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Spaghetti with tuna recipe

Spaghetti with tuna recipe

  • Recipes
  • Ingredients
  • Pasta
  • Seafood pasta
  • Tuna pasta

Known to many Italian families as 'Spaghetti col tonno', this dish usually features as the first course at our Christmas eve dinner party. It's a very simple yet very tasty dish which deserves to be made with good quality tuna.

6 people made this

IngredientsServes: 5

  • 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 whole cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1/2 tablespoon anchovy paste (optional)
  • 425g organic tomato passata
  • 210g good quality tuna canned in its own oil
  • 500g spaghetti
  • salt and pepper, as needed
  • 60g freshly chopped parsley

MethodPrep:5min ›Cook:15min ›Ready in:20min

  1. Bring a large pot of water to the boil over medium heat. While you are waiting for the water to boil, make the tuna sauce.
  2. In a different saucepan, heat olive oil over low heat; add whole garlic cloves and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the anchovy paste (if using) and stir to combine. Pour in the tomato passata; bring to a simmer and cook on low heat for 5 minutes.
  3. Transfer the tuna and its oil from the tin into a bowl; flake with a fork and mix well with the oil. Add tuna to the tomato sauce, stir and cook for 10 minutes on medium-low heat. Discard garlic cloves, season to taste with salt, pepper and parsley; stir and cover with a lid.
  4. Add the spaghetti to the boiling water and cook until "al dente". Drain and transfer to a bowl. Add tuna sauce, toss and serve.


If you use tuna canned in water, drain the water before flaking the tuna with a fork.

See it on my blog

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Mediterranean Pasta with Tuna and Peas

I first wrote about pasta with tuna and peas back in March when the world shut down (or, at least, my world shut down!). My family realized that going to the grocery store was about to become a luxury. We needed to stock up on pantry and freezer staples in case we couldn’t go to the store for weeks. Back then, everything was so new. Just making a trip to the neighborhood grocery store felt a little like taking my life in my hands.

Even if we had nothing fresh in the house, we could only eat so many boxes of pasta with jarred red sauce. But I also didn’t want to divulge into meals made entirely of Doritos. Thus, I went all in on finding recipes that were exciting and delicious and could be make entirely with things from my pantry and freezer.

This Recipe

I have made a variation of that pasta with tuna recipe at least a dozen times since then. My whole family loves it. I often make a huge amount of pasta, and then divide it up into separate meals– pasta with shrimp and tomatoes, hummus pasta, or this delicious spaghetti with tuna and peas.

Since the recipe has evolved quite a bit, I wanted to write it down (for myself and for you!) Who knew that frozen veggies, canned tuna, and an easy sauce could make such a comforting, Mediterranean Diet-inspired meal?

Mediterranean Diet Inspired Food

But then again, everything about this meal fits perfectly with the Mediterranean Diet! That includes: whole grains (the whole wheat spaghetti), a focus on veggies (peas, in this case), seafood or fish (canned tuna), and extra virgin olive oil (of course)! There are other variations of pasta with tuna and peas out there but they often include half-and-half, heavy cream, or butter. You don’t need those ingredients to enjoy a cozy dinner.

What kind of Tuna?

Some readers prefer the more expensive, ‘solid’ canned tuna. There are bigger chunks of tuna throughout. Our family prefers the chunk light tuna, which pretty much dissolves into the dish. Let us know which one you prefer!

Hi, I’m Ashley! I’m a Mediterranean Diet expert, a family health champion, and a Mom of 3 little people. Any day of the week, you will find me in the kitchen cooking up festive new recipes using Mediterranean Diet principles. I love breakfast for dinner, long days at the beach, the perfect glass of wine, and spontaneous adventures. Originally from Atlanta, I now fondly call Virginia my home.

  • 1 7-ounce can Italian tuna, packed in olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 28-ounce can plum tomatoes
  • ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 pound whole-wheat spaghetti
  • 4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, divided
  • Salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste

Drain tuna in a sieve set over a small bowl, squeezing to press out as much oil as possible (reserve the oil). Break up the tuna with a fork and set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the tuna oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add tomatoes with their juice and crushed red pepper break up the tomatoes with a fork. Simmer over low heat until slightly thickened, about 15 minutes. Stir in tuna and set aside.

Meanwhile, cook spaghetti in a large pot of boiling water until just tender, 8 to 10 minutes or according to package directions. Drain it and return to the pot. Add the sauce and 3 tablespoons of parsley toss to combine. Taste and adjust seasonings. Transfer to a serving bowl, sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon parsley and serve immediately.

