This tuna pesto pasta is my current favorite easy weeknight meal. Grab whatever type of pasta you love, toss it with dollops of fresh pesto and balsamic roasted tomatoes and then top with the ultimate convenient protein- canned tuna!

brown bowl with cherry tomatoes, pesto pasta and fresh basil leaves

Canned tuna is my number one crap-what’s-for-dinner-I-don’t-have-any-protein-thawed safety food. I always have it in my pantry and it is such an amazing source of convenient protein and healthy fats. At first I thought, idk is tuna pasta weird? But people have been eating tuna noodle casserole for years right!? And the answer is, no it’s not weird at all.

After a long day, boiling pasta and tossing in some tuna feels about what I can manage. And thanks to pesto and jammy balsamic tomatoes, this meal feels more special and delicious than not, ya know what I mean?

Why I love this simple dinner:

  • It relies on simple pantry staples that I nearly always have on hand (and you probably do too!)
  • It is balanced with quality protein, healthy fats and satisfying carbohydrates
  • NO CHOPPING REQUIRED
  • Takes about 15 minutes to throw together and dinner is on the table! Perfect for busy weeknights.
  • Works great as meal prep (in fact, I thought this tasted even better as leftovers)

In summary, this simple pesto pasta is an easy peasy dinner that features simple pantry ingredients and is a great way to get dinner on the table in minutes. 

ingredients needed to make the recipe: tuna, balsamic glaze, olive oil, pesto, tomatoes, parmesan cheese, pasta, basil, salt and pepper

Here are the simple ingredients you’ll need to make it:

Pasta: any pasta shape will work here. I like penne or casarecce and I generally think a short cut pasta works better, but long noodles like spaghetti will also work in a pinch!

Tuna: this recipe calls for tuna in olive oil– which is richer and more flavorful than tuna in water. You can use tuna packed in water if that’s what you have, but for the best flavor, you may want to add a finishing drizzle of olive oil or a dollop more pesto to make up for the missing fat/flavor from the tuna. 

Pesto: I recommend whipping up a batch of my homemade basil pesto but in a pinch, storebought will work just fine! You can find pesto in the aisle with jarred pasta sauces at the grocery store. Sometimes the deli will carry fresh pesto in the refrigerated section.

Tomatoes: to add some color and nutrition, we roast up some little grape tomatoes with a drizzle of balsamic. I love using grape tomatoes, fresh cherry tomatoes or sun-dried tomatoes because they all don’t require any chopping!

Olive oil: you’ll need a little extra virgin olive oil to roast up the tomatoes and for a finishing drizzle, if desired.

Balsamic glaze: balsamic glaze is reduced balsamic vinegar. It is a little higher in sugar and has a thick, more syrup-y consistency. You can make balsamic glaze yourself but I love to get this one from Costco.

Parmesan cheese: freshly grated parmesan cheese adds wonderful flavor to the pasta and just a handful goes a long way.

Salt and pepper: pinches of salt and pepper help lift all the other flavors in this quick meal.

jar of homemade nut-free pesto

How to make this pesto tuna pasta:

Whip up a quick pesto

I love my homemade pesto which is a nut-free pesto that features fresh basil, parmesan cheese, pepitas, fresh garlic, fresh lemon juice and olive oil. My version is just a little different than traditional pesto that uses pine nuts instead of pepitas. (skip this step if you are using storebought pesto!)

baking tray with roasted tomatoes

Roast the tomatoes

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Line a baking tray with a silpat mat or parchment paper. Place the tomatoes on the baking tray and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast for 10 minutes or until slightly bursting and brown on top. Remove from oven and toss with the balsamic glaze.

Cook the pasta

While the tomatoes are cooking, boil your pasta until al dente or according the package directions. Use a liquid measuring cup to save one cup of starchy pasta water during the last 1-2 minutes of cook time.

stainless steel pot with cooked penne and pesto

Drain pasta and return the cooked pasta to the pot. Add the pesto and parmesan and drizzle in half of the starchy pasta water. Toss to combine. Do not be shy with the pasta water, it may look liquid-y at first but it was thicken nicely as it sits. I ended up using the entire cup of water but start with half and add more as needed. Drain most of the liquid from the cans of tuna and add the tuna to the hot pasta.

