Pasta with Tuna and Tomato Sauce

A simple dish of pasta shells with a buttery tomato sauce, tuna and ricotta, all baked with a cheesy parmesan crust.

Tuna packed in olive oil is highly recommended for this recipe. If all you have is tuna packed in water, you can try draining it and then adding olive oil to the can, and letting it soak in the olive oil in the fridge for several hours, but you will get the best results if you start with tuna packed in oil.

  • Prep time: 5 minutes
  • Cook time: 35 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 6-8.

Ingredients

  • 4 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 28-ounce can of tomatoes, whole or crushed
  • Salt
  • 1 pound pasta shells
  • 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 6-ounce can tuna packed in olive oil
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped or torn
  • A generous 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

Method

1 Melt the butter in a medium pot on medium heat and add the can of tomatoes, including the juice. If you are using whole canned tomatoes (or fresh ones) crush them with your (clean) fingers as you put them in the pot. Simmer gently, partially covered, for 30 minutes.

2 Once the sauce is cooking, heat a large pot of well salted water to a strong boil. Add the shell pasta to the boiling water and cook at a vigorous boil, uncovered, until al dente, cooked through but still a bit firm to the bite, which is usually whatever the time specified on the pasta package minus about 2 minutes. Drain and set aside.

3 Pour off the excess oil from the tuna can and stir the tuna into the tomato sauce. Add the ricotta cheese, and add salt to taste. Turn off the heat. Mix the sauce with the pasta in a large bowl. Mix in the basil.

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4 Pour the pasta into a 2 to 3-quart casserole dish and top with the parmesan cheese. Put under a hot broiler for 4-6 minutes, until the cheese is melted and lightly browned. Serve hot.

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Comments

  1. Darice

    I recently made a similiar dish, but with veggies also in it. Onion, zucchini, red paprika and carrots. Instead of ricotta I used shredded gouda cheese. True comfort food.

  2. Bev @ Bev Cooks

    I absolutely LOVE canned tuna. Jank as that may be. And my tomatoes are bonker wonk in the garden right now, so this is happening. For real.

  3. Foodjunkie

    Do you suppose this would work at all with canned salmon? Just trying to get more oily fish into the diet.

    Maybe. You could try making it with the tuna, but reserving a little sauce and adding salmon to that sauce, just to see what it tastes like. ~Elise

  4. Judith

    I really don’t like tuna, cooked or raw, tinned or grilled. Is there a reasonable substitute?
    Thanks.

    As I mentioned in the introduction, you can make this with some Italian sausage, just cook it before adding it to the sauce. ~Elise

  5. Courtney

    I wonder if this would work with sardines instead of tuna?

    I’m guessing it would. I would remove any bones from the sardines first though, for a more creamy texture. ~Elise

  6. peggy

    my husband is on a low cholesterol diet. I am going to try this although I will go easy on the cheese! It sounds delicious, we are tuna junkies, canned of course!!!!

  7. Alexandra

    Salmon would work well I would think. I have had a couple of pasta dishes where it was salmon, pasta and a rose sauce. Delicious!

  8. Lynda

    This looks great. One idea instead of regular pasta is to use quinoa pasta shells or Dreamland pasta. Both are healthier than regular pasta. The Dreamland pasta doesn’t make the diabetes spike. The quinoa has extra nutrition. Even my husband likes the quinoa pasta.

    I’m trying this with that change.

    Sounds like a great idea, and it makes the dish gluten-free too. ~Elise

  9. Tom Jones

    You say 1 -6 oz can of tuna…. they have reduced that to 5 oz now. Or do you know who puts 6 oz in them

    Thanks

    Hi Tom, use a can anywhere from 5 to 7 ounces in size. ~Elise

  10. April

    Don’t like tuna either, will try ital sausage but how bout the canned chicken from Costco?

  11. Merryl Chantrell

    I was watching Masterchef Australia today and the 2009 inaugural winner said if she did not have canned tomatoes in her pantry she ‘felt uneasy’.
    I have all of the recipe ingredients as staples in my pantry so this recipe will be on the menu during the week :o)

  12. L.D. Meyer

    I add a can of tuna packed in oil to the frozen Mac&Cheese dinners…..Not bad. It beefs up a bland entry with a little fish. Taaasssty!

  13. Amy Lucille

    I have a similar recipe from the Pasta Cookbook. I was also hesitant to the canned tuna with red sauce, but I was pleasantly surprised. It’s really a great combo and really nice if you are on a tight budget. Great post!

  14. Bella

    I was unable to find tuna with olive oil at my local store, so I decided to wing it and spray olive oil into the can. I was so thrilled with this ‘shortcut’ and was to the point of adding it to the tomatoes when I caught the paragraph at the top saying ‘if you add olive oil to the tuna, let the tuna soak for several hours’. Oy! Too late to turn back, and so my tuna only got a good 10 minutes of soaking time.

    As far as I could tell, everything turned out just lovely. I don’t know what I’m missing by not letting the tuna soak for several hours.

    Also, I added pepper to cut the tang of the ricotta, and next time, I’ll add a pinch or two of sugar to cut down on the acidity of the tomatoes. Other than that, a great dish!

  15. Terry Oliver

    This reminds me of one of my backpacking recipes! I often carry a foil package of tuna when I am hiking and mix it into a pasta dinner for a little extra protein. In fact, this recipe might be good to dehydrate a portion for a future hike! Thanks!

