Pasta with Tuna and Capers in White Wine Sauce

Here’s a little secret: olive oil-packed canned tuna, chili pepper flakes, and pasta is a master combination (and classic Italian). One of my favorite dishes on this site is the tuna, arugula, chili pepper, pasta recipe. So when I stumbled on another variation with similar core ingredients in Giulia Melucci’s I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti I had to try it. Score! If you like canned tuna and pasta, you must try this. I made one batch (serves two), ate half of it for lunch and the rest for dinner. Because I know someone is going to ask, if you don’t cook with wine, try substituting 1 teaspoon of lemon juice or white wine vinegar and 1/4 cup of water for the white wine the recipe calls for. Regarding tuna packed in water, I’ve tried it and believe me, it doesn’t work (dry, tastes bad). You need to use tuna packed in olive oil.

Pasta with Tuna and Capers in White Wine Sauce Recipe

  • Yield: Serves 2.

You can easily dress up this recipe with a few more ingredients - chopped garlic added at the end of the onion cooking, chopped tomatoes and/or olives in with the tuna, lemon zest to serve, etc.

Ingredients

  • Salt
  • 4 ounces bow tie (farfalle), linguini, or spaghetti pasta
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil (plus more)
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • Pinch chili pepper flakes
  • 1 (6-ounce) can tuna packed in olive oil, drained
  • 1 Tbsp capers
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 2 Tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Method

1 Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add salt (1 teaspoon for every quart of water), return to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions until cooked through, but still firm (al dente).

2 While the water is coming to a boil and the pasta is cooking, prepare the rest of the recipe. In a large, wide sauté pan, heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil on medium heat. Add the chopped onion and chili pepper flakes and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes or so. Mix in the canned tuna, the capers, and the salt. Add the wine, bring to a simmer then lower the heat to low. Cook for 10 minutes or longer, while the pasta is cooking. If the mixture begins to dry out, add a little more wine.

3 When the pasta is ready, drain it and add it in to the pan with the tuna. Toss to mix. Drizzle on a bit more olive oil over it all, then add the chopped parsley and a few grinds of black pepper to taste.

Adapted from a recipe in Giulia Melucci's I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti

tuna-pasta-capers-2.jpg

44 Comments

  1. scott

    I used to make something very similar with sauteed onions/garlic and tomatoes, but have not seen oil packed tuna in the stores recently. Thanks for reminding me that I need to search out some good tuna.

  2. Karen

    This looks easy and delish! Canned tuna packed in olive oil is so much more tasty than tuna packed in plain vegetable oil or water. I always purchase Tonno/Genova, Chicken of the Sea’s higher end brand. It is available at Trader Joe’s and some bigger chain grocery stores. You really have to have “eagle eyes” to find it amidst all the cans of tuna, though!
    TIP: If your grocery chain doesn’t carry Tonno Solid Light Tuna in Olive Oil but has Chicken of the Sea tuna, ask them to order it because their distributor can definitely get it.

  3. caitlyn

    Looks great!
    Elise, I’ve tried your other tuna recipe before but could not locate tuna packed in olive oil (at a Bel-Air in Sac). Did I just miss it among all of the regular tuna, or do you think it’s in a specialty aisle?

    Don’t know about Bel Air, but Corti Bros carries an excellent brand, and Trader Joe’s carries tuna packed in oil as well. ~Elise

  4. Donna

    You can use tuna packed in water. Just pour the water out and substitute 2 tablespoons of olive oil. You know it’ll be fresh and olive-oil tasty.

    I’ve tried it. Doesn’t work very well. But if you must, you’ll need more than 2 tbsp, and you’ll need to let it soak for a good while. ~Elise

  5. Kieran

    My favourite weeknight pasta dish is chopped parsley, olive oil (I drain the oil off the tuna and add a stronger flavoured oil), 90g can of tuna in olive oil (this is for one), salt pepper and sometimes garlic – mix it all up while your pasta is cooking, toss it through and voila a very tasty healthy weeknight meal.

