This spicy tuna pesto pasta recipe is easy, light, and zesty, and is one of my most trusted recipes using canned tuna. Served hot, it makes a perfect mid-week dinner, but you can also enjoy it cold as a starter or as a packed lunch. And the best part? It takes only 15 minutes from start to finish!
Why To Love This Spicy Tuna Pesto Pasta Recipe
This recipe has become a regular staple in our household, and you will love it too – here’s why:
- Simple and flavourful, 8-ingredient recipe – you probably already have most of the ingredients in your kitchen store cupboard.
- Easy to scale up or down – feeding a crowd or looking for a quick work-week lunch for one? This recipe ticks both boxes! It can be served warm or cold either as a starter or as a main meal.
- You can also make it ahead, and it freezes well.
- It is packed with vitamins, minerals, and important nutrients such as protein, omega 3 and fiber.
Hosting a party or entertaining? Try this delicious pasta with tuna with a slice of crusty homemade garlic bread.
Key Ingredients for Tuna Pesto Pasta
This simple tuna and zucchini pasta recipe is made mainly of basic pantry ingredients and added fresh vegetables for extra flavor and nutrients. You will need:
- Tinned tuna chunks or steak in brine, spring water, sunflower or olive oil will all work in this recipe. Remember to strain it before stirring into the pasta. Canned tuna is tasty and meaty, and also budget-friendly - 150g of canned tuna is sufficient for 3-4 servings.
- Pasta - short pasta shapes such as farfalle, fusilli or penne are great for this tuna pasta salad. You can also use fresh, or leftover (pre-cooked) pasta for this recipe. Wholemeal pasta will boost the dish with extra added fiber, but you can use classic pasta too.
- An onion will give the pasta salad a sweet flavour after it’s fried in a little bit of rapeseed oil.
- Courgette (zucchini). Courgettes are summer vegetables similar to squash but are widely available across supermarkets throughout the year.
- Fresh tomatoes – salad tomatoes and plum tomatoes work great during the summer months when they are fully ripe and taste the best. In winter, I recommend usingcherry tomatoes or baby plum tomatoes as they usually have more flavour than other shop-bought tomatoes. They will only need a few minutes on the stove to soften. Don't overcook them.
- Red pesto gives this pasta dish extra indulgent taste and attractive glaze. Feel free to use classic Italian red pepper and sun-dried tomato red pesto or chili pesto (and omit adding more chili unless you prefer eating this pasta very hot).
- Garnish is optional – use fresh rocket or basil leaves, Grana Padano andadd a juicy wedge of lemon.
Substitutes & Variations
Yes, also you can substitute several of the ingredients in the recipe!
- Swap brown onion for red onion or shallot.
- Replace rapeseed oil with sunflower, vegetable, or regular olive oil.
- Chili powder or fresh chilies will be a great addition instead of chili flakes.
- Use bell pepper or broccoli instead of zucchini (courgette). Remember to cut it into small bits (dices 1x1cm) that cook quicker.
- Green pesto will work in this recipe as well.
For more details on the ingredients’ measurements, instructions and swap ratios, please find the recipe card at the end of this post.
This easy school night recipe is ready in just about 15 minutes! Here is how to make it in three simple steps:
- Cook the pasta and prepare the remaining ingredients.
- Fry the onion with chili, courgette, tomatoes, and tuna.
- Stir in the cooked pasta, season and enjoy with grated cheese, fresh green leave and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.
All steps are described in detail in the recipe card below this article.
If you are wondering how to make this recipe even better, here are a few ideas:
- Slightly undercook the pasta – a minute or so less will result in al-dente pasta and will prevent it from going soggy or too soft.
- Making this tuna pesto pasta ahead? Strain the cooked pasta and run it under cold water, shake and leave it to cool down on a colander, mix with the remaining ingredients (also cold). This will help stop it from sticking together, and the dish will be easy to mix (almost like a real salad).
