Tuna Pesto Pasta is a super quick and easy high protein pasta recipe. Using minimal ingredients we create maximum flavour with a homemade basil pesto for a creamy cheesy dinner that takes only 15 minutes! Tuna and pesto offers carbs and protein and all kinds of yum.
Recipes like the Spaghetti Al Pesto, Linguine Al Pesto and Fusilli Al Pesto are all about pesto with pasta, a little cheese and pepper.
The Beef Pesto Pasta adds protein to the mix and combines steak strips with cheesy creamy pasta.
🤍 Recipe Highlights
I have summarised everything that you will come to know and love (LOVE ❤) about the recipe in the points below:
- Minimal ingredients: 8 ingredients is all that is needed for the recipe. Well, 9 if you want to season with freshly cracked black pepper at the end. You could reduce this to 3 to 4 ingredients if you want to use store bought pesto.
- Tinned tuna: is effortless and convenient. It offers you a protein that doesn't need much work to make it sing and is an ingredient that can be kept in the pantry for times of need!
- Combination of flavors: there is something seriously delicious about a fork full of a piece of succulent juicy tuna, slippery pesto sauce and chewy al dente pasta, it's an irresistible flavour combination!
- Non Italian traditional: we all love a good bowl spaghetti bolognese, but sometimes it is nice to switch it up a little and try new recipes which offer different tastes and flavours. You might find this combination a lighter pasta.
- Family favourite: whilst full of flavour, there are no hot or spicy ingredients in the recipe making it perfect for the whole family to enjoy.
The photo below is to show you everything you need to make the recipe. Please refer to the printable recipe card for specific ingredient measurements as well as detailed instructions.
As you can see the recipe calls for:
- Tuna: tuna chunks in springwater are the healthiest choice. We simply need to drain this (discard the water). Then in the instructions I show you when to flake it.
- Fusilli pasta: this is a spiral pasta that the pesto and flaked tuna cling to! It has great texture making it perfect for a recipe that combines a sauce and protein.
- Basil: vibrant, freshy and zesty this herb does wonders in the kitchen! We simply need the leaves, so you can trim the stems off.
- Pistachio nuts: a fantastic nut to use in pesto as they add colour, texture and flavour 👌😉.
- Garlic: cloves if you can. Cut the little end bit off and then simply throw into the food processor (no need to chop 1st).
- Pecorino romano cheese: is made from sheep's milk, not cow's as parmesan cheese is. It brings a lovely sweet flavour to the pesto.
- Olive oil: the binding agent for the pesto. It helps things 'stick!!'.
- Lemon juice: fresh and bright, this citrus fruit lifts the flavour of the pesto to a zesty fresh point. Use can use bottled or juiced from a fresh lemon.
Tasty Tip: I like to offer a number of substitutions and variations to give you options when making the recipe. If in doubt of any of the above ingredients, or wanting alternatives, read this section before diving into the instructions on how to make the recipe below 👍😉.
Here are the step by step instructions to make the recipe. We start by making the basil pesto. You will need a food processor for this initial stage.
- Add basil leaves (Photo 1)
- Next add pistachio nuts (Photo 2)
- Then add garlic cloves (Photo 3)
- Add pecorino romano cheese (Photo 4)
👩🍳 How to Make Tuna Pesto Pasta
To make the recipe we start by creating the pesto using the food processor.
Layer in the basil leaves, pistachio nuts, garlic cloves, cheese and blitz to combine. Then use a spatula to scrap down the insides of the bowl, keeping everything low in the bowl.
- Drizzle in the olive oil (Photo 5)
- Then add the lemon juice (Photo 6)
- Transfer pesto to a small bowl (Photo 7)
- Reserve pasta water (Photo 8)
Next use a teaspoon to taste the pesto. Add half of the lemon juice and then taste the pesto again.
Blitz to combine and then use a spatula to help transfer the combined pesto to a small bowl. This can be set aside temporarily as we move onto the next steps.
Read and follow the instructions on the packet of pasta to cook it in a medium sauce pan with boiling salted water.
Moments before serving use a heatproof jug to scoop out some of the pasta water (this helps to create the pasta sauce).
Then use a colander over the sink and drain the remaining water and discard.
- Flake tuna with fork (Photo 9)
- Add cooked pasta and tuna to pan or large skillet (Photo 10)
- Add pesto (Photo 11)
- Pour in pasta water (Photo 12)
Use a fork the flake the chunks of tuna into smaller pieces.
Then add the tuna to the cooked pasta in a large sauté pan or skillet.