Assemble and devour!

Spoon pasta into bowls and top with balsamic tomatoes, fresh basil, extra parmesan and more balsamic glaze or pesto.

small brown bowl with tuna pesto pasta, glass of water, jar of pesto

Variation ideas:

  • Any pasta you like: you can use regular pasta or whole wheat pasta or opt for gluten-free pasta like chickpea pasta, lentil pasta or brown rice pasta.
  • Type of tuna: I prefer tuna in olive oil for this recipe but you can also use tuna packed in water. I like the Wild Planet tuna or any tuna that is safe catch and sustainably caught. There are several varieties of tuna that will work: yellowfin tuna, albacore tuna, skipjack tuna or chunk light tuna. I’d probably skip smoked tuna or the very heavily seasoned tuna varieties.
  • Veggies: quick roasted tomatoes are my choice for this recipe to make is a really easy meal, but you can choose your journey with the veg here. Roasted broccoli or cauliflower, thinly sliced spinach or kale, roasted red bell pepper and red onion or marinated artichoke hearts would all work well.
  • Make it kid-friendly: to make this kid-friendly, serve it deconstructed. Serve up the pasta (with or without the pesto sauce) with a spoonful of tuna and a handful of tomatoes (cooked or uncooked) on the side. It’s easy to make this meal one that the whole family loves.
close-up view of the recipe- penne pasta, fresh basil, tuna chunks and roasted cherry tomatoes

FAQs:

What can I serve with this tuna pesto pasta?

A nice hunk of garlic bread, big side salad or tray of roasted vegetables are all amazing options.

What would be a good option to make this vegetarian?

Skip the tuna and add a can of garbanzo beans. You can also use chickpea or lentil pasta to replace some of protein lost from the omission of tuna.

How should I store this and how long does it last?

Store in an airtight container, it will keep for 3-4 days. I loved this as leftovers and ate it for lunch throughout the week.

If you love this pasta dish you’ll love these other easy dinner ideas:

bowl with tuna pesto pasta, napkin, fork, glass of water

If you make this recipe, I’d love for you to leave a review and star rating and snap a picture to share on Instagram. Don’t forget to tag me @itsaflavorfullife!

Print
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small bowl with pesto penne, tomatoes and tuna

Tuna Pesto Pasta

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  • Author: Erica
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 10-15 minutes
  • Total Time: 15-20 minutes
  • Yield: 4 servings 1x
  • Category: Main Dish
  • Method: Boil + Roast
  • Cuisine: American

Description

Transform a few pantry staples into a gorgeous and delicious dinner in just 15 minutes- this simple pesto pasta with tuna is sure to be a hit!


Ingredients

Units Scale

Instructions

Tomatoes: Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Line a baking tray with a silpat mat or parchment paper. Place the tomatoes on the baking tray and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast for 10 minutes or until slightly bursting and brown on top. Remove from oven and toss with the balsamic glaze.

Pasta: While the tomatoes are cooking, boil your pasta until al dente or according the package instructions. Use a liquid measuring cup to save one cup of starchy pasta water during the last 1-2 minutes of cook time.

Drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Add the pesto and parmesan and drizzle in half of the starchy pasta water. Toss to combine. Do not be shy with the pasta water, it may look liquid-y at first but it was thicken nicely as it sits. I ended up using the entire cup of water but start with half and add more as needed. Drain most of the liquid from the cans of tuna and add the tuna to the hot pasta.

Assembly: Spoon pasta into bowls and top with balsamic tomatoes, fresh basil, extra parmesan and more balsamic glaze or pesto, if desired. DIG IN.

 


Notes

Refer to above blog post for ingredient substitute recommendations and answers to frequently asked questions.

Nutritional information is an estimate and may vary slightly.

Nutrition

  • Serving Size: 1/4 recipe
  • Calories: 631
  • Sugar: 5 g
  • Sodium: 486.5 mg
  • Fat: 24.9 g
  • Carbohydrates: 59.4 g
  • Fiber: 4.1 g
  • Protein: 39.9 g
  • Cholesterol: 32.9 mg

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