For a quick & easy meal that is hearty & delicious, you cannot do any better than this pesto tuna pasta recipe. All you need is 6 ingredients and 20 minutes. It's so fast & delicious that you will be making this all the time.
If you love seafood pasta dishes, this quick & simple recipe will win you over. Mild flaky white tuna, al dente rigatoni, garlic-infused olive oil, & fresh herby pesto sauce is ridiculously delicious.
If you love fast pasta recipes, you will fall in love with this recipe. Like my fried spaghetti & eggs recipe, it is done in under 30 minutes. Great for a quick lunch or busy weeknight dinner.
Why You Should Make This Pasta!
I can think of about 50 reasons why this pasta recipe is so good & that you should make it. But here are my top 10 reasons why this is one the best fast, easy, & delicious pasta recipes you will ever make:
- Ready in just 20 minutes
- Only 6 ingredients
- All ingredients can be pantry staples
- Feeds a family of 4 inexpensively ($5 total estimated)
- Packed with protein ( gr per serving)
- Loaded with heart-healthy fats & omega-3
- Any pasta shape will work
- Easy enough that kids and teens can cook it
- So simple to make and can be done while camping, in an RV, or while renting a VRBO on vacation
- Great served hot, warm, or cold
Ingredients for Pesto Tuna Pasta
Here are the 6 ingredients you will need to make pasta with tuna in a pesto sauce. All the items can be pantry staples which makes this a wonderful last-minute meal idea. Any white albacore tuna in the can or fresh packets like Starkist, BumbleBee, Chicken of the Sea, Kirkland, or Safe Catch.
- Rigatoni Pasta - this shape is hearty to pair with the chunks of tuna and also holds the pesto sauce well.
- Canned Tuna - all white albacore tuna either oil or water-packed will work but drain it well.
- Prepared Pesto Sauce - store-bought ready-made traditional Genovese pesto with garlic & basil is ideal.
- Olive Oil - good quality is used & infused with bold flavors.
- Fresh Garlic - added flavor cooked into the olive oil.
- Red Pepper Flakes - the spicy heat of the peppers is needed since tuna & pasta are mild simple flavors.
- Shaved Parmesan Cheese - optional topping.
See the recipe card for quantities.
How to Make Pesto Tuna Pasta
Begin making this pasta by boiling salted water in a large stockpot or pasta pot to cook your pasta. Once the water is at a rolling boil, add the pasta. Stir and turn the heat down to medium.
Let it cook for 7-8 minutes for al dente is ideal. While the pasta is cooking, time to make the garlic-infused olive oil & prepare the tunas.
In a medium skillet over medium heat, add the olive oil. Add pressed fresh garlic cloves and the red pepper flakes. Stir & heat for 5 minutes over medium-low heat.
Be careful to not let the garlic or peppers burn. Once ready, add the drained tuna to the skillet. Stir carefully to coat the tuna in the flavored olive oil.
Try not to let the tuna break apart, big chunks are what you want. Let it heat through for 2 minutes.
When the pasta is al dente, scoop out 2-3 tablespoons of pasta water and set aside. Drain the pasta and add it back to the pot.
Add the pesto sauce and stir to coat the pasta. Add some of the starchy pasta water to thin the pesto and help it cling to the rigatoni.
Transfer the tuna mixture to the pot. Gently fold or stir everything together. Again, try and keep the tuna in chunks.
To serve, spoon the Pesto Tuna Pasta into individual pasta bowls or plates. Top with shaved parmesan. Drizzle with olive oil &/or squeeze on some fresh lemon juice for a bit of zing. Enjoy immediately while warm.
Hint: Enjoy this as a cold pasta salad with pesto & tuna. This recipe is lovely to bring to potlucks since it holds up well at room temperature & packs easily to travel. Also great for meal planning.
Substitutions & Variations
This pasta recipe with tuna is uncomplicated. The taste is anything but plain but you may need to make a dietary adjustment. Or if you are missing an item - here are some alternate ingredients & recipe changes that work well.
- Rigatoni - instead of this large tube pasta, use penne, farfalle, or other short-cut pasta shapes
- Canned White Tuna - use packets or other canned tunas (try canned salmon!)
- Fresh Garlic Cloves - use ¼ teaspoon of garlic powder instead and stir it into the pan with the tuna versus cooking it in the oil
- Prepared Pesto - make your pesto sauce from scratch or try this recipe for how to make pesto.
- Gluten-Free - use your favorite gluten-free pasta as a substitute for traditional wheat pasta.