- Add sundried tomatoes instead of fresh tomatoes. This will add extra tangy and tomatoey flavour to the meal.
- Some shops sell ready-made tuna pesto – yes, a mix of canned tuna with pesto (usually sold in a jar). If you use this, you can skip adding tuna tin and pesto separately - it's a brilliant shortcut!
Storage & Reheating
When you are batch cooking this pasta dish in advance, let the food cool down, place it in an air-tight container and store it in the fridge for up to 2 days. Toss it and add any garnish just before serving.
You can also freeze the cooked pasta and pesto tuna sauce separately for up to 3 months. If you are planning to freeze it, I highly recommend undercooking the pasta by 1-2 minutes, so that it still feels a bit firm when you bite into it. This will help prevent it from going mushy when reheated later. Pasta can be frozen with or without sauce, but it is best to freeze these separately, without any garnishes.
Chilled pasta with sauce can be reheated in a microwave. Simply place a portion on a microwave-safe plate, and reheat until piping hot (timing depends on to the power of your appliance; 3-5 minutes per portions is usually enough).
Frozen pasta (plain) can be reheated in a microwave or on a pre-heated frying pan in a small amount of water or sauce. Do not defrost it ahead of time, this would turn this meal into a mushy, texture-less mess, and it would also loose flavour.
Pesto can be added to your pasta straight from the jar, without much cooking. If you want, you can add it into pasta that was just cooked. Reheating the pesto for longer will result in less flavour – for more fresh flavour and vibrant colour, add the pesto just before serving your pasta.
Yes, it can. For best results, cook the pasta al-dente (so that is has a bite, or in other words, slightly undercook it), rinse it under cold water, let to strain any excess water by placing it in a colander above a deep bowl. When the pasta is cold, transfer it into freezer safe container, and freeze for up to 3 months. Cook straight from frozen, do not thaw, this would ruin the texture of the noodles.
Rinsing hot, freshly cooked pasta with cold water helps prevent it from sticking together. This step is recommended if you are cooking the pasta dish ahead and/or if you are going to serve the pasta cold. There is no need to rinse pasta if you intend to eat it hot, as it would bring the temperature down too quick.
More Recipes Like This
- Garlic chicken parmesan pasta
- Chorizo and prawn pasta
- Salmon and creamed spinach with pasta
- Spicy pasta with sausage meatballs
- Pasta salad with sun-dried tomatoes
📖 The Recipe
Tuna Pesto Pasta Recipe
- 200 g wholemeal short pasta penne, fusilli or farfalle
- 3 tablespoon rapeseed oil, or vegetable/sunflower/olive oil
- 1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon chili flakes, to taste
- 250 g zucchini, courgette, diced
- 200 g tomatoes, diced
- 100 g can tuna chunks, net weight/drained
- 4 teaspoon red pesto
- salt and ground black pepper, to taste
Garnish (optional, for serving):
- 30 g Grana Padano, or parmesan cheese (grated/shaved)
- fresh rocket or basil leaves
- 1 unwaxed lemon, cut into wedges
- Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet. Strain and set aside.
- Meanwhile, reheat rapeseed oil in a large frying pan on medium-high heat. Once hot, add chopped onion and chili flakes and fry for about 3-4 minutes or until the onion is soft and glossy (translucent).
- Add diced zucchini, toss and fry for 5 minutes. Strain the canned tuna to remove any excess juices.
- Add diced tomatoes and tuna chunks. Toss again, cover with a lid and cook for 3-4 minutes.
- Take the pan off the heat. Stir in the cooked pasta and pesto.
- Season with salt and pepper if needed. Serve with fresh rocket leaves, a few shaves of Grana Padano or parmesan cheese and a wedge of lemon. Enjoy!
- Red onion or two shallots.
- Sunflower, vegetable, or regular olive oil.
- Chili powder (¼ tsp) or fresh chilies (1-2 according to taste).
- Diced bell pepper or broccoli instead of zucchini (courgette).
- Green pesto.