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Pesto Tuna Pasta

$14.00 Recipe/$3.50 Serving

Pesto tuna pasta is the perfect quick and easy weeknight meal.

Made with pantry staples and packed with flavor and comes together in under 15 minutes.

Tuna pesto pasta in a white bowl with lemons in background.

3 reasons I love this recipe

  • Packed with flavor, the pesto and sun dried tomatoes take this pasta and canned tuna to the next level! I could not get over how delicious this meal tastes!
  • Made with homemade pesto, this healthy pesto tuna pasta is gluten free, dairy free and can easily be nut free as well.
  • This is so easy to customize! Use store bought pesto or make homemade. Add your favorite veggies or leave it as is. Make it Whole30 or low carb friendly by using spaghetti squash or zucchini noodles.
Ingredients to make tuna pesto pasta.
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Ingredients and substitutions

Spinach Cashew Pesto

  • Basil – basil is one of the main ingredients in pesto. The flavor will not be the same without the basil. You could use flat leaf parsley and mint for a more Mediterranean twist if you cannot find basil.
  • Olive Oil – oil helps to emulsify the sauce, making it thick and creamy! You could also use avocado oil.
  • Lemon Juice – Basil can have a very strong flavor, and lemon juice can help cut through that with acidity, helping to brighten things up. If you don’t have lemon juice, you could also use 1-2 tbsp. of white wine vinegar.
  • Cashews – cashews are used in place of pine nuts. They are less expensive and still add a great silky texture. You could use blanched sliced almonds or walnuts in place of the cashews or hemp hearts for a nut free version.
  • Salt – salt is a key ingredient to making the recipe pop and it salts the entire dish, so don’t skip it!
  • Garlic Powder – I prefer garlic powder to fresh garlic in pesto (since we won’t be cooking it). If you love fresh garlic, use 1-2 cloves, very finely chopped. If you cannot have garlic, use roasted garlic olive oil in place of the olive oil in this recipe.
  • Spinach – baby spinach helps add volume and also increases the veggies in the dish! You could also use arugula or kale!

Tuna Pesto Pasta

  • Pasta – use whatever pasta you love! I love using lentil pasta for this dish (as it’s much more filling) but you can use whatever your favorite is, even replace the pasta with spaghetti squash, zoodles, or butternut squash noodles to make it lower in carbs or Whole30 friendly.
  • Pesto – make your own using the ingredients above or buy pesto pre-made from the store. You can also store pesto in the freezer so that you always have some fresh and on hand.
  • Tuna (in oil) – I prefer tuna in oil for this recipe, but you could also use tuna in water, canned salmon, canned chicken or even replace the tuna with chickpeas or cannellini beans in place of the tuna to make this a vegan meal.
  • Sun Dried Tomatoes – sun dried tomatoes provide another level of umami to this dish, I highly recommend adding them unless you don’t love them. I use sundried tomatoes packed in olive oil (you don’t need to add the oil to the dish though). You could use fresh tomatoes or omit them completely.

Step-by-step instructions

Step 1: Add water to a large pot to bring to a boil.

Step 2: While the water is coming to a boil, make the spinach cashew pesto.

Step 3: Add the basil, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, garlic powder and cashews to a food processor.

Process on high 1-2 minutes. Add the baby spinach to the food processor and process on high another 1-2 minutes until the pesto is fully blended. Scrape down the sides as needed.

Steps to make spinach cashew pesto.

Step 4: Add the pasta to the boiling water, and cook according to the package directions.

Step 5: Right before the pasta is done cooking; take about ½ cup of the cooking liquid from the pot and reserve for later.

Step 6: Drain the water from the pasta. Add the pasta back to the pot.

Step 7: Flake the tuna out of the can and add the tuna to the pasta (I don’t add the olive oil the tuna was packed in but you can if you would like to).  

Step 8: Add the sun dried tomatoes (no oil) and pesto to the pasta and stir well. Add ½ cup of the cooking liquid and stir well to emulsify the sauce so that it sticks to the pasta.

Serve hot, cold or at room temperature.

Steps to make pesto tuna pasta.
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Tips

  • Reserve some of the cooking liquid: If you are making this with pasta (vs. veggie noodles to be low carb/Whole30); you will want to reserve some of the starchy cooking liquid from the pasta before draining. I like to use a glass measuring cup with a good handle and reserve about ½ cup of the liquid. The starch in this liquid helps to create a really thick sauce that sticks to the pasta better.
  • Be sure to use a pesto that you really love! The pesto is really the star of the show when it comes to this dish. I love to make my own but the Cashew Arugula Pesto from Trader Joe’s is also a great option!

    You can always have fresh pesto on hand by making a double batch and freezing the extra batch. You can freeze in ice cube trays and then store the cubes in a freezer safe bag for up to 3 months.
  • Be sure to use enough pesto! Since it is the star of this dish; you want to have enough that it can shine! I like to use at least 1 cup when adding it to a box of pasta.
  • Cook dinner even faster by getting the water up to a boil quicker. Getting the water up to a boil can be about 7-8 minutes of the cooking time of this recipe. By getting your water boiling faster, you can have dinner on the table in less time.

    To get you water up to a boil faster, add ½ the water to the pot over high heat and put the other half in an electric kettle. Once the water is boiling in the kettle, add it to the water in the pot and it will immediately increase the temperature in the pot, making the water boil quicker.
Tuna pesto pasta in a bowl with pesto in background.

FAQs

What goes well with pasta and pesto

This tuna pesto pasta is great just as it is! You could also add some extra veggies or beans to make it more filling!

