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.
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 tuna pesto pasta is 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 in place of the pasta.
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 up the pesto. 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 to the pesto. 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 pesto 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 the pesto). 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 to the pesto 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 pasta 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 fresh pesto 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.
Add water to a large pot to bring to a boil.
While the water is coming to a boil, make the spinach cashew pesto.
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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.
Add the pasta to the boiling water, and cook according to the package directions.
Right before the pasta is done cooking; take about ½ cup of the cooking liquid from the pot and reserve for later.
Drain the water from the pasta. Add the pasta back to the pot.
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).
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.
Tips for making the best tuna pesto pasta
- 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 pesto 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 pesto 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! Like I said, pesto is the star of this dish; you want to have enough that it can shine! I like to use at least 1 cup of pesto 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.
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.
Which pasta is best with pesto?
There are so many different shapes of pasta. Although you could use any shape pasta 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:
- Farfalle (bow tie pasta)
- 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 pasta based noodle as this adds more protein and fiber to the dish! I find that the lentil pasta fills me up more than traditional pasta 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 pasta (gluten free) or cassava based pasta (grain free, gluten free).
How to make this low carb friendly?
You can make this pesto tuna pasta low carb friendly by using a vegetable based noodle in place of the pasta. Some of my favorite choices are:
- Spaghetti squash
- Zucchini noodles
- Heart of palm noodles
- Butternut squash noodles (not as low carb but still a great option)
What is the best store bought pesto
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) pestos are from ROI and Compagnia Sanremo. You will notice that these can be quite pricy, so making your own pesto or buying from Trader Joe’s is going to be the best for your budget.
What are other homemade pesto recipes to use:
- Sun Dried Tomato Pesto
- Pea Pesto
- Artichoke Heart Pesto
- Arugula Cashew Pesto
- Tahini Pesto
- Spinach Walnut Pesto
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.
If you want more tuna recipes, you should try:
What you need to make this recipe:
Pesto Tuna Pasta
Spinach Cashew Pesto
Tuna Pesto Pasta
- 8 oz pasta – gluten free
- 1 cup pesto
- 2 cans solid tuna, in olive oil – see notes
- 1/4 cup sun dried tomatoes in olive oil – omit the oil
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.
- 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.
- Serve the pasta hot, cold or at room temperature.
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