  6. Jennifer (Savor)

    Elise–As soon as I saw the photo, I craved this cold. Did you try the leftovers cold or hot? Did you need to add some liquid/olive oil the next day?

    Hi Jennifer, you know, I don’t remember! I’m thinking I probably had them cold, because I only meant to take a little bite, and then one thing led to another and I ate the whole darn thing. Didn’t add anything to them. ~Elise

  7. James

    Ok, so I don’t use tuna packed in water for this. (You drummed into my head pretty good.) But could I use tuna packed in regular vegetable oil, drain the oil, and add olive oil for the flavor? Or would it require the same soaking that water packed tuna would require?

    You could use tuna packed in vegetable oil. ~Elise

  8. Conley

    I made this last night and loved it.
    Quick and delicious – my favorite combo. I had to use tuna packed in soybean oil because that’s all I could get at the local store but I’m not sure how much difference I’d taste if was packed in olive oil. Will definitely make this again.

  9. Jessica Lee Binder

    What kind of pasta is pictured? It looks a little like farfalle but curlier?

    Similar to farfalle, it’s a pasta we picked up at Corti Bros in Sacramento, a specialty store with a lot of Italian products. Have already thrown away the package, and don’t remember the name, sorry! ~Elise

  10. CJ McD

    Oh my. That’s one of my favorite flavor compositions, but usually prepare with chicken. The tuna is perfect and pantry ready for a delicious dish.
    This recipe is one my “must make” list.
    Thanks Elise!

  11. Annie

    This reminds my of my favorite go-to pantry meal of pasta, olive oil, garlic, crushed red pepper, anchovies and spinach. (I know, I’ll throw spinach in almost anything.) Never looked for olive oil packed tuna but I know my local supermarket carries COS. Will use the great tip from Karen and request it if they don’t have it.

  12. Tao

    Delish! and very easy and economical.
    I put sun dried tomatoes and it was sooo yumm!

    Love the idea of adding sun-dried tomatoes. ~Elise

  13. Charlene

    I made this tonight to compare to this other one I’ve made several times.
    http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Tuna-Lemon-and-Caper-Sauce-15310
    Sorry, Elise, I like the lemon version better and I thought you might want to check it out. The lemon and the gentler heating of the tuna sauce takes it to another level, to use a worn-out phrase. Gotta’ tell you though, I’ve made the Mexican Green Beans twice now and will be repeating it a lot. It’s even better the next day. Thanks for all the great recipes, Elise!

  14. m4layne

    I made this tonight. My husband and I really enjoyed this recipe. It will definitely be in our dinner rotation.

  15. Jeff

    Finally! — I’ve been evangelizing tuna pasta for years!! Another great way to blend the two is with red sauce. I saute capers, tuna, red pepper flakes and some find herbs, then add some marinara. I make this dish about twice a week. I am so happy that tuna pasta is getting some much deserved attention.

    Go Tuna Pasta!
    Jeff

  16. Kimmer

    I did something very similar but used fresh tuna it was wow wow wow. But, I’m curious to try this with tuna ‘n oil from a can. I gotta have the capers and rinsed green olives or maybe a handful of greek olives marinated in olive oil….hmmm, o’ the ideas! Thanks Elise for getting my tastebuds roiling and my mind thinking food, it’s better than thinking about work!

    Kimmer

  17. Ms .45

    I’ve just made this now, slightly differently to yours – I added garlic, which isn’t in the recipe, and I mooshed up the garlic, onion, parsley and a fresh chilli in a blender before frying them in the oil from the canned tuna (I ended up adding olive oil as I was disgusted – DISGUSTED I tell you – to find that there was *water* in my tuna). The wine I used was a New Zealand sauvignon blanc which is probably not intended for cooking, but I both added and drank it and it was very good :)

    The only thing I would add is, don’t bother putting parmesan on this – I did and, whilst it didn’t make it taste bad, the parmesan added nothing to the dish. Just let the wine, tuna and capers do their thing.