  16. Andrea

    This looks fantastic. I am thinking about incorporating some sun-dried tomatoes into this dish too. So many extra possibilities! This looks easy, affordable and an “out of the pantry” type meal — which I love!

    The only special ingredient I will need to buy would be ricotta cheese! What are your thoughts for substituting cottage cheese for the ricotta cheese? I feel like that would be a healthier alternative.

    I will be prepping this soon! *yum*

    Personally I think cottage cheese would work fine, especially if it is small curd. One of our favorite lunches is just cottage cheese with tuna and sliced tomatoes, by the way. ~Elise

  17. Pat Matson

    Back in the Pleistoscene Era when I was a tot, my then very Catholic family always made tuna sauce for Friday’s dinner.

    It had a bit of a different twist, as we sauteed the oil-packed tuna with a touch of garlic and clove (very, very little, or it will overwhelm the flavor). Add the tomato sauce, S & P, heat for half an hour.

    Our friends had difficulty identifying it as tuna, due to the clove in there. Such happy memories!

  18. Sun Jae

    This reminds me of the tuna pasta (minus the ricotta and basil) my Mom used to make when she had nothing left in the fridge ^_^ It was the “end of the world” dinner. She also added anchovies which would melt in the sauce and add the salty taste.

  19. Leona

    I made this for my family and they loved it! My young ones, ages 5, 3 and 1 can be picky and they had never had tuna before but they gobbled it up. I think the tuna taste is subtle so they didn’t even notice it. I used crushed tomatoes and that made it more sauce like. It is a quick and easy dinner to fix on a weeknight and there were plenty of leftovers to pack for lunch the next day.

  20. brenda

    i work a residential care facility and they just put tuna back on the menu and alot of people dont like it, i just make tuna sandwiches but i like the sound of this and i’m gonna try it out on them next week. i love the ricotta cheese but for 25 people and on a budget like the cottage cheese ideal and could actually use half and half would be more cost affective. all in all pretty simple ingediants can’t wait to try it,

  21. Jana

    I made this last night, with one small substitution: I made a bechamel sauce instead of the ricotta cheese since my kids are weird about the texture of ricotta. It was delicious, and very un-tuna-y. The entire family ate it, including Mr. Picky the three-year-old, so that’s a minor miracle.

  22. Mollie

    Could you do it with angel hair pasta or any type of pasta and perhaps bake it longer to keep it all together? Maybe increase the ricotta content for it to stay together better? Thanks! This looks wonderful!!

    It’s kind of hard to go wrong with these ingredients. I recommend experimenting and seeing in what directions you can take it! ~Elise

  23. Anna

    I made this dish as it reads and felt like it needed to be turned up a notch. Second time around, I double the amounts of ricotta, tuna and parmesan. Total yum. The parm is the hail mary pass the takes this dish to the top of my list. I expect to be making this weekly now. Kid and hub love it, it is super cheap, major food groups are representing AND there is enough for leftovers.

    Many thanks!

  24. stace

    This was absolutely wonderful Elise. I love the simplicity of it. 30 minutes in, crushed tomatoes with butter only: absolutely divine. It is as if you weigh every step of a recipe for the value it adds. If it can be more simple and not suffer too much for it, that is the route to go. This was delightful simplicity itself.

  25. Elizabeth

    Canned tuna in water = must include mayo, mustard and relish – absolutely required – don’t do anything else with it. However, canned tuna in oil, specifically Tonino tuna in olive oil (available at World Market, and I would assume elsewhere in the US, but not in any of my local publix…es i.e. Alabama) = eat straight from can. For real. Not a fan of the aforementioned canned tuna in water without the listed prerequisites (sometimes, even with = fishy). After having tuna packed in oil, I will never ever ever etc buy canned tuna any other way. Any tuna recipe I ever try (excluding those which need fresh tuna) uses tuna packed in oil. Period.

  26. Evelyn

    I made this for dinner tonight and my husband and I both enjoyed it. I used a combination of diced and crushed tomatoes and went a little heavy on the cheese (I couldn’t help it, I really like cheese). The result was a simple, nutritious and tasty dinner which I’ll definitely make again.

  27. June

    Greetings from Germany! I am an avid fan of your blog. I just made this for dinner and my husband (who rarely had canned tunas in his entire life) loved it! This yummy dish was a breeze to prepare, thanks so much for sharing this recipe!

  28. perfectmeal

    was starving and didnt feel like walkin to shop in the cold so i checked to see what i already had, googled the ingredients, and this delicious dish came up. this is the very first dish i cooked from scratch (student in uni) and i have to say, this is my new fav dish. easy, simple, and tasty. – and id imagine quite cheap if i were to calculate what i used
    i had no basil though so i used basil pesto, still tasted awesome :)

  29. Sarah

    I remember trying a tuna-pasta dish for the first time in a small restaurant in Rome and being blown away at how good the rustic dish was. Now, I usually toss a can with spaghetti and tomatoes or pesto when it’s all I have on hand, but this seems just as simple and so much more decadent. Can’t wait to try it!

  30. Ping

    I made this tonight as I didn’t want to do the tuna casserole dish. It was easy and delicious but husband wanted more cheese and creamier like the tuna casserole. Maybe I’ll put gouda in there next time. Thank you for the recipe.