Pasta with Tuna, Arugula, and Hot Pepper

Quick, easy, and surprisingly delicious, pasta with wilted arugula or spinach and a sauce made of olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes and canned tuna.

  • Yield: Serves 4.


  • 1 pound dried fettuccine, spaghetti or linguine (use gluten-free pasta for gluten-free version)
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 large garlic cloves, or more to taste, finely minced
  • Generous pinch hot red pepper flakes
  • 2 6-ounce cans tuna packed in olive oil, drained
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/2 to 3/4 pound baby arugula


1 Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and boil until al dente.

fettuccini-tuna-arugula-3.jpg fettuccini-tuna-arugula-4.jpg

2 While pasta cooks, heat olive oil in a large skillet on medium-low heat. Add the garlic and hot pepper flakes and cook until garlic is fragrant and sizzling. Add tuna and shred it into fine flakes with a fork. Season with salt. Keep warm over low heat.

3 Just before the pasta is ready, set aside 1 cup of boiling water. Drain pasta and return it to the warm pot set over moderate heat. Depending on the size of your pot and skillet, either add the arugula and the tuna mixture to the pasta in the pasta pot, or add the drained pasta to the skillet with the tuna mixture and add the arugula. Toss vigorously with tongs, moistening with some of the reserved pasta water. The arugula will wilt in the heat of the pasta. Divide among warm bowls and serve immediately.

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  • Mary

    The photos are beautiful on this, they really show the beauty of a simple dish. My husband makes this all the time, but uses baby spinach and sometimes some chopped tomato. It is delicious. Thanks for posting this, I’ll use it to remind my husband that he can and should cook more often.

  • Bradley

    I have made this with spinach to excellent results, thought the bite of the arugula would probably fare better with the hot pepper. Great recipe.

  • Kyleen

    Could you use the oil you’ve drained from the tuna as part of the oil for the sauce? (My great-great-grandmother always said “Make do with what you got”, along the lines of “Waste not, want not” . . .)

  • Amy

    I’ve made a variation of this recipe for years — its a harried weeknight staple at our house. I find the canned Italian tuna in olive oil gives the best results.

    Some good twists on the basic recipe include tossing some toasted pine nuts in at the end (I like the extra crunch) or substituting the noodles with TJoe’s frozen artichoke tortellini.

    P.S. Your photos are beautiful!

  • Kim

    I’ve made this dish for years when I’m low on time and want something spicy. I usually use Sriracha instead of the pepper flakes. It’s a different kind of heat and Sriracha already had a bit of a garlic kick to it (I think).

    You certainly made something so simple look gorgeous. I’m always so impressed with your photography.

  • contrary

    I made this for dinner tonight and it was fantastic! Thanks for passing along this wonderful recipe.

  • melissa

    Hola Elise!…I would REALLY love to have this for dinner! A big hug from Panama ;)

  • Anh

    I made this a few weeks ago following Sher’s recipe, too. I agree with you, this pasta is simply delicious!

  • Elise

    Hi Kyleen and Sher – perhaps you drain the oil from the can because the extra virgin olive oil you have on hand is probably better quality and fresher? I don’t know. We always use tuna packed in oil for tuna salad. I drain some of the oil and then use less mayo. And thank you Sher for finding this great recipe!

    Hola Melissa – This pasta dish is so easy. I can’t believe I’ve been eating canned tuna for years and never knew this one. Don’t even need the arugula or spinach. Just the combo of tuna, olive oil, garlic, and hot chile pepper flakes makes a great sauce for the pasta. A big hug back to you too!

  • joyce

    I wound up oil poaching some tuna for this instead of using canned (since my college grocery doesn’t seem to carry tuna packed in olive oil) and it was fabulous. Also subbed spinach for arugula and added pine nuts. Yum!

  • Deb

    Made this tonight with arugula from our local farmers market (in Phoenix) and water-packed albacore (from the fish docks in San Diego), it was wonderful! Definitely a keeper.

  • Cheryl

    Has anyone tried this recipe with salmon instead of tuna? I was curious how that would work?

  • jfo

    My favorite version of this is just to substitute a can of chopped clams & the juice & chopped parsley for the arugala. A splash of white wine is always nice added as well.

  • Sylvia


    I tried this for dinner tonight. I would suggest cutting the arugula before adding to the mixture. Otherwise, a good receipe.

  • Kristi

    We made this a few nights ago using baby spinach (although I’d love to try it with arugula – just didn’t have any on hand) and adding sun-dried tomatoes and artichoke hearts. It was so delicious that my fiance inhaled his first serving of it without looking up from his bowl! A definite hit, and you can bet I’m putting it in heavy rotation. :)

  • Renee

    My family loved this recipe!!! When we had it for dinner a couple of weeks ago, my four year old daughter exclaimed, “This would be great for a hot lunch!” Her preschool teacher told me that she savored every bite!

  • Lauren

    I’ve just made this for a second time now, and found a couple of tweaks that I LOVE. First time I made it I used spinach but that seems to make it a little bland. This time I used the arugula AND added a little lemon juice and a teensy bit of balsamic vinegar. Topped with parmesan too. This stuff could get addictive!

  • Chris

    Hilarious! I’m a frequent visitor to this site but didn’t notice you had this one listed — I actually saw the recipe on the SFChronicle site.

    Made it, and it was indeed quite good!

  • Deb C

    This seems to be a variation on my Italian neighbor’s Tuna & Spaghetti. She uses canned pasta-ready tomatoes and adds thyme in addition to the red pepper flakes and garlic. It’s quick and easy to make and I always have the ingredients in my pantry. As soon as my arugula is ready, I will definitely try this version! Thanks Elise.

