Tuna Pesto Pasta 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 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.

Tips and tricks for making pesto

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. If you have the time, try making this arugula spinach pesto recipe the traditional way. Or use a food processor for a quick weeknight meal.

a bowl of tuna pesto pasta.

Pine nuts are traditional in pesto, like in this kale pesto. But this arugula spinach pesto has walnuts for two reasons. Walnuts better match the astringency in the greens. The original recipe includes only arugula, which would give the pesto a more peppery flavor. Or use only spinach if you want less of that flavor.

This pesto uses walnuts also because 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. Pistachios can also be used as a substitute.

If you have extra pesto after making this tuna pesto pasta recipe, you can freeze pesto in tupperware type containers. Or freeze it in ice cube trays to add small amounts to eggs or other dishes. I use pesto as a sandwich spread, as a base for pizza, or even in a babka.

a small bowl of arugula spinach pesto.

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.

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 cascatelli.

Variations on this tuna pesto pasta

  • Replace the tuna with cooked chicken for a chicken pesto pasta.
  • Make a creamy pesto pasta with a bit of pasta water and heavy cream.

Related recipes

Check out other pasta recipes from uglyducklingbakery like this orzo pesto pasta made with pesto alla Genovese, my fig bacon jam pasta, cavatappi alfredo and peas, or a classic plate of spaghetti and meatballs.

Looking for a recipe for fresh tuna? Check out my rainbow poke bowl with seared tuna.

Tuna Pesto Pasta

5 from 1 vote
Category: Pasta
Cuisine: Italian
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Toasting and cooling walnuts: 10 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes
Servings: 2
Calories: 822kcal
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.
Print Recipe

Equipment

  • Food processor

Ingredients

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

Instructions

  • 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.
    ¼ cup walnuts, toasted, 1 clove garlic, ½ 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 consistency.
    5 ounce (1 small box) arugula and spinach leaves, 1 teaspoon lemon zest, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 2 tablespoons olive oil, ½ 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

Notes

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

Nutrition

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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a plate of tuna pesto pasta made with fusilli.

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