This easy tuna pasta recipe is a Spanish classic. It uses ingredients most people have on hand and is ready in only 30 minutes. It’s perfect for anyone who wants a homemade healthy pasta dinner without any fuss!
When I first moved to Spain I kept seeing pasta con atún on lunch menus. I had never tried tuna pasta before (I don’t think I knew it existed!) and thought it was an interesting combination.
I soon learned that tuna pasta is the go-to recipe of choice for college students throughout Spain.
It’s something almost any young person can make — you boil pasta, open a can of tuna, and throw in some bottled tomato sauce (tomate frito). If you’re adventurous, you might fry some onion or garlic too.
My tuna pasta recipe is a bit more complex in flavor, although it’s still one of the easiest go-to dinner meals I make!
I use fusilli pasta (one of my favorite shapes) and my one-year-old twins love it too. Even the leftovers are delicious (when there are any!).
Key Ingredients: Pasta, garlic, onion, canned tuna, crushed tomato, olive oil, grated cheese, anchovy, olive, salt and pepper.
Ingredient Notes & Substitutions
- Canned Tuna: Get the best quality you can and choose either packed in water or packed in olive oil. If using tuna packed in olive oil you might need to drain a little off before adding.
- Anchovy: This is optional, but adding an anchovy or two to the sauce will enhance the flavor and saltiness (so add less salt). It completely disintegrates and no one would ever guess it was there!
- Olives: I used large green olives but you can use your favorites. These can also be omitted or substituted with capers.
- Tomato: I use crushed tomato but many people will use tomato sauce or tomate frito as well. If using a tomato sauce you may not need to add additional garlic and onion.
- Pasta: You can use the pasta of your choice — make sure to cook it al dente. I like fusilli because it grabs a lot of sauce, but here in Spain you often see tuna pasta with macaroni and spaghetti too.
While this is a tuna pasta recipe (and tuna is the star of the show!) this could easily be adapted to be vegetarian friendly. If serving a mixed group, you could always leave good, high-quality tuna on the side to optionally add on top.
If I were making this without the tuna, I’d add more ingredients. Ideas include:
- Sun dried tomatoes
- Feta cheese
Tuna Pasta: Step by Step
Step 1: Start by cooking the pasta of your choice according to the package instructions for al dente pasta. Make sure to cook it in well-salted water for the best flavor.
Steps 2-4: While the pasta is cooking, sauté diced onion in a heavy skillet for about five minutes. Add minced garlic and sauté for one more minute. Then add the tomato, tuna, and anchovy.
Step 5: Mix the tuna and tomato into the sauteed onion and garlic and then add the diced olive. Taste for salt and adjust with salt and pepper to your preference.
Step 6: When your pasta is finished, drain and add to the pan. Gently stir to coat all of the pasta with sauce, but be careful not to break it.
Steps 7-8: Top with grated cheese and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Enjoy immediately.
Recipe Tips & FAQs
- Make sure to cook the pasta al dente (slightly hard to the bite) because it will continue to cook once added to the pan. If you overcook the pasta it will break when stirred and become a mushy mess.
- I always like to add a drizzle of great quality extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt at the very end. Chili flakes (while not traditional) are also lovely.
Yes! Especially if the pasta was cooked al dente. I would reheat for 30 seconds in the microwave, or sauté in a bit of olive oil in a very hot skillet.
Tuna is great with lots of different spices. If you’d like to experiment, try cayenne pepper, cumin, garlic powder, paprika, or herbs like oregano, thyme, basil and parsley.
This Spanish pasta dish is wonderful served with a salad on the side. I would go for a simple ensalada mixta or you could try something like my Spanish winter salad.
More Simple Pasta Recipes
If you love the idea of this easy tuna pasta recipe, don’t miss these other easy pasta dishes.
- Cacio e Pepe Pasta Recipe: One of Rome’s famous pasta dishes, there are only a handful of ingredients!
- Roman Pasta alla Gricia Recipe: Another Roman classic, this time with pork guanciale to add lots of flavor.
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- 12 oz pasta (approx. 360g or 3oz/80g per person)
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- ½ medium onion diced
- 3 garlic cloves minced
- 10 oz tuna, drained (approx. 250g) either water or oil-packed
- 14 oz crushed tomato (approx. 400g or 1.5 cups)
- 10 large olives diced (optional)
- 1-2 salt-cured anchovies optional
- ½ cup grated Manchego cheese (approx. 45g)
- salt and pepper to taste
- Cook the pasta al dente, according to package instructions.
- While the pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil in a heavy pan and add the diced onion. Sauté for about five minutes until translucent.
- Add the minced garlic and sauté for one more minute until just starting to brown.
- Add the crushed tomato, drained tuna, and anchovies (if using). Stir and cook over medium-high heat for five minutes.
- Add the diced olives (and any other embellishments) if using. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste.
- Drain the pasta once al dente and add to the pan. Stir gently to fully coat the pasta in the sauce.
- Top with grated Manchego cheese and serve immediately.
- Cook the pasta al dente because it will continue to cook once added to the pan. If you overcook the pasta it will break when stirred and become a mushy mess.
- Add a drizzle of great quality extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt at the very end. Chili flakes (while not traditional) are also lovely.
- Can you reheat tuna pasta? Yes! Especially if the pasta was cooked al dente. I would reheat for 30 seconds in the microwave, or sauté in a bit of olive oil in a very hot skillet.
- The anchovy and olives can be omitted or substituted if necessary. Other additions can be capers, sun dried tomatoes, and feta cheese.
What do you think? Easy, huh? I hope this delicious tuna pasta will feed your family sometime soon!
This is a delicious and easy dinner for a very cold Canadian winter night. I will definitely make it again.
It’s also nice with about 7oz of cream cheese stirred in at the end with some of the pasta water to loosen it. It can be made with a salmon fillet too. Then we add some frozen asparagus because we have a lot in the garden, or some mushrooms. I agree pasta twirls are a big hit with us.