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The most amazing canned tuna pasta

Tuna pasta is such a great dinner to make when you don’t have much in the cupboard. For canned tuna recipe cynics out there – it’s time to take a leap of faith! This is seriously tasty, very economical and super fast – it comes together in 15 minutes flat, from start to finish.

Canned tuna pasta in a bowl read to be eaten

Yes – canned tuna CAN be delicious!

I feel like the words “tasty meal” and “canned tuna” aren’t usually in the same sentence. Bad memories of poor cash strapped university days and crash diets, hastily thrown together tuna and rice, bland tuna salads, mayo-laden tuna sandwiches.

But you can make canned tuna delicious!!! Just a little bit of thought, a bit of imagination, a smidge of effort and a lot of anticipation for a hot, tasty meal as your reward.

Today’s reward in question? Tuna pasta. A spritz of lemon, a sprinkle of capers, and using the oil from the tuna can. You never knew a canned tuna pasta could be so delicious!!!

Canned tuna pasta in a pan ready to be served
Fork picking up Canned tuna pasta

Ingredients in canned tuna pasta

No capers? Chop pickles instead. No lemon? Add a dash of vinegar. No anchovies? Still worth making! We get a really good (free) flavour boost by using the oil from the cans of tuna. Anchovies just makes it that little bit more special!

Ingredients in Canned tuna pasta
  • Canned tuna – Tuna in oil is the go here! We use the oil from the can of tuna for the sauce to sauté the garlic until golden. No tuna in oil? It’s ok! Just use olive oil instead and tip the liquid from the can of tuna into the sauce.

    TIP – Not all canned tuna is created equal. Premium canned tuna in a good fruity olive oil will set you back more than a generic home brand in tasteless canola oil. But also, premium canned tuna piled on crusty bread with a drizzle of the oil from the can is pure joy. I hope you try it one day. 🙂

  • Anchovies – Anchovies make everything taste better! Finely minced then sautéed in oil so they dissolve and lose the fishiness, just leaving great savouriness into the dish. I always have a jar in the fridge. Always! Anchovy paste – use 1 teaspoon.

  • Capers – For a pop of fresh tang! I like to use baby capers. If you only have large ones, give them a rough chop. No capers? Chop pickles instead!

  • Lemon – Juice for sour and zest for lemon flavour. It really does lift the dish so I hope you have it! Lemon is a staple ingredient I always have on hand. But if you don’t, this dish is still worth making. Add a dash of vinegar instead.

  • Chilli flakes / red pepper flakes – For a hum of warmth. This isn’t a spicy pasta. Substitute with finely chopped fresh chilli or a smidge of chilli paste or sauce (add this at the end). Or leave it out for no spiciness at all.

  • Parsley – For freshness. Not critical.

Pictured below is the tuna I’ve used, a mid-range one sold at supermarkets in Australia. I use 3 x 95g/3.5oz small cans which I feel is the right amount of protein for a pasta which serves 2 people. However, the recipe can take more or less tuna so don’t get too hung up on exact tuna quantity!

How to make canned tuna pasta

Get the pasta cooking then start preparing the ingredients for the sauce. That’s how you’ll get this on the table in 15 minutes flat, from start to finish!

How to make Canned tuna pasta
  1. Cook the pasta in salted water per packet directions minus 1 minute. The pasta will be slightly under al dente (ie underdone) but that’s ok. The pasta will finish cooking with the sauce, during which time it will absorb the tasty flavours of the sauce!

  2. Reserve pasta cooking water – Just before draining, scoop out 1 cup of cooking water then drain the pasta. Why? Because we will be using this to make the sauce for the pasta. The starch in the pasta cooking water will react with the oil in the sauce to make it thicken so it clings to the pasta strands instead of remaining as a watery sauce at the bottom of the pan.

  3. Tuna oil – Pour the oil from the tuna can(s) into the same pot and heat over medium heat.

  4. Sauté garlic, anchovies and chilli flakes for 1 minute.

How to make Canned tuna pasta
  1. Pasta and water – Add the pasta, capers and 1/3 cup of reserved pasta water. Toss using 2 spatulas for 2 minutes. During this step, the oil and the starchy pasta cooking water will thicken into a sauce that clings to the sauce. Also during this step the pasta will finish cooking from just under al dente to al dente. If the pasta is still too firm for your taste, add more of the pasta cooking water and keep cooking the pasta.

  2. Add tuna – Turn off the heat. Add tuna, parsley, lemon zest, juice, salt and pepper. Toss gently so the tuna stays in chunks and doesn’t crumble into tiny little bits.

    Then serve immediately!

Fork twirling Canned tuna pasta

As with all pastas, this is at its prime freshly made, right off the stove, when the pasta is hot and slippery with sauce! If it’s sitting around for a while and the pasta cools down and dries out, it can be easily rejuvenated with a splash of the reserved pasta cooking water and a toss on the stove for 30 seconds or so, to reheat the pasta and make it slick with sauce again.

To make it a complete meal, don’t hesitate to throw in a couple of handfuls of rocket/arugula or bay spinach at the end. Else, serve it with a simple garden salad or whatever leafy greens / steam vegetables you’ve got tossed with an everyday salad dressing.

Enjoy! – Nagi x

Watch how to make it

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Canned tuna pasta in a bowl ready to be eaten

The most amazing canned tuna pasta!


Tap or hover to scale

Recipe video above. One of the pantry-pasta greats. I love this recipe because it really showcases what great food you can make using canned tuna! Fabulous flavour beyond just canned tuna thanks to the anchovies, the freshness of lemon and tangy capers. The oil from the can of tuna is used as the sauce so don’t be tempted to use tuna in brine!


  • Cook pasta – Bring 3 litres / 3 quarts of water to the boil with the salt. Cook pasta per the packet time minus 1 minute. Just before draining, scoop out ~1 cup pasta cooking water, then drain the pasta.

  • Sauté aromatics – In the same pot, heat the reserved oil from the tuna cans over medium heat. Add the garlic, anchovies and chilli flakes. Cook and stir for 1 minute.

  • Toss pasta – Add the pasta, capers and 1/3 cup of reserved pasta water. Toss using 2 spatulas for 2 minutes.

  • Add tuna – Turn off the heat. Add tuna, parsley, lemon zest, juice, salt and pepper. Toss gently to mix through – try to keep some tuna chunks.

  • Serve immediately!

Recipe Notes:

1. Tuna – Don’t get too hung up on tuna quantity here, the recipe can take a little more or a little less. I use 3 x 95g/3.5 oz cans, the small “lunch size” cans. You just want enough tuna to serve 2 people.
2. Anchovies add great flavour here. Substitute with 1 tsp anchovy paste. If you don’t have either, it’s still worth making if you’re using tuna in oil as the oil has good flavour too!
3. Chilli flakes add just a background hum of warmth in this recipe. Feel free to dial it up or down.

Nutrition Information:

Calories: 637cal (32%)Carbohydrates: 77g (26%)Protein: 41g (82%)Fat: 17g (26%)Saturated Fat: 3g (19%)Polyunsaturated Fat: 2gMonounsaturated Fat: 11gTrans Fat: 0.01gCholesterol: 53mg (18%)Sodium: 4157mg (181%)Potassium: 531mg (15%)Fiber: 4g (17%)Sugar: 3g (3%)Vitamin A: 257IU (5%)Vitamin C: 9mg (11%)Calcium: 66mg (7%)Iron: 4mg (22%)

Life of Dozer

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