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Quick Tuna Pesto Pasta

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Comforting tuna pesto pasta with canned tuna, pesto, capers, and pine nuts. A quick meal for busy weeknights made with pantry ingredients that’s ready in about 15 minutes.

pesto tuna pasta on a plate, lemons behind it.

What can be more comforting and satisfying than a bowl of pasta? This simple recipe for tuna pesto pasta will make your day. Your whole family will love a delicious, simple dinner with a fancy twist.

And the recipe is so easy and quick to make that you will probably make it every other week or so. This Lemon Pepper Pasta Recipe is another great option for an easy weeknight meal, quick and full of fresh flavor. Or try the Tahini Pasta made with only four ingredients.

Why will you love this recipe?

  • Pantry staples: I always have the ingredients in the fridge and pantry, so I can always cook this dish on short notice.
  • Quick: It only takes as long as it takes for the water and the pasta to cook. To speed up the process, start with hot water from the tap or boiled water from a kettle.
  • Simple yet with a fancy twist. Don’t skip the fried capers and pine nuts; they bring this dish to a new level. And the twist makes the pasta with tuna and pesto suitable for serving guests.
  • Kid-friendly: Both my kids adore this tuna pesto pasta recipe.

Recipe ingredients

listed ingredients needed for making tuna pasta with pesto sauce on the table.
  • Penne or any other pasta shape you like. I prefer short shapes like penne or bow ties for this dish, but if all you have are spaghetti, you will be fine.
  • Tuna canned in oil.
  • Pesto: Classic basil pesto is perfect, but I rarely use it. I make and freeze my own pesto every spring and summer, so I tend to use whatever I happen to have in the fridge at the moment. For instance, mint, wild garlic, parsley, lemon balm pesto… I’ve tried them all.
  • Capers, pine nuts, garlic, and lemon zest (from an organic unwaxed lemon) for the crispy topping.
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese from a wedge.
  • Other ingredients: extra virgin olive oil, freshly squeezed lemon juice, dried oregano, fine sea salt or Kosher salt, and ground black pepper.
  • Pasta water: I list it as an ingredient, so you don’t forget to save some before draining the noodles.

Step-by-step instructions

  • Cook pasta al dente in a large pot of salted water according to package directions. Reserve about 1 cup of pasta water and drain the rest.
  • Preparations: In the meantime, grate the garlic cloves and zest the lemon. Place the capers on a paper towel and pat them dry. Drain the tuna.
  • Make topping: Heat the oil in a small pan. Add the capers and the pine nuts and stir fry them for about 30 seconds. Add garlic, lemon zest, oregano, salt, and pepper. Stir for another 30 to 60 seconds until the pine nuts are golden brown and the garlic lightly golden. Immediately transfer to a plate.
frying pine nuts and capers in a small pan.
  • Combine: Return the cooked pasta to the pot. Add pesto, 2-3 tablespoons of the cooking water, and stir well. Add a little pasta water if necessary so that the pesto sauce coats the penne nicely.
  • Add flaked tuna, Parmesan, and one tablespoon of lemon juice to the pot and give it another good stir.
  • Adjust the taste with more salt, pepper, and lemon juice.
  • Serve the pesto tuna pasta immediately, generously sprinkled with the crispy topping and a bit more Parmesan.
mixing penne and pesto sauce with parmesan in a large pot with a wooden spoon.

Expert tips

  • To speed up the cooking process, start with hot water from the tap or boiling water from a kettle. If you start with cold water, it will probably take twice as long for the water to begin cooking.
  • Reserve some cooking water for the sauce; the starchy salty water helps bind the sauce and the noodles together and slightly thickens the sauce.
  • Pat the capers dry with kitchen paper; hot oil will cause the water to splash all over your stovetop.

Recipe FAQ

Can I use tuna canned in water?

Tuna in oil makes the dish richer, while tuna in water cuts down on calories. Both versions are great, but oil tuna has more flavor and is less dry.

What kind of pesto should I use?

Either store-bought (classic basil pesto) or any kind of homemade pesto you have. Red pesto is also a great choice; the dish will have a different yet delicious flavor.

Can I add anything?

This is a versatile dish, so there are plenty of things you could add.
How about some veggies? I love adding some frozen peas or small broccoli florets to the pasta pot during the last 2 minutes of the cooking time. Or a small handful of halved cherry tomatoes or baby spinach before serving. Chopped kalamata olives, chopped artichoke hearts from a jar, or sun-dried tomatoes in oil are also great.

How to store?

Refrigerate in an airtight container for 3-4 days. You can reheat the dish in the microwave or on the stovetop, but it’s not really necessary; you will also love it in the form of a cold pasta salad.

close up of penne mixed with tuna and pesto on a small white plate.

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plate with penne with tuna and pesto with squeezed lemons and crispy topping behind.

Quick Tuna Pesto Pasta

Comforting tuna pesto pasta with canned tuna, pesto, capers, and pine nuts. A delicious recipe made with pantry ingredients that’s ready in about 15 minutes.
5 from 2 votes
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Course: Pasta Recipes
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Servings: 4
Calories: 934kcal
Author: Adina

Equipment

  • 1 Large pot
  • 1 Small pan

Ingredients  

Tuna pasta:

  • 1 lb penne 450 g Note 1
  • 2 cans tuna in oil about 10-12 oz
  • 1 cup pesto 100 g Note 2
  • 3 tablespoons Parmesan loosely packed Note 3
  • 1-2 tablespoons lemon juice freshly squeezed

Topping:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon capers heaped
  • 3 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest freshly grated and loosely packed Note 4
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • ½ teaspoon oregano
  • fine sea salt or Kosher
  • ground black pepper

Instructions

  • Cook pasta: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt generously and cook the pasta al dente according to the instructions. Reserve about 1 cup of cooking water before draining.
  • Preparations: In the meantime, grate the garlic cloves and Parmesan. Zest the lemon. Place the capers on a paper towel and pat them dry. Drain and flake the tuna.

Topping:

  • Heat the oil in a small pan. Add the capers and the pine nuts and stir fry them for about 30 seconds.
    Add garlic, lemon zest, oregano, a little salt, and pepper. Stir for another 30 to 60 seconds until the pine nuts are golden brown and the garlic lightly golden. Immediately transfer to a plate.

Tuna pesto pasta:

  • Combine: Return the drained pasta to the pot. Add pesto, 2-3 tablespoons of the cooking water, and stir well. Add more cooking water if necessary, so the pasta is coated smoothly with the sauce.
  • Add tuna, Parmesan, and 1 tablespoon lemon juice to the pot and stir again.
  • Adjust the taste with more salt, pepper, and lemon juice.
  • Serve the tuna pesto pasta immediately, generously sprinkled with the crispy topping.

Notes

  1. Or another pasta shape.
  2. Homemade or bought pesto of choice.
  3. Preferably freshly grated, not pre-grated. Pre-grated is grainy, and it won’t melt nicely in the sauce.
  4. Use an unwaxed, preferably organic lemon.

Nutrition

Calories: 934kcal | Carbohydrates: 92g | Protein: 45g | Fat: 42g | Saturated Fat: 7g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 6g | Monounsaturated Fat: 7g | Cholesterol: 23mg | Sodium: 1066mg | Potassium: 493mg | Fiber: 5g | Sugar: 5g | Vitamin A: 1373IU | Vitamin C: 3mg | Calcium: 191mg | Iron: 4mg
Tried this recipe?Mention @thefastrecipe or tag #thefastrecipe!

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