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Tuna Pesto Pasta (with Pantry Ingredients)

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Creamy tuna pesto pasta made with pantry ingredients, ready in less than 15 minutes. Such a delicious and easy weeknight meal!

bowl of pesto pasta with tuna with parmesan grater and jar of pesto in the back

Really! This tuna pesto pasta dish is a life saver! No time to shop or cook, but still want something healthy and thoroughly delicious? Try this recipe! All you have to do is to boil the noodles and mix a few ingredients in the meantime. And dinner is served. A quick meal that will make your whole family happy.

Pesto pasta dishes are my go-to dish whenever I need a super quick dinner solution. I always have pesto in the fridge and in the freezer (mostly wild garlic pesto, but also lemon balm, basil, mint, carrot green, or parsley pesto), so I use it a lot.

Unless we want to eat a pure pesto noodle dish (which happens often enough), I add canned tuna, sometimes vegetables, sometimes anchovies, leftover chicken or ham, and so on. Another great option for busy weeknights dinners is this Vegetable Pesto Pasta (with Roasted Vegetables).

Why should you cook this simple pasta dish?

  • Quick: This pesto tuna pasta dish is perfect for any busy weeknight dinner; cooking only takes as long as the pasta needs.
  • Pantry staples: You probably have all the ingredients in your pantry and your fridge.
  • Versatile dish: You can add lots of other things you like.

What do you need?


  • Whatever pasta shape you happen to have. Spaghetti or linguine are often recommended for pesto dishes, but fusilli, bow ties, or macaroni are perfect; the sauce will cling to them perfectly.


  • Two cans of tuna.
  • When it comes to taste, I prefer tuna in oil; the oil makes the dish slightly milder and creamier.
  • But tuna in water is the healthier alternative and tastes delicious.
  • You decide; both versions are great!

What kind of pesto to use?

  • Anything you like. I use basil or wild garlic pesto most of the time.
  • Homemade is always best, but a good quality bought pesto jar is also great. Just make sure you buy a brand you know is good.

Other ingredients: cream cheese, a little lemon juice, salt, and pepper to adjust the taste, and some freshly grated Parmesan cheese to sprinkle on top.

small saucepan with pasta with pesto and tuna fish on the table

Step-by-step instructions

  • Cook pasta al dente in a large pot of salted water according to the package instructions. Reserve about 1 cup of pasta water and drain the rest.
  • Sauce: Mix fresh pesto, cream cheese, drained tuna, lemon juice, salt, and pepper in a small saucepan (1). Add about 125 ml/ ½ cup of the cooking water to the sauce ingredients in the saucepan. Heat gently for 1-2 minutes while stirring all the time. Add more cooking water to thin the pesto sauce as desired (2).
  • Combine cooked pasta and sauce and give everything a good stir.
  • Adjust the taste with lemon, salt, and black pepper.
  • Serve immediately with Parmesan.
canned tuna, pesto, cream cheese in a saucepan and the resulting sauce

Possible additions

  • Chili flakes
  • Lemon zest
  • Small, cooked broccoli florets
  • Frozen peas (add them to the pasta pot during the last 2 minutes of the cooking time)
  • Finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes in oil
  • Cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
  • Chopped kalamata olives
  • Baby spinach
  • Drained cannellini beans from a can
  • Chopped artichoke hearts from a jar
  • Crumbled feta instead of Parmesan
  • Roasted pine nuts

Helpful tips

  • Use hot water from the tap or boiling water from a kettle to start cooking the pasta; it just goes faster. If you start with cold water, it will take much longer.
  • The salty and starchy pasta water helps the sauce stick to the noodles and slightly thickens the sauce.

Recipe FAQ

Can I use tuna canned in water?

Using tuna in water reduces calories, so you can use that if you like. Both versions are delicious, but oil tuna has more flavor and is less dry.

What kind of pesto should I use?

Either store-bought (classic basil pesto) or homemade pesto of any kind.

How to store?

Refrigerate in an airtight container for 3-4 days. You can reheat the dish in the microwave or on the stovetop. Add a little milk when reheating to loosen the sauce a bit.  

close up green tuna pasta sprinkled with parmesan and topped with basil leaves

More quick pasta dishes

Do you like this recipe?

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close up green tuna pasta sprinkled with parmesan and topped with basil leaves

Tuna Pesto Pasta

Creamy tuna pesto pasta made with cupboard ingredients, ready in less than 15 minutes. And so delicious!
5 from 1 vote
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Course: Pasta and Rice
Cuisine: American, Italian
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 15 minutes
Servings: 4
Calories: 621kcal
Author: Adina


  • 400 g pasta 14 oz, Note 1
  • 6 tablespoons basil pesto Note 2
  • 5 tablespoons cream cheese
  • 2 cans tuna in oil 195 g/ 7 oz each (Note 3)
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice more to taste
  • fine sea salt and black pepper
  • 2-3 tablespoons Parmesan


  • Cook the pasta according to the packet's instructions. Drain the pasta reserving about 250 ml/ 1 cup of the cooking water.
  • Sauce: In the meantime, place the pesto, cream cheese, and drained tuna in a small saucepan. Add about 125 ml/ ½ cup of the water to the sauce and heat gently while stirring all the time.
  • Mix the sauce and the cooked pasta. Add a little more pasta water if necessary, the sauce should coat the pasta.
  • Adjust the taste with lemon juice, salt, and pepper.
  • Serve sprinkled with Parmesan.


  1. I used some kind of longer macaroni, but spaghetti, fusilli, or any other pasta you like is fine.
  2. Homemade or bought. I often use homemade basil or wild garlic pesto.
  3. Tuna in brine can be used instead, but oil tuna has more flavor.


Serving: 1g | Calories: 621kcal | Carbohydrates: 78g | Protein: 30g | Fat: 20g | Saturated Fat: 6g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 12g | Cholesterol: 45mg | Sodium: 401mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 4g
Tried this Recipe? Pin it for Later!Mention @adinabeck or tag #WhereIsMySpoon!

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Recipe Rating


Sunday 23rd of August 2020

Love pasta salads and tuna salads so this combination is perfect. Great salad!