¼ recipe
- Calories: 604
- Sugar: 3.9 g
- Sodium: 673 mg
- Fat: 21 g
- Saturated Fat: 4.9 g
- Carbohydrates: 75.8 g
- Fiber: 5.8 g
- Protein: 39.9 g
- Cholesterol: 33 mg
Keywords: tuna pesto pasta, pesto tuna pasta