- Mild - omit the red pepper flakes if you don't like any heat or spicy foods.
For another pesto recipe, try my Creamy Pesto Pasta recipe. Summertime is the best time to make these dishes. There is nothing like fresh aromatic basil in summer to make homemade pesto. But don't worry. This recipe is just as amazing with store-bought Genovese pesto sauce so you can enjoy this any time of year when the craving hits.
Making good al dente pasta is quick & simple. But having the right ingredients & tools makes it easier. Here are some of my favorite kitchen tools & equipment that I recommend every home cook has plus the ingredients needed for this recipe.
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Pesto tuna pasta is a fabulous meal with hot, warm, or cold. This makes it great for leftovers & so yummy the next day. It also travels well for picnics, lunch at the office or school, or bringing to potlucks.
To store it for later, place it in an air-tight container to store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Enjoy it straight out of the refrigerator or at room temperature. To reheat, microwave on low & you may need to add a bit of olive oil or more pesto sauce to freshen the leftovers back up.
I do not recommend freezing pasta with pesto & tuna. The pesto sauce will oxidize & lose its brightness plus turn brown.
All of these great tips are shared in the post. But these are so good and important they are worth mentioning again so you don't miss them.
- Drain the tuna very well so all the liquid has been removed.
- Do not overcook the pasta, it should be al dente.
- Toss gently so the tuna stays in chunks as much as possible.
- Enjoy immediately while it is warm & fresh.
- Store in the refrigerator for 3 days.
- Enjoy leftovers cold or at room temperature.
Any short-cut pasta is best for this recipe. That includes penne, rigatoni, farfalle, fusilli, or wagon wheels. Long pasta such as spaghetti, angel hair, or linguini will also work but the tuna may not cling as well.
This pesto pasta is so versatile. You can use other seafood such as shrimp, calamari, scallops, or salmon. Other protein choices like leftover cooked chicken, garbanzo beans, or sauteed tofu will work.
Canned tuna is a healthy & safe food. It contains good fats, Omega3s, and protein. The mercury levels in tuna are lower than what you may think. You would need to eat 3 cans of tuna a day to consume too much mercury. Stick to 4 ounces of tuna a week if you are worried about it & read more here.
This recipe is great for parties, cookouts, buffets, events, & BBQs. You can make this ahead of time and serve it cold as a pasta salad or warm as an entree or side dish. Know how much pasta to make per person and then multiply this recipe to fit your crowd or large group.
More Easy Pasta Recipes
Looking for other recipes like this? Try these:
These are my favorite side dishes & salads to serve with pesto tuna pasta:
Pesto Tuna Pasta
- pasta pot or stock pot & colander
- 10 ounces rigatoni pasta
- 2 cans (6-oz each) white albacore tuna, in water or oil drained
- 7-8 ounces prepared pesto sauce
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic pressed
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- shaved parmesan cheese optional for topping
- Fresh lemon juice optional for topping
- salt & fresh ground black pepper optional to taste
- Boil pasta in a large stockpot or pasta pot in plenty of salted water. This should take about 7-8 minutes.
- While the pasta is cooking, to a medium skillet over medium heat, add the olive oil. Add pressed fresh garlic cloves and the red pepper flakes. Stir & heat for 5 minutes over medium-low heat. Be careful to not let the garlic or peppers burn.
- Once ready, add the drained tuna to the skillet. Stir carefully to coat the tuna in the flavored olive oil. You do not want the tuna to break apart too much - some big chunks are ideal.
- When the pasta is al dente, turn off the heat. Now scoop out 2-3 tablespoons of pasta water and set aside. Drain the pasta and add it back to the pot.
- Add the pesto sauce and stir to coat the pasta. Add some of the starchy pasta water (a little at a time) to thin the pesto and help it cling to the rigatoni.
- Transfer the tuna mixture to the pot with the pesto pasta. Gently fold or stir everything together. Again, try and keep the tuna in chunks.
- To serve, spoon the Pesto Tuna Pasta into individual pasta bowls or plates. Top with shaved parmesan. Drizzle with olive oil &/or squeeze on some fresh lemon juice for a bit of zing. Add salt and/or fresh black pepper to taste. Enjoy immediately while warm.
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 23.5g||30%|
|Saturated Fat 4.1g||21%|
|Total Carbohydrate 40.6g||15%|
|Dietary Fiber 0.4g||2%|
|Total Sugars 1.1g|
|Vitamin D 0mcg||0%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calorie a day is used for general nutrition advice.|