A Tuna Pesto Pasta Recipe with Arugula Spinach Pesto

A Tuna Pesto Pasta Recipe with Arugula Spinach Pesto

This tuna pesto pasta recipe with arugula spinach pesto was inspired by the linguine with tuna, lemon, and rocket (Linguine al Tonno, Limone, e Rughetta) that I first made with Diane Seed in Rome over a decade ago. It’s a quick and simple weeknight pasta that I have been making ever since.

It was only by chance that I ended up in Italy. I was supposed to go to Peru, but landslides closed Machu Picchu. And so a last minute change in plans sent me to Rome and Venice, two cities I didn’t expect to love half as much as I did. Throughout my blog, you’ll see lessons I learned in Rome during three days of one on one cooking in Diane Seed’s kitchen.

I typically use pine nuts in my pesto, like in this kale pesto. But I use walnuts in this arugula spinach pesto for a couple reasons. I think the walnuts better match the astringency in the greens. Also, the increasing demand for pine nuts has resulted in deforestation of the pine trees that these “nuts” come from and loss of important ecosystem. You can read more about that here and here.

FAQs about this tuna pesto pasta recipe

Where can I find the original recipe?

The linguine with tuna, lemon, and rocket that inspired this tuna pesto pasta recipe can be found in The Top One Hundred Pasta Sauces by Diane Seed.

Can I freeze the arugula spinach pesto?

Yes, pesto freezes perfectly in tupperware type containers. Or freeze it in ice cube trays to add small amounts to eggs or other dishes.

What else could I do with this pesto?

In addition to using pesto in egg dishes, I like pesto as a sandwich spread, as a base for pizza, or even in a babka.

I’m allergic to walnuts. Are there other nuts I could use?

Pine nuts are traditional in pesto. Or you could use almonds or pistachios or other nuts.

Could I use only arugula or only spinach in the pesto?

Yes. The original recipe calls for only arugula, so feel free to use that or only spinach. Using all arugula will give the pesto a more peppery flavor.

Is there a reason to use tuna packed in oil?

Tuna packed in oil is generally moister, more tender, and more flavorful than tuna packed in water, but you can certainly sub tuna packed in water if that is what you have.

What are the best pasta shapes to use in this recipe?

Because of the tuna, I like this best with short chunky shapes. And then I want a shape that will catch the pesto, like fusilli or cavatappi. Or this might be the perfect recipe for your cascatelli, if you can get your hands on any.

a small bowl of arugula spinach pesto

Tuna pesto pasta with arugula spinach pesto

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Toasting and cooling walnuts 10 minutes
Total Time 35 minutes
Servings 2
Calories 822kcal
Author uglyducklingbakery


  • Food processor


Arugula spinach pesto

  • ¼ cup walnuts, toasted
  • 1 clove garlic
  • ½ ounce Parmesan
  • 5 ounce (1 small box) arugula and spinach leaves
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil plus more as needed
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Tuna pesto pasta

  • 8 ounce short, thick pasta like fusilli or penne
  • 5 ounce can of tuna packed in oil


  • Heat a pot of water on the stovetop on high while making the pesto.

Arugula spinach pesto

  • Add the toasted walnuts, garlic, and Parmesan to the food processor and blitz until fine.
    1/4 cup walnuts, toasted, 1 clove garlic, 1/2 ounce Parmesan
  • Add the arugula and spinach mixture, lemon zest and juice, olive oil, and salt and process, scraping down as needed until all of the leaves have been chopped into a puree. You may need to add more olive oil to get it to your desired consistentcy.
    5 ounce (1 small box) arugula and spinach leaves, 1 teaspoon lemon zest, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt

Tuna pesto pasta

  • When the water is at a full boil, add salt and then wait for it to return to a boil.
  • Add the pasta and cook per the instructions until al dente (it should be cooked through but still be slightly firm when you take a bite).
    8 ounce short, thick pasta like fusilli or penne
  • Turn off the burner, drain the pasta, and return it to the pasta pot. Add a few dollops of pesto and stir, adding more to your taste.
  • Drain and discard the oil from the can of tuna and mix the tuna gently into the pasta, breaking it up or leaving it as large flakes or chunks, depending on your preference.
  • Serve warm or let cool to room temperature.
    5 ounce can of tuna packed in oil


I estimate about 4 ounces of pasta per person, although 2 ounces is the official serving size.


Calories: 822kcal | Carbohydrates: 91g | Protein: 40g | Fat: 33g | Saturated Fat: 5g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 11g | Monounsaturated Fat: 15g | Cholesterol: 27mg | Sodium: 1002mg | Potassium: 837mg | Fiber: 6g | Sugar: 5g | Vitamin A: 1753IU | Vitamin C: 15mg | Calcium: 243mg | Iron: 4mg

What’s next?

If you make this tuna pesto pasta recipe, please comment here or share a pic with me on Instagram!

Check out other pasta recipes from uglyducklingbakery like this fig bacon jam pasta, cavatappi alfredo and peas, or a classic plate of spaghetti and meatballs.

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a plate of tuna pesto pasta made with fusilli

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