    Thanks Elise!

  18. Sam

    This is an awesome recipe! I made a couple modifications that worked well: I added nasturtium leaves and flowers to this tuna a minute or so before I added pasta, and I added Parmesan (because everything is better with cheese).

  19. diogo

    I love you! all your recipes are gastronomic masterpieces! loved this one as well!

  20. RD

    Made this last Friday evening. Tasty, easy, and inexpensive. All we had on hand were cans of albacore packed in water from Costco so I drained two 6 oz. cans and mixed in 3 tbsp of olive oil. I also added about a 1/2 cup of grated Reggiano Parmigiano cheese at the end. Will definitely make this again.

  21. Jen Williams

    I made this last night for dinner and my husband and I loved it! Definitely a keeper. I never go wrong with your recipes.

  22. jujubee

    I made this tonight. This is not our usual type of dish, but I had a hunch we would like it, and we all did (myself, husband, and 13 yr old daughter). I doubled the recipe and we still ate most of it!

  23. Daniel

    Dang, I just bought a can of tuna packed in water because it was 50 cents cheaper than the tuna packed in olive oil at Trader Joe’s. I was going to compare them to see if I could get away with the cheaper one, but your comment of “dry, tastes bad” makes me think I can’t. Guess I will still compare anyway since I have a can of each now. This recipe sounds tasty!

  24. Jen

    Elise, I knew the adults in our family would like this, but I wasn’t sure about the kids. (Tuna? Capers??) Well, tonight we tried it (tripled for a family of 6, with extra capers ’cause I like them and the kids can’t yet identify them), and all asked for seconds (the 2-yr-old asked for thirds!). Tasty and economical…how great!

  25. Stephany

    I made this for my husband and four children. We all loved it so much! The tuna and capers remind us of living over seas in Malta. This is a popular combination there. This is a keeper if all four kids eat it up, and with compliments. It’s a flavor that isn’t tasted too often. It was great!!

    Thank you!

  26. RD

    Update to my review of this recipe on 9/7: Made this again but this time with tuna packed in olive oil as the recipe calls for. We doubled the ingredients again as there are three of us. I used two 5 oz. cans of tuna packed in olive oil from Trader Joe’s. Maybe it is my imagination but this tasted better to me then using the tuna in water and adding my own olive oil to it. Again I also stirred in about 3/4 cup grated good quality Parmesan cheese into the pasta mixture before serving.

  27. Randi Lynne

    This was a very easy, delicious week nite meal. I used a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes and chili powder and 1/4 cup Vermouth. The flavors in this make it the best dish with canned tuna I have ever had!

  28. Janice

    I love this recipe. I am making it for the second time tonight. I added chopped tomatoes and olives plus more parsley than called for–can never get enough parsley.

  29. cate

    Just made this for dinner – delicious! I’m converted to tuna packed in olive oil now. My boyfriend ate the remaining bits of tuna and sauce out of the pan, which I took as a very good sign. Thanks!

  30. Sylvia Wiginton

    I tried this recipe tonight, and it was TASTY. I doubled the recipe. This was so quick and easy to prepare. I found the tuna in olive oil at Trader Joe’s. And I added garlic to the onion sautee since DH and I love garlic. I did use wine (and later had some in a glass, too LOL) and it came out delish! Two thumbs up for this recipe, and for the blog as well. :)

  31. PJ

    This is a great dish. I’ve made something like this using sliced green olives and/or instead of the capers. Also, if you use canned solid white albacore tuna, drain it, gently squeeze in a paper towel to get water out, and marinate for several hours, or preferably overnight, in some really good olive oil. It will be cheaper than buying the imported tuna packed in oil, the oil will be better, and it is a much better substitute than using the drained tuna right out of the can. You can also put in some fresh herbs such as thyme or dried chilis in the marinade.

