This easy tuna pesto pasta is a delicious combination of tuna and aromatic homemade basil pesto, perfectly tossed with al dente pasta. It's bursting with fresh flavours, it's filling, simple, yet elegant.
The best part is that it can be prepared in a jiffy and is perfect for a quick weekday dinner. It takes as long to make as it takes for the pasta to cook, so you can have this on the table in less than 15 minutes. It's also an excellent option for packed lunches and tastes equally good hot or cold.
For another quick 15-minute pasta dish, try this delicious lemon garlic pasta! Or, this Spaghetti Arrabiata only takes 25 minutes to make.
What's to love about this recipe
- 15 minutes or less to make
- Very easy to make in three simple steps
- Using canned tuna makes this an economical dish
- Ideal for packed lunches, picnics or as an easy weeknight meal
- Made with healthy, fresh ingredients
- Homemade pesto is just head and shoulders above any jar of shop-bought pesto
- Make this vegetarian by swapping the tuna for tofu and the parmesan for non-dairy hard cheese
- Kid-friendly dish
Key ingredient notes and substitutions
**Please see the recipe card at the bottom of this post for the full list of ingredients.
Walnuts - We like the texture of the walnuts in the pesto and it's also cheaper than using the more traditional pine nuts. You can use pine nuts though if that's your preference.
Parmesan cheese - You can also use Pecorino Romano. Both these cheeses can be quite expensive these days. You can also use the grated hard cheese sold in many supermarkets now which are somewhat cheaper than real parmesan. Of course it's not exactly the same, but it will give you a similar taste.
Garlic - You will need two whole cloves of garlic. It helps to mince or crush the garlic before adding it to the food processor. Putting the cloves in whole often means you have to process the pesto for a little longer and you may end up with a too fine pesto when you might have preferred something with a bit more texture.
Alternatively, we like to keep a tub of pre-minced garlic in the fridge for those quick weekday dinners when you're short on time. If you are using pre-minced garlic, add two teaspoons.
Lemon and lemon zest - Adding a dash of lemon juice and lemon zest to pesto really brightens it up. It also helps to maintain the green of the basil. You can leave this out if you haven't got lemons to hand.
Olive oil - Olive oil, virgin olive oil or extra virgin olive oil are all ok to use.
Pasta - You will need 350g dried pasta of your choice, or 500g fresh pasta. We love using fresh fusilli!
Tuna - You will need 2 x 145g tins of canned tuna, that's circa 102g of drained tuna per tin. We highly recommend using tuna in sunflower oil as it gives a lovely texture to the pasta, but you can also use tuna in water or brine for a healthier option.
How to make the pasta - Quick summary
1. Make the pasta
- Cook the pasta together with the salt according to the packet instructions. Only cook until the pasta is al dente. Al dente means it's still firm when bitten, but not hard and chalky.
- Drain the pasta well and transfer back to the saucepan.
- Optional - Many pesto pasta recipes recommend that you keep some of the starchy pasta water behind to loosen up the dish if it looks a little dry. We don't find this necessary with this recipe, but if you're worried or just used to doing so, you can that.
2. Make the pesto
- Start the pesto whilst the pasta is cooking.
- Toast the walnuts in a pan until golden brown and smelling nutty.
- Add the walnuts along with all the pesto ingredients to a food processor. Whizz until you have a smooth consistency, or to the texture of your liking. We love leaving the pesto a little bit coarse, it provides a bit of texture to the dish.
3. Heat the tuna
- Drain the tuna and add it to a pan over a medium heat. Fry for 2 minutes until heated through.
4. Assemble the pasta
- Add the pesto to the warm pasta followed by the tuna. Combine well and test for salt. You can also add some freshly ground black pepper. Serve with a generous helping of fresh parmesan on top.
Serving suggestions and variations
- Drizzle over extra olive oil, extra grated parmesan or more chopped basil once dished up.
- You can also add your favourite vegetables, like red bell pepper, mushrooms, olives, tomatoes, broccoli, sweetcorn etc. (Tuna and sweetcorn is a great combination!)
- This is a very versatile pasta and you can swap the tuna for any other meat of your liking, like chicken, fried mince, fried tofu or fresh tuna or salmon.
- Make this gluten-free by swapping the pasta for a gluten-free version.
- Make it vegetarian by swapping the parmesan with a dairy-free hard cheese and the tuna with fried tofu.
- This pasta works really well as a cold dish, turning it more into a pasta salad.
The pasta will keep well stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to three days. To reheat, warm in the microwave until heated through, 3-4 minutes. Alternatively you can heat it on the stove by adding the pasta to a saucepan with a splash of water. Warm over a low flame until heated through.
You can freeze tuna pesto pasta for up to 3 months. Just be aware that frozen pasta, once defrosted and heated through, tends to soften up slightly. If you are making this to freeze we would recommend cooking it for a minute less than the packet instructions suggest.
You can serve this pasta with fresh crusty bread or a crisp green salad.
It is reasonably healthy yes! Tuna is a good source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for overall health. Pesto sauce typically contains olive oil, basil, nuts, and Parmesan cheese, which can provide healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals. Pasta is a source of carbohydrates, which can provide energy.
For a healthier version you can swap the pasta for a wholegrain pasta.
Yes, tuna is a delicious addition to pesto pasta. The mild flavour and texture of tuna pair well with the bold, fresh and zingy flavours of the basil pesto.
More quick weekday recipes you might enjoy
More fish recipes to try
Tuna pesto pasta
For the pesto
- 50 grams walnuts
- 80 grams fresh basil
- 50 grams parmesan and extra for serving
- 2 garlic cloves - crushed or minced
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- zest from one medium lemon
- 120 millilitre olive oil - or 8 tablespoons
For the pasta
- 350 grams dried pasta of choice - or 500g fresh pasta
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 x 145g (102g drained) tins of tuna in oil - or tuna in water/brine
For the pasta
- In a large saucepan, cook the pasta with the salt according to the packet instructions. Only cook until the pasta is al dente
- Drain the cooked pasta in a colander and transfer back into the saucepan
For the pesto
- Start on the pesto once you have put the pasta on to cook
- Add the 50g of walnuts to a small frying pan and toast them over a medium-high heat until lightly browned and smelling nutty
- To a food processor, add the toasted walnuts, basil, parmesan, garlic, lemon juice, lemon zest and olive oil. Whizz together until smooth or until the texture of your liking (we like it coarse!)
Heat the tuna
- Drain the tuna and add it to a frying pan over medium heat. If you are using tuna in oil there is no need to add oil to the pan. If you are using tuna in water/brine, add a small dash of oil to the pan first. Fry for about 2 minutes until heated through
Assemble the pasta
- Add the pesto to the warm pasta followed by the tuna. Combine well and check for salt. You can also add a few grinds of black pepper. Serve warm with extra parmesan on top.If you made this for a packed lunch the next day, let the pasta cool completely before putting in the fridge
**Nutritional data disclaimer**
Please keep in mind that the nutritional information provided below is calculated by a third party and we cannot guarantee the accuracy. We try our best to give you the most accurate information, but we do not take responsibility for errors that may be present. Also, the nutritional value of the recipe may change depending on the exact brands and products used. We recommend that you consult with a qualified healthcare professional or registered dietitian for personalised advice on your dietary needs.
For food safety advice, including guidance on food allergies
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