Dollop in the pesto then pour in ½ cup of the pasta water.
- Toss and garnish the pasta (Photo 13)
You will need a wooden spoon to toss and help stir to combine the pesto, pasta, tuna and water. It won't take long however for this combination to come together with the slick pesto paste and water forming a lovely cream like pasta sauce.
Grab the pepper, crack it and season the dish, grate some more cheese over the top and pop some basil leaves on and you are good to get your serve on!
🍽 Serving Suggestions
If you are hungry for more the Turkish Garlic Bread, Ciabatta Garlic Bread or Garlic Pizza Bread will go down well as a side for the recipe.
Salad options to pair with the dish are the Cherry Tomato Caprese Salad, Herb Salad or Healthy Panzanella Salad.
If you want to add chicken instead of tuna, have a look at the Italian Herb Chicken Thighs, these can be cooked, rested, sliced into pieces and added to the pesto pasta.
If it is the time to feed a crowd and you need many options the Ciabatta Pizza or Bruschetta Pizza work with this theme.
Looking for meaty options the Oven Baked Pork Ribs are a great choice.
For serving a trio of cracked black pepper, basil leaves and grated pecorino romano cheese works well. You can see this easy combination in the photo below.
Now all you need to do is get ready to dive in!
👍 How to Guide
How to Store
Store leftovers of the tuna pasta in sealed air tight containers in the fridge. They can be refrigerated for 3 days and can be consumed hot or cold.
How to Freeze
Allow the dish to fully cool. Then portion into air tight containers or zip lock bags, squeeze the air out then seal. Frozen portions of the dish can be kept in the freezer for 3 months.
How to Reheat
Allow frozen portions to fully thaw in the fridge overnight or on the bench during the day before reheating. Reheat in the microwave (fastest) covered for 3 to 4 minutes. Or you can add the cooked tuna and pesto back to a pan on the stove with additional reserved pasta water or a few drops of olive oil, turn to medium heat and stir till the pasta is heated through.
😉 Substitutions and Variations
Here are my sub ins and outs that you might be thinking about as you read the post and I will tell you if I think they will work or why they won't:
- You don't have to use the same pasta as me (fusilli/spiral). Some good options are penne, macaroni, rigatoni or your favorite pasta.
- If you want to use spaghetti, fettuccine or linguine, they will all work also!
- You can use parmesan cheese (same amount) in place of the pecorino romano cheese.
- Add some sliced heirloom or grape tomatoes for an additional vegetable as well as great pops of colour.
- If you want to bulk up the pasta with more ingredients, finely chopped drained artichokes or sliced olives are great choices.
- Sliced baby bocconcini balls are a great addition if you want to add another cheese flavour to the recipe.
- If using store bought pesto, you will need about 1 cup. The best type to use is the one that is a 'dip' in the fridge section and not the jarred version in the pasta aisle.
💡 Tasty Tips
Here are my top tips and tricks that I want to share with you so that you master the recipe from the get go:
- Kitchen scissors are very useful when you are trimming the basil leaves from the stems.
- When tossing the pasta, pesto, tuna and pasta water, you will find a wooden spoon handle to help gently stir and combine.
- If you want to make the dish then bake it, simply transfer it to an oiled baking dish. Sprinkle grated mozzarella over the top and cook in a preheated oven till the cheese has visibly melted.
🤓 Frequently Asked Questions
How many calories in a pesto tuna pasta?
There is 833kcal calories in tuna pesto pasta when using 1 pound of pasta and approximately 1 cup of homemade pesto. This will be 4 servings. You can reduce the calories by decreasing the portion sizes.
What can I add to tuna instead of mayo?
Pesto is a great alternative to using mayo for a tuna sandwich or wrap.
How do you make tuna taste good?
Turn tuna into a delicious good tasting meal by draining it, using a fork to flake, then combining it with hot al dente pasta, pesto and reserved pasta water. Sprinkle over some grated parmesan or pecorino romano, season with black pepper and it will taste great!
Are canned tuna cooked?
Yes, canned or tinned tuna is cooked before being packaged.
😍 More Easy Dinner Recipes
You will never not have an answer again to 'What's for dinner?' if you have some recipes up your sleeve that offer taste, texture and variety. A multitude of cook times and method helps also as weekends we can be a little more indulgent in the kitchen than busy weeknights. Here are some ideas that I know (and hope) you will love:
- Spaghetti Gorgonzola
- BBQ Lamb Ribs
- Penne Bolognese
- Meatball Bolognese
- Tagliatelle Alla Bolognese
- Slow Cooker Pulled Lamb
- Pesto Rigatoni
- Dutch Oven Pulled Pork
- Baked Pasta Bolognese
- Greek Lamb Chops
Let's make din dins the easiest meal of the day my friend! You can also find all of my dinner recipes, pesto recipes or pasta recipes in the one spot.