Spaghetti With Tuna, Lemon & Rocket

I am one of the few people I know who does not like canned tuna, and so I surprise myself by the fact that I love this instant pasta sauce made with the stuff. Maybe it's the sharpness provided by the lemon, the heat of the chilli flakes, the sprightliness of the spring onions and the tender pepperiness of the rocket, but this supper - the easy result of a quick forage in fridge and kitchen cupboard - is a regular fixture in my eating diary. As, I trust, it will be in yours.

For US cup measures, use the toggle at the top of the ingredients list.

I am one of the few people I know who does not like canned tuna, and so I surprise myself by the fact that I love this instant pasta sauce made with the stuff. Maybe it's the sharpness provided by the lemon, the heat of the chilli flakes, the sprightliness of the spring onions and the tender pepperiness of the rocket, but this supper - the easy result of a quick forage in fridge and kitchen cupboard - is a regular fixture in my eating diary. As, I trust, it will be in yours.

Spaghetti with Tuna and Basil

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper and cook over low heat until the garlic is golden, about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and their liquid and simmer over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, about 7 minutes. Add the tuna and simmer briefly to heat through stir gently to keep the tuna in large pieces. Season with salt and black pepper and keep warm.

Cook the spaghetti in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Reserve 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water. Drain the spaghetti and return it to the pot. Add the butter and toss well, then add the tuna sauce, reserved pasta cooking water and basil and toss again. Season with salt and black pepper, transfer to a warmed bowl and serve at once.

  • 3 ¼ cups water
  • 8 ounces whole-wheat spaghetti
  • ½ cup Castelvetrano olives, cut away from the pit
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon zest, plus juice of half a lemon
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground pepper
  • 2 (5 ounce) cans unsalted tuna, drained and flaked
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Combine water, spaghetti, olives, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a large deep skillet. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to maintain a lively simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the water is absorbed and the pasta is tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in tuna, dill and oil.

Garganelli Pasta with Tuna Bolognese

This super simple but yummy 3 ingredient pasta with tuna recipe from Bologna is probably the easiest Italian pasta recipe I know. However, despite its simplicity, it was recently registered as a traditional recipe from Emilia-Romagna with the Italian academy of cuisine (L’Accademia Italiana della Cucina).

Pasta con Tonno alla Bolognese.

The Italian Academy of cuisine was founded in 1953 to preserve the gastronomical heritage of Italy! Before a recipe is registered with the Academy a lot of historical research is done to discover its origins and ties to the area where it is considered traditional. This research includes talking to restaurateurs and gastronomy experts. Food is a serious topic here in Italy! But, I guess rightly so as it’s such an important part of the country’s culture and traditions!

Pasta with tuna alla Bolognese is a classic fast pasta dish made with canned tuna, tomatoes and onion. Interestingly, although some Italians think of it as ‘fast food’ for lazy singles, it actually became a traditional Bolognese dish as a result of historical events and post war changes in the Italian diet.

The pasta.

At this point I should mention that the traditional pasta for tuna alla Bolognese is spaghetti. In fact, in Bologna, this is spaghetti bolognese! The famous dish with meat sauce is known locally as pasta ‘al ragu’ and is made with tagliatelle not spaghetti!

In this recipe, I used garganelli pasta, also a traditional food product from Bologna registered at the Italian Academy of Cuisine! You can read more about this pasta on my garganelli pasta post. This short egg pasta is often eaten with meat ragu in Emilia-Romagna, so I thought it would go really well with tuna alla Bolognese! I bought fresh garganelli and it was delicious. But, of course, you can use spaghetti or other pasta of your choice!

A little tuna Bolognese history!

Apparently the first use of pasta with tuna in Emilia-Romagna dates back to the early post-war period. At that time, two fundamental things happened. Firstly, the spread and use of dried pasta, particularly spaghetti, in Northern Italy. Secondly, the marketing of tuna in oil as a result of the birth of a local canned tuna industry.

Both canned tuna and spaghetti were inexpensive, and combining them became an alternative recipe for what Italian call ‘lean days’ (giorni di magro). These are religious days of fasting, such as Good Friday or Christmas Eve, which call for abstinence from meat. In fact, for the less wealthy classes in Bologna, spaghetti with tuna Bolognese became a special dish reserved for Christmas Eve dinner.

Other versions of pasta with tuna.

