A quick and simple pasta dish with canned tuna. Great for lunch or dinner and comes together in 20 minutes!
Why you'll love this recipe
- A great time saver! It's one of the quickest meals you can make on a busy weeknight.
- Made of simple and budget-friendly ingredients that you probably have in your pantry.
- Delicious combination of flavors with almost no fishy taste with the use of practical everyday ingredients.
What you need
Here are the ingredients:
The best-canned tuna for this pasta recipe is tuna in oil, preferably olive oil. It's tastier, the texture is better (not dry), and overall just better than tuna in water or brine.
I recommend using spaghetti, angel hair, fettuccine, and linguine for a quicker cooking time. Penne, bowtie, fusilli, and ziti pasta works too but will take a bit more time to cook.
- Tomatoes - I prefer using fresh tomatoes over canned tomatoes as it doesn't overpower the flavor of the tuna. Use plump tomatoes or cherry tomatoes alternatively.
- Garlic - This is an important ingredient when cooking anything with fish or seafood. It's fragrant and nutty and brings out the best flavors of any seafood dish.
- Olive Oil - Don't skimp on olive oil when making this Agli olio kind of pasta recipe. It's the key to making the pasta glossy and extra delicious!
- Spring onions (scallions) - Can be substituted with fresh parsley if preferred.
- Lemon Juice - Another secret ingredient to masking the fishy taste of tuna. Also, the acid makes the sauce less greasy tasting.
- Red Pepper flakes - Add red pepper flakes for some extra heat to the tuna pasta sauce. Omit if preferred.
How to Make Canned Tuna Pasta
Here's how I make it
- Use a medium-size wide skillet to make it easier to toss the sauce and pasta.
- Heat the olive oil until just warm. Do not use hot oil as it can easily burn the garlic.
- Cook the garlic until fragrant. You'll know it's cooked just right when you start smelling that familiar garlicky aroma.
- Taste the sauce BEFORE adding the pasta. Add salt or more red pepper flakes based on your preference.
- Cook the pasta al dente. To test the doneness, take a strand of pasta from the cooking pot 1 to 2 minutes before the specified cooking time. If it's cooked but still firm, then it's ready.
20 Minutes Cooking Workflow
Start by boiling the water for pasta. While waiting, prepare the ingredients–slice the tomatoes, garlic, and green onions. Don't cook the tuna sauce yet.
2. Cook the Pasta
When the water starts boiling, stir in the salt then add the pasta. Take note of the cooking time on the package and the directions. The average is around 8 to 10 minutes and 10 to 12 minutes for thicker pasta like penne.
3. Cook the Tuna
Start cooking the tuna when the pasta is halfway done. By the time the sauce is ready, the pasta should be ready too. Set the heat low while draining the pasta so the sauce doesn't evaporate quickly.
4. Add the Pasta to the Sauce
Immediately drain the pasta and add it to the sauce. Don't turn off the heat just yet. Add pasta water. Starchy water helps the pasta cling to the sauce by emulsifying it with the oil.
Bonus Tip: I usually just use a set of tongs to pick up long pasta like spaghetti or fettuccine. For short pasta, I drain with a colander or mesh strainer.
5. Toss and Cook
Once everything is in the pan, increase heat to medium. Toss and stir the pasta and the tuna sauce together. Sprinkle grated parmesan cheese if preferred and add more pasta water if needed.
Variations and Add-ins
Here are some other ingredients you can add:
- Black Olives
- Red and Green Bell Peppers
- Parsely, Basil or Cilantro.
- Chopped red chilies if you want to make the sauce extra spicy.
If using tuna in water or brine
Although tuna in water or brine tend to be on the dry side, you can still use it to make this tuna pasta recipe. To make up for the flavor, add 2 to 3 teaspoons of oyster sauce and add more olive oil.
More pasta recipes
Pasta with Canned Tuna in Oil (20 mins)
- 2 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic (chopped)
- 6 pcs cherry tomatoes or 1 large plump tomatoes (sliced, note 1)
- 2 stalks onion leaves/scallion (divided)
- 1 can 5 to 6 oz tuna in oil (note 2)
- ¼ to ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- lemon juice (to taste)
- salt (to taste)
- 2-3 tablespoon pasta water (add more if needed)
- 200 grams /7 oz / .5 lbs spaghetti (note 3)
- Cook pasta in boiling salted water just until tender (al dente). Reserve ½ cup cooking water, then drain the pasta.
- Heat olive oil in a skillet. Add cherry tomatoes and garlic. Cook until fragrant and softened. Add half of the spring onions and cook for another minute.
- Add tuna along with its oil. Sprinkle salt and red pepper flakes. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Drizzle some lemon juice.
- Add the cooked pasta and a splash of pasta water, about 1 to 2 tablespoons. Toss and stir well with a tong to combine. Add more pasta water if needed.
- Remove from heat and sprinkle more spring onions. Serve immediately.
Recipe Notes and Tips:
- Cherry Tomatoes - you can also use 1 to 2 plump tomatoes.
- Tuna in Oil - tuna in olive oil or sunflower oil works great.
- Pasta - fettuccine, linguine, penne, and even bow pasta work great for this recipe.
- Other recommended add-ins: black olives, capers, red and green bell pepper, and green peas. Use fresh or dried parsley, basil, or cilantro instead of spring onions.
Originally published July 2015. Updated with new photos and improved recipe.
Riverten Kitchen is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.