  • Mignonne

    This is a quick and very easy recipe. I whipped it up right before going to work this afternoon. Tuna is not just for sandwiches and crackers anymore!

  • Kateri

    With Lent just around the corner, I’ve been perusing the web for suitable recipes for abstinence Fridays. This one is just perfect. I know none of the minions will fuss over dinner having ‘no meat’, nor will they likely even notice given how yummy this looks.

    Thanks Elise for a great (Lenten) recipe!

  • Sivan

    The perfect recipe for busy, budget conscience college students. I’m “the cook” in my dorm of 6 people, and I’m always making this for me and my roommates-probably at least once a week. I usually double the amount of greens, and sometimes add some chopped tomatoes or steamed broccoli to up the nutrient factor.

  • Robyn

    My super fast pasta go-to is broccoli thrown in with pasta 4 minutes before the pasta will be ready, drained then tossed with equal quantities of chopped garlic, capers, chilli and anchovy which have been ‘melted’ in hot oil in frying pan.

  • karina

    I love simple pasta dishes like this. Whole Foods carries a low mercury tuna (Amercian is the brand) that is delicious.

  • Jim Price

    How many servings does this make?

    Four. I’ll add that information to the recipe. :-) ~Elise

  • Mels

    I LOVE pasta and tuna and always thought I was the only one who did – it’s like the ultimate comfort food for me – I will eat mac and cheese with tuna, tuna with pasta and red sauce, and tuna with pasta and parmesean – this looks like a great recipie – can’t wait to try it :-)

  • ejm

    This sounds really good, Elise. I really like the sound of the arugula and chile flakes.


    P.S. You have reminded me that when I was first living on my own, one of my favourite and VERY frequently made pasta dishes was canned tuna (water packed), thinly sliced onions, cheddar cheese, frozen green peas, cocktail olives stuffed with pimiento, and sliced mushrooms tossed with penne and baked with a breadcrumb topping. I haven’t made it in years…

  • Shannon

    This has become one of my easy go-to recipes. So simple, yet so very tasty. The great thing is that you can easily make it with items from your pantry. Sure it tastes amazing with arugula, but it can be successful with any form of greens. Even my father, who often times forgets that simple dishes can be the best dishes, loved this. The best part of all is how quickly the whole thing cooks up. Thanks for sharing this again. I had nearly forget about this dish over the winter.

  • anthony

    Kick it up a notch by adding some whole fennel seed (1/2tsp) when the tuna goes in and then some lemon zest (1 tsp) when combining the sauce and pasta.

  • amanda

    Since you posted this recipe, I think I have made it a half dozen times. It is fantastic, and today my husband requested it for his father’s day dinner. Out of everything that I have made for him over the years, he wanted this! I make it with a pound of baby spinach and a bunch of arugula, and I squeeze the juice of half a lemon over it all just before I serve it. This has become a standard, go-to dinner for us, and every time I make it, we just talk about how good it is as we inale. Leftovers never last long. Thanks, Elise!

  • Christina

    I Tried this last night, this was quick and easy and the taste is fantastic. I will definitely make this again! Thank you for the recipe.

  • Jessica

    I made this last night, wow was it good, and fast. Thanks!!

  • Lady Amalthea

    This was such a welcome change from our usual pasta-with-red-sauce standby. I had no arugula, so I did baby spinach and a hefty amount of black pepper. I also added piment d’espelette along with the chile pepper flakes. Served over spaghetti, it was very good. Thanks for sharing!

  • Tina

    I am in love with this pasta for some reason, I find myself craving it all the time. Thanks!

  • Jin

    Thank you for a great, simple recipe! I’m a student so budget and time are my biggest enemies. I’ll cook this up tonight!


  • Beau Smith

    I had some arugula… and came across this recipe. Got totally excited because every combination of tuna and pasta is great.

    I forgot the chili-flake and then added it to the end which was still quite tasty. The leftovers is packed up for lunch. =)

    tip: Add tuna to any red sauce for a healthy and meaty pasta sauce. Like the above comment, fennel seed can give the sauce a sausage-like flavor.

  • faeriehazel

    Another recipe on your site that has become a staple for us. We like to add mushrooms and use spinach (arugula is really hard to get in Seoul). Also double the garlic and add a dash of rosemary. It’s perfect for weekday nights when we both get home tired and starving.


    here are a couple more suggestions to tweak an already great recipe:

    -dissolve a few anchovies in the olive oil while it is heating

    -add some finely minced shallots along with the garlic and red pepper flakes

    -add some lemon juice to the dish just before serving (I think someone else suggested this)

    -add capers while heating the pasta/tuna/arugula mixture

  • Debra

    I just made this for the 175th time and am amazed at how yummy it still is!

  • Patty

    This recipe has become a household staple. Bravo Elise, thank you!

  • saucy bill

    I made this and LOVED it, I did throw in a habanero (one) instead of the generous pinch hot red pepper flakes- and it took it to a whole new level!

  • Taylor

    Tried this once before, forgot about it, and revisited it tonight…..sooooo good! Works well for a poor college student too:) I added a little (1/2 tsp?) fresh ginger as well as some fresh lemon and kinda deglazed the pan with some white wine….definitely a winner!

  • Motyka

    I tend to only have canned tuna packed in water on hand… what it be okay to drain this and add olive oil? If so, how much oil should I add?

    Please see the introductory notes to this recipe. Yes, you can use tuna packed in water. Drain it. Cover it with olive oil. Let it sit for at least an hour in the fridge, preferably longer. It won’t be as good as tuna originally packed in oil though. ~Elise