Tuna Pesto Pasta with Arugula Spinach Pesto

This Tuna Pesto Pasta recipe makes a quick and simple pesto pasta with canned tuna and arugula spinach pesto. From start to finish, it takes about 30 minutes. Or use store-bought pesto or make the pesto in advance, and it takes only the time for the pasta to cook.

Read on to learn all the issues making pesto with pine nuts and recipe tips and tricks. Or just grab your can of tuna, hit that Jump to Recipe button, and let’s make tuna pesto pasta!

bowls of cavatappi with tuna pesto pasta, arugula spinach pesto, and parmesan with a navy blue napkin.
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Why you’ll love this recipe

  • Quick and easy
  • Convenience of canned tuna
  • Year-round ingredients
  • Hidden vegetables for picky eaters


arugula, spinach, garlic, lemon, walnuts, olive oil, and salt on black cutting board.

Pesto comes from the Italian “pestare,” meaning “to pound” or “to grind.” This refers to the traditional method of making pesto using a mortar and pestle.


This arugula spinach pesto recipe is made the same way as basil pesto with greens, nuts, garlic, Parmesan, olive oil, and salt. It makes the following additions and substitutions:

  • Arugula and spinach, so you can make winter pesto for this pesto pasta any time of year.
  • Walnuts instead of pine nuts to better match the astringency in the arugula and spinach. But also the increasing demand for pine nuts has resulted in deforestation of the pine trees that pine “nuts” come from and loss of important ecosystem.
  • Lemon zest and juice to brighten up the flavor.

Canned tuna packed in oil is generally moister, more tender, and more flavorful than tuna packed in water. Use tuna packed in oil in a salad or flavorful tuna dip. Use less-expensive tuna packed in water when using mayonnaise or in cheesy casseroles.

For the pasta, use linguine if you want to stay true to the Diane Seed recipe. However, the canned tuna works best with short chunky pasta shapes. Try a shape that also holds the pesto, like fusilli or cavatappi. Or this might be the perfect recipe for cascatelli.

bowl of cascatelli with green pesto and canned tuna.

The general rule is that your pasta should match your sauce. Use long thin noodles like angel hair or spaghetti with thinner sauces like tomato sauce or fig bacon jam. Use long, flat noodles like fettucine with a thicker ragù. And use short, chunky shapes with chunky sauces. But as with anything, the most important rule is to ignore the rule if you prefer something else!

Variations and substitutions

  • Use seared tuna in place of canned.
  • Replace the tuna with cooked chicken for a chicken pesto pasta.
  • Use only arugula, as in the original Diane Seed recipe. An arugula pesto has more peppery flavor. Or use only spinach or kale if you want less of that flavor.
  • Substitute pine nuts or pistachios for the toasted walnuts.
  • Use any store-bought pesto for an even quicker pesto pasta.
  • Make it creamier by adding heavy cream to the pesto and warming it slightly before serving.

Recipe tips and tricks

Arugula spinach pesto

For the quickest start to finish, the first thing to do is turn on your oven to toast your walnuts. Toasting nuts, whether for pesto or for baking, like in this coffee and walnut loaf cake, gives you a deeper nutty flavor.

For a quick weeknight meal, use your food processor. And you can use your food processor to blitz your walnuts, Parmesan, and garlic so you don’t have to chop them!

a close up of a food processor with chopped walnuts, garlic, and Parmesan.

Then add the arugula and spinach, olive oil, lemon juice and zest, and a bit of salt. Taste and add more olive oil or salt to get to your desired taste and consistency.

The nice thing about this arugula spinach pesto is that it doesn’t oxidize and go brown as quickly as does basil pesto. However, it’s still a good idea to cover it with plastic wrap if you are not going to use it immediately.

bowl of bright green arugula spinach pesto.

Putting it all together

Set a large pot of water to boil over high heat. Don’t salt your pasta water until it’s at a full boil, or the salt may pit your pot. When it returns to a boil, add your pasta and cook until al dente.

Meanwhile, drain the oil from your can of tuna. When the pasta is al dente, reserve a cup of pasta water, then drain the pasta, and return it to the pasta pot. Add the arugula spinach pesto to the warm pasta, and use a splash of pasta water to thin the pesto if it is not sticking to your noodles.