When I made this garganelli with tuna Bolognese, my Sicilian hubby wanted to add other ingredients such as olives and capers! After all, pasta with tuna is made in other Italian regions too, especially in the South. But, this is the official version from Bologna! The ingredients are typical of Bolognese eating habits! So no garlic, olives or capers! The only exceptions allowed are the addition of anchovies or parsley sprinkled at the end of the preparation of the dish.

I think, garganelli pasta with tuna Bolognese is a dish that’s so great for ‘lazy’ days when you don’t feel like spending time in the kitchen. It’s also very popular with kids. The 3 main ingredients are staples in most people’s larders. You can use fresh or tinned peeled tomatoes. Italians use tuna that is preserved in olive oil. That’s definitely best. I like to use the slightly more expensive tuna fillets. Like all simple recipes the better the quality of the ingredients, the better it tastes! Don’t you agree?

If you do try this garganelli pasta with tuna Bolognese recipe, I’d love to hear what you think. Please write a comment here on the blog or post a comment on the Pasta Project Facebook page .

Your feedback means a lot to me!

Other canned tuna pasta recipes on The Pasta Project

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Tuna and Tomato Spaghetti

  • Quick Glance
  • Quick Glance
  • 15 M
  • 30 M
  • Serves 2 to 3

Ingredients US Metric

  • Sea salt, to taste
  • 8 ounces spaghetti or linguine
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 cup chopped or pureed canned tomatoes
  • One (5-to 6-ounce) can tuna, preferably oil-packed
  • 1/2 cup grated Romano cheese (optional)
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Optional Additions
  • 2 anchovy fillets, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped olives
  • 1/4 cup bread crumbs
  • 1 tablespoon capers
  • Pinch red pepper flakes


Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil and cook the spaghetti according to the package instructions.

Meanwhile, in a large saucepan over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add the tomatoes and tilt the saucepan to swirl the ingredients together. Let the sauce cook for 2 minutes and then add the tuna. Use a wooden spoon to break up the tuna and continue to cook until it’s warmed through, about 3 minutes more.

Add 1/4 cup grated Romano, if using, reserving the rest to sprinkle on top. Taste and add salt and pepper, as needed.

Stir in any of the optional additions, if using.

Reduce the heat to low and cover to keep the sauce warm while you finish boiling the spaghetti.

Drain the spaghetti, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking water. Add the spaghetti to the sauce and toss everything together. If the sauce isn’t sliding and coating the noodles, add a little of the reserved pasta water and try tossing it again.

Divvy the pasta among bowls and, if desired, sprinkle with the remaining Romano.

Recipe Testers' Reviews

Chiyo Ueyama

Spaghetti with tomatoes and tuna is one of my longtime busy-day dinners. It’s comforting, quick but still homemade, and delicious. My taster, who had never heard of it and doesn’t spend a lot of time in the kitchen, liked the dish and said he would make it—I’d say this recipe is a winner. It’s so “perfectly between” tuna salad sandwich (more of a lunch item, no?) and tuna noodle casserole (love it, but don’t always have time for the baking part).

This was the first time I made it from a recipe, and this one is spot on in terms of the flavor and the flexibility with the ingredients. I only had canned tuna in water in my pantry, so I went ahead and used it for this recipe (didn’t bother draining it), and it worked just fine. After all, this is exactly the kind of thing you want to be able to make without a special trip to the market.

Cheese was a new addition for me, so I took caution and decided to serve it on the side. My taster put some on his and liked it, but I enjoyed mine without the cheese. Personally I feel the strong flavor and aroma of the Italian hard cheese overpowers the tuna. I have used all of the suggested additions in the past you can sauté any of them with the garlic or add them to the sauce when the tuna goes in. Again, flexibility is the key here—no need to be fussy.

Total time was about 12 minutes—basically, the time it took for the water to come to a boil and the pasta to cook—mine took 8 minutes—everything else can be prepared during that time.

I loved the garlic-y sauce, but I would be happy with using just 2 cloves.

Lila Ferrari

This simple, unassuming recipe came together quickly with just a few pantry items. Timewise, it was about 10 minutes which included making the sauce while the pasta cooked. I thought the tuna would be overpowering but it blended in nicely with the tomato sauce.

I would make this again with the following changes: we thought the chopped tomatoes and tuna balanced each other out in texture, so I would use pureed tomatoes and add the drained tuna (adding the tuna oil to the sauce first) after the pasta was added to the sauce. Cooking it ahead broke down the flakes too much for our taste.

