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This quick and easy tuna pasta with pesto recipe is so simple yet absolutely delicious! It’s perfect for those busy weeknights – a one pot meal that is ready in 20 minutes.

White bowl of tuna pasta with pesto.

Why You’ll Love This Recipe

Looking for a quick and satisfying dinner idea? Transform canned tuna into this simple tuna pesto pasta. It’s so good!

  • Quick and easy: Whip up this recipe in 20 minutes!
  • Simple weeknight meal made with pantry staples: The majority of the ingredients in this recipe are pantry staples.
  • One pot meal: You know what that means?! Less dishes!
  • Family friendly: This is a kid friendly dish that the whole family can enjoy.
  • Customizable: This recipe is super versatile. There are so many ways to customize it!
Fork lifting up spaghetti with pesto and tuna.

Looking for more recipes with canned tuna? Try this Tuna Potato Salad!

Ingredients You’ll Need

Let’s get started! Here’s what you’ll need to make this recipe…

Labelled photo of ingredients needed to make tuna pesto pasta.
  • Pasta: I like to use spaghetti for this but any pasta shape you like or have kicking around in the pantry is fine.
  • Canned Tuna (or jarred): I highly recommend using tuna packed in olive oil for this recipe. It has more flavor and is less dry than tuna packed in water. I also prefer a solid tuna for this dish so that there are some chunks of tuna throughout the pasta vs small flakes.
  • Olive Oil: I like to just use the olive oil that I drained from the tuna but you could also use a good quality olive oil from your pantry.
  • Garlic: Sauteed garlic adds so much great flavor to this dish.
  • Pesto: Your favorite homemade or store-bought pesto.
  • Butter (optional): I love to add a little butter while tossing the pasta together. It melts in and helps to create a more luscious, tasty “sauce”.
  • Lemon: The juice and zest of 1 lemon for a pop of acidity and brightness (or half if you prefer).
  • Salt and Pepper: Season to taste – don’t be shy! Amount will depend on personal preferences and how salty your pesto is, etc.
  • Garnish: I highly recommend finishing off the dish with some freshly grated parmesan and chopped parsley.

Detailed ingredient list and directions located in the recipe card below.

How To Make Tuna Pesto Pasta

This simple pasta with pesto and tuna is so quick and easy to make. Let’s make some!

STEP 1: Cook the pasta. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta according to package directions. Make sure to reserve about 1 cup of the pasta cooking water before draining the pasta.

Cooked spaghetti in a stainless steel strainer.

STEP 2: Sauté garlic. To the same pot, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. I like to use the olive oil from the tuna cans. Add the minced garlic and cook until fragrant (about 30 seconds).

Sauteed garlic in dutch oven with heart wooden spoon.

STEP 3: Toss pasta with pesto. Add the cooked pasta and pesto and toss to combine, adding some of the reserved pasta water to form a sauce. Stream in a little at a time until you are happy with the consistency (only use what is needed). Add the butter and toss through until melted.

Tongs tossing spaghetti with pesto in a dutch oven.

STEP 4: Add tuna, lemon and seasoning. Add the tuna, lemon juice and zest. Gently use the tongs to stir in the tuna, trying to leave some chunks. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper (don’t be shy here!).

Tongs tossing tuna pesto spaghetti in a dutch oven.

STEP 5: Garnish and serve. I highly recommend garnishing with some freshly grated parmesan and chopped Italian parsley. Enjoy!

White bowl of tuna pesto spaghetti garnished with parmesan and chopped parsley.

