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Make this easy tuna pasta recipe for dinner tonight! It’s an easy pantry dish you can whip up without having to go to the store. With tasty canned tuna, sun-dried tomatoes, linguine (or spaghetti), and a spicy garlic and olive oil sauce, it’s easy and incredibly delicious. An Italian-style “aglio e olio” pasta, it’s ready in 25 minutes or less.
You know when you walk in the door after a long day — so tired and also very, very hungry?Maybe you just order takeout and move on, because chances are the only things in the fridge are shriveled limes and moldy cheese.
That’s when this easy tuna pasta dish will feel like a lifesaver!
I grew up in an Italian-American family, and my mother made a version of tuna pasta for us almost weekly when I was growing up. I’ve always loved it.
My mom kept it much simpler by using solid white canned albacore tuna, which tastes so good paired with olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes, along with linguine or spaghetti and chopped parsley sprinkled on top.
That dish always had lots of olive oil and slivers of toasted garlic in it — it tasted so savory and delicious! It’s been one of my favorite easy pasta recipes for my whole life, right next to her classic Italian meatballs!
About the ingredients
- Canned tuna: If you have a choice, try canned tuna packed in olive oil in glass jars. The difference between canned tuna and tuna preserved in glass jars is that the latter retains a firm, flaky texture. You’ll notice it’s also less dry, and flakes into nice large pieces. Some brands of canned tuna can be mushy depending on how it’s processed. If you opt to use canned tuna or tuna packaged in pouches, look for yellowfin tuna packed in olive oil. This type of tuna will give you the best flavor and quality.
- Dried pasta: Long pasta shapes, like linguine or spaghetti, are perfect types of pasta to use in this recipe. Farfalle (butterfly pasta) or penne will work too
- Olive oil: Use your best everyday extra-virgin olive oil — it’s a major part of the sauce, so you want it to taste great all on its own.
- Garlic: Fresh cloves are best (not pre-sliced or jarred).
- Spices: Crushed red chili adds a subtle heat to balance the other savory flavors.
- Fresh herbs: A simple garnish of chopped parsley adds color and flavor to this pasta. You could also use a handful or fresh basil or a teaspoon dried oregano.
- Optional: Add about a cup of sweet peas, white beans or baby spinach to make this a heartier pasta dish.
Best tuna to pair with pasta
Jarred tuna is definitely a bit pricier by a few dollars, but I think the extra bucks are totally worth it. After all, we’re making dinner here!
In southern Italy, tuna preserved in oil, tonno sott’olio, is a prized food to make and keep.
My favorite brands to have on hand are Italian and Spanish jarred tunas, available at many grocery stores and online.
One 8-ounce jar and a pound of pasta feeds a small family very nicely. For bigger gatherings, this recipe can be doubled.
More Italian-style seafood recipes:
Tuna Pasta with Olive Oil and Garlic
- 1-2 cans or 6-ounce jars oil-preserved tuna, depending on appetite
- Sea salt
- ⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 or 2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
- ½-1 teaspoon crushed red pepper or Aleppo pepper
- ½ cup dry-packed sundried tomatoes, cut into slivers (soak in hot water for 10 minutes if they're very dry)
- 1 pound linguine or spaghetti
- 2 tablespoons butter
- Handful chopped Italian parsley
- Lift the tuna from the jar with a fork, leaving the oil in the jar. Put the tuna into a small bowl and break into smaller pieces with the fork — don't shred too much as large chunks have a nice texture.
- Set a large pot of water on the stove to boil, adding 1 tablespoon of salt per quart of water.
- Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium low heat for a minute. Toss in the garlic, chili and tomatoes and cook just until the garlic starts to sizzle. Remove from the heat and stir in the tuna and ¼ teaspoon salt.
- Cook the pasta until al dente. Reserve ¼ – ½ cup of pasta water before draining. Immediately add the pasta to the skillet along with the butter. Use tongs or two large forks to toss the pasta with the sauce, adding a bit of water to loosen the sauce (you might not need all the water).
- Sprinkle the herbs over the pasta, then taste and add more salt or chili if you like. Serve hot.
Karen’s Notes and Tips
- Use two cans of tuna for a heartier meal (about 4 servings)
- For more briny flavor toss the pasta with 1-2 tablespoons capers, chopped olives or sliced canned artichoke hearts if you like.
- Add about a cup of sweet peas, white beans or baby spinach to make this a heartier pasta dish.
- The pasta will keep up to 3 days, refrigerated. It the pasta has absorbed the sauce, reheat with a little bit more olive oil along with 1-2 tablespoons water or broth.