  32. Jessie

    I have made this several times now and so I should really comment and tell you how much I love this recipe. I used your tweaks (lemon peal, olives, garlic… etc. I even substituted rice wine for the white wine once). The first time we made it with tuna-in-water. A mistake. Even adding extra olive oil didn’t help. Now I only buy the gold cans of tuna. A great weeknight meal. (And leftovers – since I tend to double the recipe) are great for lunch the next day.

  33. Erika

    My BF makes something similar to this. I remember the first time I watched him cook it I was thinking “seriously, he is putting canned tuna in a pasta dish?” but it has become one of my favorite dinners. It is addictive, I swear.

    He sautees garlic and red chili flakes in olive oil until somewhat browned, adds sliced olives (kalamata, green, greek – whatever you want. We use a mix but anything would really work, although I think the more flavorful olives work best) and tuna (with the water or oil) and lets it simmer for a while. Then he adds grape or cherry tomatoes and lets them cook a little bit and finally adds spinach until it wilts. He mixes in cooked spaghetti (or angel hair), garnishes with parmesan and thats it. I usually get a few lunches out of it even after we stuff ourselves because it makes a good amount and keeps/re-heats well.
    I don’t know the proportions but there is a good amount of garlic, maybe one or two cans of tuna, a bag of spinach, a pint of tomatoes and a box of pasta. Pretty economical and absolutely delicious. If you use one of the pastas with extra protein and fiber (Barilla makes one called “plus” and Wegmans in the northeast makes one too now) it is quite healthy too.

  34. Normanno

    I love this recipe so much that I am going to make it for friends next week. I have one question, can I add some tomato sauce? I know you say that tomatoes may be added but what about sauce. I make pipe rigate with tuna, onions, peas, peperoncino and oil all mixed into a tomato sauce.

    Haven’t tried it with tomato sauce, but if you do please let us know how it turns out for you. ~Elise

  35. Amy

    Elise – Thank you so much for this recipe. I have made it about 10 times since I discovered it a few months ago. So addictive and delicious! I like making it with Trader Joe’s Lemon Pepper Pappardelle… Thanks again. Keep up the great work on your site.

  36. David

    I’ve made this dish without capers (didn’t found in local store :( ) and it was also delicious. Next time I need to do this dish with capers.

  37. Sarah - A Beach Home Companion

    HI Elise! I have been making this recipe for the last couple months and it’s my treat for myself when my boyfriend goes out of town (he doesn’t like capers). No matter, more for me. :)

    I only change it in one way: I add a splash of balsamic vinegar and it gives it a nice richness. I think I know what I’m having for dinner tomorrow…

  38. Pahroul Dave

    Awesome, amazing, and a easy dish. Love it, and so does the fiancée. May be next time I can sneak the capers in without him noticing :)

  39. Joyous

    I did not want to go the grocery store, so I was looking for something to concoct from the contents of my pantry. I used green onions and garlic. I did not have tuna in olive oil; just water packed. I drained off the water and tossed it with a little olive oil. I thought it came out pretty good, but I wish I would had a little lemon zest to add.

  40. Beth T

    Made this for supper tonight…spectacular. One change…had only a 3oz can of tuna (I used Cento Tonno), so since I had a jar of anchovies in olive oil, I added 10 or 12 filets. If you’ve cooked with them before, you know they just dissolve as they cook anyway. I will make this again and again.

  41. Janice

    Made this tonight for dinner with the suggestion of sundried tomatoes and it was delicious. Thanks for sharing.

  42. Peter

    I’ve noticed that in your recipes using canned tuna, you specify to drain the oil.

    Why? Is there a reason why the olive oil in which the tuna is packed cannot (or should not) be used?

    • Peter

      To clarify the question: Is there a reason why the olive oil in which the tuna is packed cannot (or should not) be used, e.g., for cooking the onions, etc. in step 2, or drizzling over the mixture in the final step?

      • Elise

        It’s a matter of olive oil quality. You can better control the quality of the olive oil you are using if you use your own.

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