Customize It

There are so many ways to customize or add onto this tuna pesto pasta recipe. Here are a few ideas:

  • Make it creamy: Stir a few tablespoons of cream cheese through the pasta with the pesto to make a creamier version.
  • Add some veggies: Fold in some baby spinach or arugula, add any leftover grilled or roasted vegetables or head back to your pantry to grab some olives, artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers or sundried tomatoes (all delicious additions).
  • Use salmon: Swap out the tuna for canned salmon.
  • Make it spicy: Add in some crushed red pepper flakes or chopped chilis.
  • Swap the garnish: Parmesan and chopped parsley aren’t the only garnishes. You could also top your pasta with fresh basil, toasted pine nuts, some extra lemon zest, seasoned toasted breadcrumbs, etc.
  • Make it gluten free: Use a gluten free pasta.
  • Make it dairy free: Skip the butter and parmesan or substitute with dairy free versions.
  • Use your favorite seasoning blend: Season with your favorite spice blend. Some options include lemon pepper seasoning, this homemade bouillon powder (one of my go to blends) or a herbed salt like Herbamare.
  • Add some beans: To make this dish even heartier with an extra boost of protein, stir in a can of white beans like cannellini beans.
White bowl of tuna pesto spaghetti with fork.

A Few Tips

  • Don’t forget the starchy pasta water: Don’t forget to scoop out about 1 cup of the starchy pasta water before you drain the pasta. To help me remember, I usually place a measuring cup next to the stove as a visual reminder to scoop some out. Add a little of the starchy pasta water at a time while tossing the pasta together with the pesto until you are happy with the consistency. Add just enough to loosen the pesto and form a nice sauce that easily coats the pasta.
  • Use tuna packed in olive oil: Use a good quality canned or jarred solid tuna that is packed in olive oil rather than water. It is more flavorful with a richer texture (not as dry as tuna packed in water) so it works better in this pasta dish. Plus you can use the olive oil from the tuna to sauté the garlic!
  • Lemon zest tip: It’s much easier to zest the lemon first before juicing it. I like to use a microplane grater (I also use it to mince my garlic).

Storage Tips

  • Storing leftovers: Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3-4 days.
  • Serve hot or cold: Leftovers are perfect for lunch the next day. Gently reheat or enjoy cold as a tuna pesto pasta salad.
  • Reheating: My preferred way to reheat leftovers is on the stovetop in a small frying pan over low heat with some extra butter or pesto to loosen things up again.
Tuna pasta with pesto on a white plate with fork.

FAQ

What to serve with tuna pesto pasta?

I like to serve this pasta dish with some type of veggie side dish. Some roasted or grilled vegetables or a salad like a simple green salad or something special like this Burrata Caprese.

Can I use canned tuna in water?

I prefer olive oil packed tuna for this dish since it has more flavor and isn’t dry. However, if you only have canned tuna in water on hand, drain it well and mix the tuna with some olive oil before adding to the pasta.

Can I use any type of pasta?

I like to use spaghetti but any pasta shape you like or have kicking around in the pantry can be used with this recipe.

Why won’t the pesto mix into my pasta?

This is where that starchy pasta water works its magic so don’t forget to scoop some out before draining the pasta. Add a bit at a time while you toss the pasta with the pesto until it forms a sauce that evenly coats the pasta. I have never needed the full cup but like to scoop out about that much to make sure that I have enough.

Closeup of pesto and tuna spaghetti garnished with grated Parmesan and chopped parsley.

More Easy Pasta Recipes

My family loves a good pasta recipe. Here are a few more easy recipes to try:

Did you make this Tuna Pesto Pasta? I would love to hear about it! Leave me a comment below.

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Tuna pesto pasta in a white bowl with fork.

Tuna Pasta With Pesto

5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star 5 from 8 reviews
  • Author: Vanessa Gilic
  • Prep Time: 5 min
  • Cook Time: 15 min
  • Total Time: 20 min
  • Yield: 4 to 6 (as a main)
  • Category: Main Dish
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Italian, Mediterranean

Description

This quick and easy tuna pasta with pesto recipe is so simple yet absolutely delicious! It’s perfect for those busy weeknights – a one pot meal that is ready in 20 minutes.