Here are some of my favorites:

  • Artichoke hearts
  • Chopped tomatoes
  • Spinach, arugula, or kale
  • Cooked vegetables: zucchini, summer squash, asparagus or green beans
  • Roasted veggies: broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts
  • Cannellini beans or chickpeas
  • Frozen green peas (add with the pasta water)

What is the best tuna to add to pasta

One of the reasons I love this recipe is because it’s made with mostly pantry ingredients, which means it’s quick, easy and inexpensive! I do splurge a bit and buy solid tuna in olive oil (vs. flaked tuna in water). It’s slightly more expensive but I think it has a slightly better flavor and texture in the dish.

When I am buying tuna, I always look for line caught, pole caught or troll caught as that is a more sustainable fishing option.

If you are eating a lot of tuna, you will want to be conscious of the mercury content of the tuna. Albacore and yellowfin tuna have higher levels of mercury than skipjack tuna, so it’s advised that you keep your intake to albacore or yellowfin tuna to 1-2 servings per week.

Some of the brands of tuna I love are SafeCatch, Wild Planet, Thrive Market and Trader Joe’s (which is the most budget friendly).  

Which pasta is best with pesto?

There are so many different shapes of pasta. Although you could use any shape you wanted in this pesto tuna pasta dish, using pasta that has ridges or nooks and crannies for the pesto to grab hold of is best. Some easy to find shapes that fit this description are:

  • Fusilli
  • Penne
  • Elbow
  • Farfalle (bow tie)
  • If you want noodle shape pasta, spaghetti or linguine are probably the best option to serve with this creamy pesto sauce.

You can use any kind of pasta noodles you want. I like to use a lentil or chickpea based noodle as this adds more protein and fiber to the dish! I find that the lentil pasta fills me up more than traditional so it’s what I go for when I have the choice. Lentil and chickpea based pasta are also naturally gluten free!

You could also use brown rice (gluten free) or cassava based pasta (grain free, gluten free).

Silver pot filled with pesto tuna pasta after stirring.

How to make this low carb friendly?

You can make this pesto tuna pasta low carb friendly by using a vegetable based noodles instead. Some of my favorite choices are:

What is the best store bought brands

I personally love the Trader Joe’s Cashew Arugula Pesto sold in the refrigerated section by the hummus and other sauces. It can be hard to find a dairy free pesto on the shelves, but there are some great options if you are willing to look in specialty stores or online.

Seggiano Brand can be found in Whole Foods or bought online

Some other great vegan (dairy free) versions are from ROI and Compagnia Sanremo. You will notice that these can be quite pricy, so making your own or buying from Trader Joe’s is going to be the best for your budget.

What are other homemade pesto recipes to use

Storage

This tuna pesto pasta recipe is great as leftovers for lunch or dinner the next day! You can store leftovers in a well-sealed container for up to 3 days.

Bowl of pesto tuna pasta with a fork to the side.

If you want more tuna recipes, you should try

More pasta recipes

What you need to make this recipe

★ Did you make this recipe? Please give it a star rating below!
Bowl filled with pesto tuna pasta.

Pesto Tuna Pasta

$14.00 recipe/$3.50 serving
Pesto tuna pasta is the perfect quick and easy weeknight meal. Made with pantry staples, this tuna pesto pasta is packed with flavor and comes together in under 15 minutes. This recipe is gluten free, dairy free and so simple!
Print Pin Save Rate
Course: dinner
Cuisine: Italian
Keyword: tuna pesto pasta
Prep Time: 7 mins
Cook Time: 7 mins
Total Time: 14 mins
Servings: 4

Ingredients

Spinach Cashew Pesto

  • 1 container basil (2.5 ounces) - $2.49
  • 1 large lemon, juiced - $0.42
  • 1.5 tbsp. olive oil - $0.33
  • 1/4 cup raw cashews - $0.47
  • 1 tsp salt - $0.05
  • 1 tsp garlic powder - $0.10
  • 2 cups baby spinach - $2.00

Tuna Pesto Pasta

Instructions

Tuna Pesto Pasta

  • Bring a pot of water to a boil.
  • While the pasta is boiling, make the pesto.
  • In a food processor combine the basil, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, garlic powder and cashews. Blend on high 1-2 minutes. Add the spinach and blend again 1-2 minutes until a thick sauce is formed.
    Steps to make spinach cashew pesto.
  • Once the water is boiling, add the pasta and cook according to the directions on the box.
  • Before draining the pasta, remove about 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid and reserve it for the sauce.
  • Drain the pasta and add it back to the pot.
  • Add the drained canned tuna, pesto and sun dried tomatoes (omit the oil) to the pasta and stir well. While stirring, add in the 1/2 cup of cooking liquid, continuing to stir about 1-2 minutes until the liquid is emulsified in with the sauce.
    Steps to make pesto tuna pasta.
  • Serve the pasta hot, cold or at room temperature.
    Bowl filled with pesto tuna pasta.

Notes

Storage: This tuna pesto pasta is great as leftovers! Store in the fridge in an air tight container for up to 3 days. 
To make this low carb, you can use spaghetti squash, zucchini noodles, heart of palm pasta in place of the pasta. You may need to add 1-2 tbsp. of hot water to the pesto to help distribute it around the noodles. 
You can use store bought pesto in place of making it yourself. You will need at least 1 cup to make this pasta. 
I used solid tuna packed in olive oil. The flavor is just a bit richer and the tuna holds up better to all the stirring. However, I have also made this with tuna packed in water and it was just as delicious! You can also use canned salmon, chickpeas or cannellini beans!
 
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Nutrition Information

Nutrition Facts
Amount per Serving
Calories
464
Fat
 
19
g
Carbohydrates
 
45
g
Fiber
 
8
g
Sugar
 
4
g
Protein
 
30
g
Where does nutrition info come from? Nutrition facts are provided as a courtesy, sourced from the USDA Food Database.
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