You can serve this tuna spinach pasta warm or at room temperature, but be sure to add the pesto to the pasta when it’s still warm. That way the pasta absorbs the pesto and will taste that much better!

What to serve with this tuna pasta

a bowl of tuna pesto pasta and hand holding a fork with a piece of cavatappi.

Recipe FAQs

Where can I find the original recipe?

This recipe for tuna pesto pasta was inspired by the linguine with tuna, lemon, and rocket (Linguine al Tonno, Limone, e Rughetta) I first made in a one-on-one cooking class with Diane Seed in Rome a decade ago. You can find the recipe in her book, Top 100 Pasta Sauces.

Isn’t it a no-no to put Parmesan on seafood pasta?

Well, yes. Traditionally, Italians do not use Parmesan or other cheese with seafood pasta. You can skip the Parmesan if you want to be rigid about your eating. But I think of this more as a pesto pasta with tuna than a seafood pasta, and you’d better be sure I’m adding Parmesan to my pesto pasta!

Can I freeze pesto?

If you have leftover pesto after making this tuna pasta recipe, freeze it in plastic containers. Or freeze it in ice cube trays to add small amounts to eggs or other dishes. I use pesto as a creamy pesto dressing for salad or sandwich spread, as a base layer on top of pizza dough, or even in a babka.

What else can I make with arugula or spinach?

If you have extra greens after making the pesto, use them in an arugula and pear salad. You can also add greens to bulk up soups like this garbanzo bean soup, egg dishes like shakshuka, or even savory muffins like these spinach feta muffins.

Love this recipe? Please leave a 5-heart 💜💜💜💜💜 rating in the recipe card below. Let me know how much you loved it, or any problems you had, in the comments section further down.


Tuna Pesto Pasta with Arugula Spinach Pesto and Canned Tuna

5 from 2 votes
Category: Pasta
Cuisine: Italian
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Toasting and cooling walnuts: 10 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes
Servings: 4
Calories: 822kcal
This tuna pesto pasta recipe with arugula spinach pesto is a quick and simple weeknight pesto pasta that uses canned tuna and a homemade arugula and spinach pesto.
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  • Food processor


Arugula spinach pesto

  • ½ cup walnuts, toasted
  • 1 to 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 ounce Parmesan plus more for serving
  • 10 ounces baby arugula and spinach leaves
  • ¼ cup olive oil plus more as needed
  • lemon zest from one small lemon
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons lemon juice plus more to taste1
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Tuna pesto pasta

  • 1 pound short, thick pasta like cavatappi, fusilli, or penne
  • 2 cans (10 ounces) tuna packed in oil


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

Arugula spinach pesto

  • Add the toasted walnuts, garlic, and Parmesan to the food processor and blitz until fine.
    ½ cup walnuts, toasted, 1 to 2 cloves garlic, 1 ounce Parmesan
  • Add the arugula and spinach, olive oil, lemon zest and juice, and salt and blitz, 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 consistency.
    10 ounces baby arugula and spinach leaves, lemon zest from one small lemon, 1 to 2 tablespoons lemon juice, ¼ cup olive oil, 1 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).
    1 pound short, thick pasta like cavatappi, fusilli, or penne
  • Turn off the burner, reserve a cup of pasta water, drain the pasta, and return it to the pasta pot. Add pesto and stir, adding more to your taste. Use a splash of pasta water to create a thin sauce if the pesto is not sticking to your pasta.
  • Drain and discard the oil from the can of tuna and break it into large or small flakes or chunks, depending on your preference. Mix the tuna gently into the pasta.
  • Serve warm with additional Parmesan, or let cool to room temperature.
    2 cans (10 ounces) tuna packed in oil


I estimate about 4 ounces of pasta per person, although 2 ounces is the official serving size.
This arugula spinach pesto won’t oxidize and go brown as quickly as does basil pesto. However, it’s still a good idea to cover it with plastic wrap if you are not going to use it immediately to make this tuna pesto pasta recipe.


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
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