This quick and delicious Tuna Pesto Pasta is a fresh and easy weeknight meal that combines the vibrant flavors of cherry tomatoes and homemade pesto, made in only 20 minutes.
Serve this pasta dish alongside your favorite salad, maybe even our Cucumber Radish Salad or Summer Fennel Salad with Melon! This is the perfect dish using pantry ingredients that the whole family can enjoy.
Why you'll love this recipe
This easy tuna pesto pasta is a great option for busy weeknights, and is packed with protein and healthy fats. The combination of canned tuna chunks, perfectly cooked pasta, and the freshness of cherry tomatoes creates a unique dish everyone will love.
Make an easy basil and spinach pesto that is creamy and coats the penne pasta beautifully!
For an extra burst of flavor, garnish with a sprinkle of grated Parmesan cheese and serve alongside a crisp green salad and a slice of crusty bread.
- It’s easy, quick and most of all delicious!
- Only takes 20 minutes.
- Uses only 12 ingredients making it
- Can easily swap the tuna with salmon.
- Reheats great for lunch or dinner!
- Pairs well with a simple salad or toasted bread.
You’ll need the following ingredients to make this delicious tuna pesto pasta salad:
Gluten-free pasta: I love to use Jovial gluten free Penne pasta for this recipe, since it holds its shape and tastes most like regular pasta. If you’re not gluten free, you can substitute with any pasta you love!
Fresh basil: Fresh basil is a wonderful ingredient that has such a unique flavor and is perfect for pesto. I like to buy greenhouse grown basil when possible since it doesn’t need to be washed usually and stays fresher a bit longer in my fridge.
Fresh spinach: Spinach is a secret ingredient in the pesto and it adds vitamins, flavor and a more beautiful green color. You’ll never know it’s in the pasta dish.
Canned tuna: I like to use canned tuna in this recipe since it is super easy and requires no prep and has the perfect texture for this salad. It somewhat melds with the pesto when it’s mixed together and forms a great textured coating on the pasta.
Cherry tomatoes: All recipes need something bright and fresh, and the cherry tomatoes do it here. They add an element of somewhat crisp texture, a bright red color to the pasta and make you feel like this pasta dish is more like a salad.
Garlic: Garlic is super important in every recipe! Garlic provides harmony to a dish and really drives it home, making it better than another.
Walnuts: Adding walnuts to the pesto is a game changer and you’ll never know they’re there. They add a nutty flavor to the pesto without it being overpowering.
Parmesan: I like to use vegan parmesan in this recipe, but you can use dairy parmesan as well. The parmesan is blended into the pesto as well as sprinkled as a garnish. The saltiness of the parmesan helps round out the dish!
Of course, salt and black pepper are added to balance out the flavors.
How to make Tuna Pesto Pasta step by step
Here are some quick visual instructions with a brief explanation. Be sure to read through the full instructions with exact ingredient measurements & steps in the recipe card below!
Step 1: Cook the pasta according to package instructions. Every pasta box has a different cooking time. The key elements to cooking the pasta well is to begin with a large pot of salted water and mix the pasta often to prevent it from sticking to each other.
Step 2: Strain the pasta. It’s important that when you strain the pasta you don’t rinse it. We want the starches of the pasta water to stay on the pasta.
Step 3: Next, add all the Pesto ingredients to a blender or food processor. This includes the basil, spinach, walnuts, garlic, lemon juice, oils, parmesan, and salt.
Step 4: Blend it all together until the basil pesto is super smooth. This usually takes me 2-3 minutes.
Step 5: Time to begin assembling the pasta dish! Start with breaking up the canned tuna chunks in the bottom of a large bowl. This bowl will be used to mix the entire pasta dish together.
Step 6: To the bowl, add the cooked pasta, halved cherry tomatoes, and creamy pesto.
Step 7: Mix it all together until pasta is well coated in the sauce. Taste and add more salt if you like!
Step 8: Time to enjoy the pasta for lunch or dinner! Grab a fork and dig in. What a quick meal!
Recipe tips and tricks
- Use your favorite brand of canned tuna! If you have a preference of type of tuna or a brand that stands out to you, that’s what will work best in this recipe.
- Buy your spinach and basil at most 1-2 days before you make the recipe since they can both wilt quickly and get soggy in the fridge.
- Add some heat to the dish! If you like spicy foods, add ¼ to ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes to the pesto before blending. It will add a nice kick of spice to the recipe.
