Tuna pesto pasta is a quick and easy pasta meal which takes just 15 minutes from start to finish. Made from just a handful of ingredients, it is a dinner the whole family loves. Leftovers taste great as a cold tuna pasta salad too!
Why we love this recipe
- Pesto pasta with tuna is a kid friendly dish – my son always asks for seconds, despite not being the biggest fan of tuna.
- It is made with canned tuna, that budget friendly store cupboard favourite that is the saviour of dinner time for me on many busy weeknights and is so adaptable: from simple tuna nachos, to comforting tuna cauliflower pasta bake, and quick lunch favourite tuna croissants.
- You can serve this tuna pasta recipe hot or cold.
- Quick and easy – make the pesto while the pasta cooks and dinner is on the table in 15 minutes.
- Versatile dish – there are numerous vegetable additions to this tuna pasta: add a tin of sweetcorn, some cooked broccoli florets, a handful of baby spinach, or halved cherry tomatoes to name a few.
- The pesto is made with cashew nuts for a more budget friendly dish.
Ingredients Notes and Substitutions
- Pasta – any pasta shape works well, the ones I often use are: penne, rotini or fusilli, farfelle (pasta bows) or pasta shells. You can even use spaghetti or macaroni if that’s what you have in.
- Tuna – I like to use tinned / canned tuna in water or oil.
- Fresh basil – I would not recommend using dried basil in this recipe, but have a look at this post for basil alternatives if you don’t have any.
- Parmesan cheese – parmesan adds a salty savoury flavour to the homemade pesto. If you don’t have any, I often use a sharp cheddar as a parmesan substitute.
- Cashew nuts – I like to use unsalted cashew nuts, however you can use roasted or raw cashews.
- Olive oil – try to use extra virgin olive oil in the pesto as you aren’t cooking with it and want the flavour in your pesto, but it doesn’t need to be an expensive olive oil.
- Lemon – fresh lemon juice and zest are used in the pesto for a touch of fresh sharpness. If you don’t have a fresh lemon, you can add a small splash of white vinegar, or leave it out altogether.
- Garlic – fresh garlic is cooked before adding the tuna to make the flavour more mild. You can use minced garlic from a jar if you don’t have any fresh.
How to make this recipe
- Boil pasta according to the packet instructions, but cook 1 minute LESS. Save ½ cup pasta water.
- Make the pesto: add cashew nuts, parmesan, fresh basil, olive oil, lemon zest, and lemon juice to a mini blender.
- Blend until smooth.
- Fry crushed garlic in a little olive oil.
- Add drained tuna to the garlic and heat through.
- Add cooked pasta.
- Stir through pesto, adding a little of the pasta water if it’s too thick. Check for seasoning, and serve.
Yes you can make tuna pasta with bought pesto. Stir the pesto through the tuna and cooked pasta and heat through. For this recipe I would use 2-3 tablespoons of bought pesto.
Fresh homemade pesto should be stored in the fridge, in an airtight container or bowl covered with cling film to prevent the air getting in to it. With bought pesto, once the jar is opened the pesto should be stored in the fridge. If the bought pesto was in the chilled section at the shop, store it in the fridge before opening.
Pesto pasta can be served hot, or once cooled stored in the fridge and eaten cold.
My Recipe Tips
- Pasta water – keeping a little starchy pasta water back when you drain the pasta allows you to loosen the pesto sauce without making the whole dish watery.
- You can make the pesto smooth, or leave it slightly chunky, depending on which you prefer.
- Don’t try to mix the tuna and pesto in the pan you cooked the pasta in as it can stick to the bottom of the pan.
- Fridge: the pasta will keep covered in the fridge up to 2 days. Gently reheat or enjoy cold as a tuna pasta salad. Any leftover pesto will keep, covered in the fridge for up to 4 days.
- Freezer: You can freeze the pasta for up to 6 weeks, but it tastes best when it hasn’t been frozen.
- For extra carbs, a slice or two of Air fryer Garlic bread goes well.
- Salad – a simple salad like this pear and walnut salad, rocket salad or spinach caprese salad
- With olives – roughly chop a handful of black or green olives and stir through the pasta before serving, you could always throw in some semi dried tomatoes too for a Mediterranean twist!
- Creamy pesto pasta – make this dish with cream cheese stir 2 tablespoons of cream cheese through the pasta with the pesto.
- With tomatoes – slice some fresh tomatoes or halve cherry tomatoes and stir through just before serving.
- Mushroom pesto pasta – slice a handful of button mushrooms and fry for 2 minutes before adding the garlic and then the tuna.
- Add a handful of rocket / arugula or baby spinach to the pesto before you blend it.
- Make pesto tuna pasta with different pesto – if you fancy a change from basil pesto on your tuna pasta, try dill pesto, Thai basil pesto, or nut free broccoli spinach pesto.
- Gluten free – use a gluten free pasta.
- Dairy free – leave out the parmesan cheese.
More family friendly pasta recipes
Tuna Pesto Pasta
- 350 g (12 oz) dried pasta ($0.70 / £0.53p)
- 60 g (2 c) fresh basil, larger stalks removed ($3.00 / £0.55)
- 40 g (½ c) parmesan cheese, grated ($1.00 / £0.62p)
- 4-5 tablespoons olive oil ($0.64 / £0.32)
- 40 g (¼ c) cashew nuts ($0.99 / £0.39p)
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice ($0.79 / £0.30p)
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest
- 1 tablespoon olive oil ($0.16 / £0.08p)
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed ($0.26 / £0.05)
- 370 g (13 oz) tin / can tuna, in oil or water, drained ($4.00 / £3.00)*
- sea salt / kosher salt ($0.01 / £0.01)
- cracked black pepper ($0.01 / £0.01)
- Cook pasta in boiling water according to packet instructions less 1 minute.
- While the pasta is cooking, make the pesto: In a small blender/mini food processor place the basil, grated parmesan, cashew nuts, 1 tablespoon lemon zest, 1 tablespoon lemon juice and 4 tablespoons olive oil.
- Blend until smooth, adding a little more olive oil if it seems dry. Place to one side.
- Drain the pasta keeping 120ml (½ c) of the pasta water.
- Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a medium frying pan and fry the crushed garlic over a medium heat for 1 minute.
- Add the drained tuna and heat through.
- Stir through the cooked pasta and then the pesto, adding a little of the pasta water if it seems dry.
- Check for seasoning, adding a squeeze of lemon juice, salt and black pepper to taste.
- Serve straight away.