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Tuna Pesto Pasta
- 1 Kitchen scissors to trim the basil leaves from their stems
- 1 Micro plane grater to grate the cheese
- 1 Food processor to make the pesto
- 1 Spatula to scrape down the bowl when making the pesto
- 1 Colander to drain the pasta
- 1 Heat proof jug to reserve the pasta water
- 1 Medium sauce pan to cook the pasta
- 1 Small bowl to transfer the pesto into
- 1 Wooden spoon to toss and combine the pesto, pasta, tuna and reserved pasta water
- 3 cups basil leaves stems trimmed, loosely packed
- ⅓ cup pistachio nuts Note 1
- 2-3 cloves garlic Note 2
- ½ cup pecorino romano cheese
- ⅓ cup/80ml olive oil
- 2 tbs/40 ml lemon juice Note 3
- 425 grams/15 oz tuna chunks in spring water, drained not rinsed
- 500 grams/1 pound fusilli pasta Note 4
- ½ cup/125 ml reserved pasta water Note 5
- cracked black pepper
- basil leaves
- pecorino romano cheese
- Make the pesto: add basil leaves, pistachio nuts, garlic and pecorino romano cheese to the bowl of a food processor. Blitz to combine for about 10 to 15 seconds and scrap the insides of the bowl down with a spatula once done. Pour in the olive oil and blitz for 5 to 10 seconds. Taste the pesto, then add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, add the 2nd tablespoon as needed. Blitz till consistently combined then use a spatula to transfer combined pesto to a small bowl.
- Cook fusilli pasta: read and follow the instructions on the packet to cook the pasta in a medium saucepan of boiling salted water. Moments before it is done, use a heatproof jug to scoop out 1 to 2 cups of the water. Then drain the pasta into the sink using a colander and discard the remaining pasta water.
- Flake tuna: use a fork to flake the tuna chunks into smaller more edible pieces.
- Combine: add the cooked drained fusilli pasta to a large sauté pan, add in the flaked tuna and dollop in the pesto. Pour in ½ cup of reserved pasta water. Then use a wooden spoon to toss the pasta, pesto, pasta water and tuna till it is consistently combined.
- Serve: generously garnish the top of the combined tuna and pesto pasta with grated pecorino romano, cracked black pepper and basil leaves. Provide utensils for serving.
- Note 1 - Pistachio nuts: Note the most commonly used nut for pesto making (that is pine nuts), yet they offer great flavour and texture and have become my favourite to use. Substitute the equivalent amount of pine nuts, cashews or walnuts.
- Note 2 - Garlic cloves: if using fresh cloves, use a knife and chopping board to cut the small end bit of the base, before adding to the food processor. You can use ½ to 1 tablespoon of chunky minced garlic if you don't have garlic cloves.
- Note 3 - Lemon juice: this lifts the flavour of the pesto, but can also quickly over power it if too much juice is used. So taste the pesto before adding any lemon juice, then add 1 tablespoon and combine, then taste again before deciding if you want to add the other tablespoon. You will know quickly from the taste if it is spot on or needs the extra amount. (I do use the 2 tablespoons, but also taste it repeatedly to ensure that specific batch of pesto needs the 2).
- Note 4 - Fusilli pasta: or your favourite to the equivalent amount.
- Note 5 - Reserved pasta water: we only need ½ cup of this for the recipe. It is added once the cooked fusilli and pesto have been added to the sauté pan together with the flaked tuna. Pour it in slowly and then use a wooden spoon to stir and combine. In the process shots, you will see me take out 1 to 2 cups with a heatproof jug. This is because you can leave this in the fridge in a sealed, jar with lid and then use a little to juice up the leftovers before heating (simply drizzle it in and then stir).
This looks fantastic and is my type of meal. Will look forward to trying it, thanks.
Awesome, thanks Belinda! I hope that you enjoy the recipe.
Clare Edwards says
Yum so good. We loved the taste of this recipe and it was very simple to make.
Thanks Clare! I am so glad you enjoyed the recipe and appreciate your feedback.
Yumi Greenwood says
Made this for dinner last night. It was very tasty.
Great to hear Yumi, thanks for your feedback!
Thanks Yumi for your feedback, I appreciate you taking the time to comment.