Ingredients

  • 1 (1 pound/454 g) package of spaghetti, or your favorite pasta shape
  • 1/4 cup olive oil (or olive oil drained from the tuna can – what I like to use)
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1012 ounces (285-340g) canned or jarred tuna packed in olive oil, drained
  • ¾ cup pesto
  • 2 tablespoons butter (optional)
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice (or to taste)
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Garnish: freshly grated parmesan cheese, chopped fresh parsley

Instructions

  1. Cook pasta: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta according to package directions. Make sure to reserve about 1 cup of the pasta cooking water before draining the pasta.
  2. Sauté garlic: To the same pot, heat the olive oil (or reserved olive oil from the tuna cans) over medium-low heat. Add the minced garlic and cook until fragrant (about 30 seconds).
  3. Toss pasta with pesto: Add the cooked pasta and pesto and toss to combine, adding some of the reserved pasta water to form a sauce.  Stream in a little of the starchy water at a time until you are happy with the consistency (only use what is needed). Add the butter and toss through until melted.
  4. Add tuna: Add the tuna, lemon juice and zest.  Gently use the tongs to stir in the tuna, trying to leave some chunks.
  5. Season: Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper (don’t be shy!).
  6. Serve and enjoy: To take it up a notch, garnish with freshly grated parmesan and chopped Italian parsley (highly recommend!).

Notes

  • Tuna: I highly recommend using a good quality canned or jarred solid tuna that is packed in olive oil rather than water. It is more flavorful with a richer texture (and not as dry as tuna packed in water) so it works better in this pasta dish. Plus you can use the olive oil from the tuna to sauté the garlic! If you only have canned tuna in water on hand, drain it well and mix the tuna with some olive oil before adding to the pasta.
  • Pesto: Use your favorite homemade or store-bought pesto.
  • Butter: It is optional but I love to add a little butter while tossing the pasta together. It melts in and helps to create a more luscious, tasty “sauce”.
  • Don’t forget the starchy pasta water! To help me remember, I usually place a measuring cup next to the stove as a visual reminder to scoop some out.  Add a bit at a time while you toss the pasta with the pesto until it forms a sauce that evenly coats the pasta. I have never needed the full cup (add just what you need to loosen the pesto and form a nice sauce that easily coats the pasta).
  • Lemon zest tip: It’s much easier to zest the lemon first before juicing it. I like to use a microplane grater (I also use it to mince my garlic).
  • Customize: There are so many ways to customize or add onto this recipe.  See the Customize It section in the post for some ideas.

About Vanessa Gilic

I want to help you make delicious food using real ingredients! Explore a variety of easy to follow, real-food recipes ranging from healthy eats to comfort food. Welcome to Maple + Mango – I'm so happy you're here!

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13 Comments

  1. nancy says:

    I love pesto. This recipe was an instant hit and SO EASY to make too! My kids loved it!






    1. Vanessa Gilic says:

      I’m so happy to hear it was a hit with the whole family!

  2. Asha says:

    This tuna pasta turned out very flavourful and is a dish I would make again.






  3. Bernice says:

    Excellent timing! I needed a quick and nutritious dinner last night and found this recipe. It was so easy to whip up and so delicious there were no leftovers!






    1. Vanessa Gilic says:

      That’s fantastic! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Angela says:

    Love, love, love this meal! It’s quick and easy and hits the spot after a busy day. My kids even asked for seconds (which never happens!!!). Great recipe which we’ll definitely use again.






    1. Vanessa Gilic says:

      I’m so happy it was a hit!!

  5. Gianne says:

    This recipe was a hit! The combination of tuna and pesto was delicious and the pasta was perfectly cooked. The dish was quick and easy to make, making it a great weeknight dinner option.






  6. Mandy says:

    Such a simple and yummy way to make a quick pasta meal!

  7. Sara Welch says:

    Enjoyed this for dinner last night an it was a savory success! Easy, light and delicious; definitely, a new favorite recipe!






    1. Vanessa Gilic says:

      I’m so happy you enjoyed it!