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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) 1x
  • Category: Main Dish
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Italian, Mediterranean


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.


  • 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


  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!).


  • 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.