- Customize the pesto to your liking! There are many ingredients you can swap in the pesto. Be creative with it.
Storage and reheating
- Storage: This simple tuna pesto pasta stores best in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days.
- Reheating: To reheat the pasta, either microwave a single portion for 1-2 minutes or you can place it in a pot on the stovetop with 1-2 tablespoon water, cover the pot and cook for 8-10 minutes on medium-low (mixing occasionally). This is an easy recipe to meal prep and divide into containers for a few days.
- Freezing: I have not tried freezing this pasta dish, and am not sure I would recommend it. If you give it a go, let me know!
Additions and substitutions
Swap the spinach: Not a fan of spinach or simply don’t have it on hand? This recipe can be made with a combination or single substitute of either parsley, arugula or even kale. Feel free to head to your grocery store and see what ingredients look best to you.
Swap the walnuts: This recipe can easily be made with any other kind of nut (although I wouldn’t recommend peanuts). You can use almonds, pine nuts, or another nut instead of walnuts. Want to make it nut free? Just leave out the walnuts.
Swap the parmesan: If you don’t have parmesan (vegan or dairy) on-hand, feel free to leave it out and replace with 1-2 tablespoons nutritional yeast with ½ teaspoon garlic powder and even add 1 teaspoon miso paste. This combination of ingredients will provide an intense umami flavor that is similar to parmesan.
Add more veggies: Feel free to add peas, sun-dried tomatoes, sautéed zucchini or even artichoke hearts to this dish to add bulk and make it even healthier.
Frequently asked questions
A single serving of this pesto pasta is around 595 calories. The recipe serves 6 people.
Either way! The pasta can get hard in the fridge if you leave it overnight. So if you want to eat it cold, be sure to prepare it a minimum of 5 hours in advance, refrigerate it, and then serve right away.
Honestly, any shape noodle will work here! I used Penne but I also love making this recipe with elbows or even spaghetti. I use gluten free pasta too! Also, any pasta that has ridges or holes is awesome for holding the pesto sauce.
Yes! This is actually my personal preference. Some people like to use canned tuna in oil, but I find the water version to be the most ideal ingredient for this recipe.
Related recipes you may love
Here are some more easy meal recipes that I think you’ll love.
Easy Tuna Pesto Pasta
- 1 blender or food processor
- 1 large pot
- mixing spoon
- cutting board
For the Pesto
- 2 cups fresh basil leaves 2 ounces
- 2 cups fresh spinach leaves 2.6 ounces
- ¼ cup walnuts
- ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese I use vegan
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 2 garlic cloves peeled
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ½ cup canola oil or vegetable oil
- ¾ teaspoon salt
For the Pasta
- ½ pint cherry tomatoes halved (5 ½ oz)
- 12 ounces pasta of choice (I use Jovial gluten free penne pasta)
- 10 ounces solid white albacore tuna packed in water, (use two 5-oz cans)
- 1 tablespoon Grated parmesan as garnish
- 1 tablespoon Lemon zest as garnish
- Fill a large pot with water and 1 tablespoon salt. Add pasta to the pot, stir occasionally and cook pasta according to package directions. Drain the pasta (no need to rinse) through a colander. Set drained pasta aside (it can stay in the colander).
- To make the Pesto, blend all Pesto ingredients in a high-speed blender or food processor until smooth for 2 minutes. If it’s having a hard time blending, pause blending every so often and use a spoon to move things around in the blender and blend again.
- Prepare the tuna by draining the water from the can. Place the tuna into a large mixing bowl and flake it into small pieces using a fork.
- Add the cooked pasta, cherry tomatoes and pesto to the flaked tuna. Mix together until pasta is well coated.
- Taste and adjust salt to your liking if necessary.
- Garnish with lemon zest and grated parmesan before serving.
- Reheat: You can microwave a bowl of pasta for 1-2 minutes. Alternatively, reheat on the stove over medium-low heat with a tablespoon or two of water to hydrate it (keeping the pot covered).
- The pasta can get hard in the fridge overnight so I don’t recommend serving it cold the next day. But if you make this recipe 3-5 hours in advance, you can store it in the fridge and then serve it chilled; which is wonderful!
- Swap the walnuts for almonds, pine nuts, pistachios or hazelnuts.
- Swap the spinach for parsley or even arugula.
- Feel free to swap the tuna with canned or freshly cooked flaked salmon too.
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