I did add black olives and bread crumbs for salt and a little crunch. Both were nice but we felt the sauce needed more salt so I would add capers. Overall, it was a nice change from our usual pasta dish.

Lydia Brimage

I have made a similar dish in the past myself by making up a recipe and it’s a good dish to use up store-cupboard ingredients. It was a biggish meal for 2 and could have done 3.

I liked the suggested possible additions. I added umami-spiced tomato puree (which contained garlic, anchovy, olive, balsamic, porcini and parmesan) and panko bread crumbs. I did not really detect the crunch from the panko breadcrumbs, but I like the idea of adding breadcrumbs. The quantities were good and I would use these quantities again.

Sofia Reino

This is a very similar recipe I grew up with, called puttanesca. It’s a great simple and fast recipe for weeknights that will give you good nutrients and kids and adults alike love it.

Hands-on time this recipe does not take longer than 15 minutes. I love adding green olives or even capers to it. Also make sure to use tuna in olive oil and use its olive oil to saute the garlic.

Jackie Gorman

This is a wonderful pantry dish to have in your arsenal. I used a good-quality imported tuna in olive oil, which I recommend doing. Your dish is only going to be as good as the ingredients you use.

I did add anchovies which I had chopped finely, sliced Kalamata olives, and capers. After tasting, I felt that it needed a tiny bit of a lift, and added some red pepper flakes. The flavors exploded. Delicious!

Martha T.

The tuna fan in the house says this is tasty, but need both herbs and a spice to give it flavor and a kick. We have tuna in water cans at home, and used those, so there was not a strong tuna flavor. This is good or bad, depending on how much you like tuna. It came together in 15 minutes. which is a big plus for a weeknight meal.

Irene Seales

A fast weeknight dinner that you can make with pantry ingredients is a great tool in your kitchen survival kit. This recipe took some basic things I have done (like smoked salmon or tuna and chevre tossed with bowties, or penne) up a notch. The tomato and tuna was not something I had thought to do, much as I loved how they played off each other. The simple list of additional ingredients reminded me of a tuna tomato antipasto a friend makes for the holidays, and if you added some heat (pepperoncini maybe) you would be close to the traditional flavours of a calabrese antipasto.

But this all happens in the time it takes to cook the pasta!! I added capers, and used Parmesan as that was on hand. If I add anchovies for a future batch, I would not add anything else salty. I used very nice albacore packed in olive oil, and used the olive oil from the can to start the sauce, opting for the most flavor, and it worked well.

One thing I did differently from this recipe was to reduce the amount of pasta to more modern habits—using 2 oz (56g) per person was more in line with our carbohydrate-conscious world. That isn’t to say I would not have enjoyed more—I just try to not be tempted. We also used linguine because we prefer the mouthfeel to spaghetti.

What I might suggest is a combination of pasta and vegetable noodles (zucchini noodles are the obvious choice).

This was healthy, fast and delicious!


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Recipe Summary

  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 2 slices whole-wheat sandwich bread
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 3/4 pound spaghetti
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest, plus 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 3 tablespoons slivered Kalamata olives
  • 2 cans (5 ounces each) chunk light tuna in water, drained

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, in a food processor, pulse bread and 1 teaspoon oil until coarse crumbs form. Spread on a rimmed baking sheet season with salt and pepper. Bake until golden, tossing occasionally, 6 to 8 minutes.

Cook pasta in boiling water until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta water drain pasta, and return to pot. Add lemon zest and juice, parsley, olives, and 1 tablespoon oil toss, adding enough pasta water to coat. Add tuna toss gently. Serve sprinkled with breadcrumbs.

How to prepare Pasta with tuna

To pasta with tuna, boil plenty of salted water to cook the pasta. In a pan, let the whole peeled garlic sizzle for a few moments in oil, then remove it 1 . Add the drained anchovy fillets in oil and melt them with a little cooking water from the pasta 2 . Then add the fresh chili pepper cut into strips, ideally without the seeds to reduce its spiciness 3 .

While everything is seasoning, drain the oil from the tuna 4 and place the tuna into the pan 5 . Let it season, then wet with a bit of cooking water from the pasta 6 .

Add the tomato puree 7 and cook for about ten minutes. You have just enough time to cook the pasta in boiling salted water 8 . So as soon as the pasta is al dente, drain and add it to the sauce 9 .

After few moments 10 , add salt, pepper and chopped parsley to taste 11 . Your pasta with tuna is ready. Buon appetito 12 !