Tuna Tomato Pasta with Olives

Are you a planner? The ability to plan one’s meals seems like such a basic survival skill I’m surprised I’ve lasted this long with so little capability in this area. The saving grace for a poor planner is a well stocked pantry. Today was one of those I’m-hungry-let’s-see-what’s-in-the-cupboard days. Fortunately we had pasta, canned tomatoes, and canned tuna. With those three ingredients as a base, lunch was looking promising! (Especially with the kalamata olives lurking in the fridge.)

Usually when we use canned tuna in a pasta dish, we use tuna packed in olive oil. It just disperses better in the sauce and is more intensely flavored. But today we had only albacore chunk tuna, so I added a little more olive oil to the sauce than I would have otherwise, and I added one minced anchovy. Anchovies are terrific for kicking a pasta sauce up a notch, and making dry tuna packed in water taste more like oil-packed.

Tuna Tomato Pasta with Olives Recipe

  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 4.

Prep the ingredients while the pasta water is heating. If you are subbing onions for the shallots, mince them and let them cook a few minutes before adding the garlic and red pepper flakes.



  • 12 ounces shell pasta (conchiglie pasta)
  • Salt for pasta water
  • 5 Tbsp olive oil (or 3 Tbsp if you are using tuna packed in olive oil)
  • 1/4 cup chopped shallots
  • 2  teaspoons mince garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 5-ounce cans tuna
  • 1 anchovy, minced (optional)
  • 1 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup chopped kalamata olives
  • 1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley


1 Bring 4 quarts of salted water to a boil (add 1 Tbsp salt for every 2 quarts of water). While the water is heating, prep the ingredients and start the sauce.

saute shallots garlic and red pepper flakes add tuna to the pan

2 Heat 3 Tbsp of olive oil in a large sauté pan on medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add the chopped shallots, minced garlic, and red pepper flakes at the same time to the pan. Let cook for about 30 seconds. Drain the canned tuna and add it to the pan. If you are using tuna packed in water and not olive oil, add 2 or 3 more Tbsp of olive oil to the pan. Break up any chunks of tuna with a fork or wooden spoon. Add minced anchovy if using. Let simmer for a minute.

3 Stir in the crushed tomatoes and olives. Bring to a simmer and reduce heat to the lowest setting to gently cook while you cook the pasta.

add crushed tomatoes and chopped olives boil pasta

4 Add dry pasta to the pot of boiling salted water. Cook uncovered at a vigorous full boil until al dente—cooked, but still a little firm to the bite, about 13-14 minutes.

stir pasta with sauce

5 Drain the pasta and stir into the sauce. Toss with chopped fresh parsley.

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Tuna Tomato Pasta with Olives


  1. How to Philosophize with Cake

    That sounds delicious! I love a good easy pasta recipe, this one looks very tasty. :)

  2. Rachel

    This looks so good! I like the idea of anchovies, but I’m always afraid to commit to adding it.

  3. Matt Robinson

    This is so great and LOVE that it takes less than 30 minutes. The perfect light summer meal for the family:)

    • Derek Hanson

      Yes, I sometimes get it in my head that the more complex the recipe, the greater the value added, but sometime less in more, right!

  4. Julie

    This looks great. Any idea if it reheats well?

    • Kerry

      This is great reheated, I would add a little water or olive oil to keep it moist.

  5. Marie @ Little Kitchie

    Looks so good! Love how easy this is to throw together too!

  6. Bill

    Or, you can leave out the tomatoes and olives, use linguini instead of shells, and toss the pasta with the tuna sauce, two tablespoons of capers, and the juice and chopped zest of a lemon. If you’re in a hurry, you don’t even have to cook the tuna and chopped shallots — just toss it all together with the linguini.

  7. Pat Matson

    This recipe is a lovely improvement over my Mother’s Friday night tuna sauce which she prepared only with minced garlic, olive oil and clove (not very much.) I can’t wait to try this one.

  8. ask4j

    You don’t need to be an experienced cook to put together something like this simple pasta recipe. I’ve made pasta salads all my life and never use a recipe, however, I do look at recipes to get ideas for different ingredient combinations for new flavors.

    One of my favorite things to do is browse the deli-counters of fancier grocery stores and memorize the ingredients then purchase the “raw” ingredients. Sometimes they let you sample one or two salads so you can get an idea of what type dressing is used. Trader Jo’s actually has sample salads made up from packaged and other ingredients available for you to go home and make–saves an expensive deli price plus you can add your own ideas–feta always perks up any pasta salad.

    Having the basic ingredients, like whole wheat pasta in different sizes and shapes, canned olives, peppers, garbanzos, dried/fresh herbs, etc. on hand all the time so you always have a quick meal.

  9. Another version

    Another way to use the same conchiglie (seashell) pasta is with shrimp, tomato, olives and feta.

    Make the “dressing” from diced canned tomatoes (drain the liquid from the tomatoes), pitted kalamata olives, olive oil, oregano, garlic, and salt and pepper. Let stand 1 hour.

    Cook pasta. Thaw the shrimp in cold water, pat dry then cook (seared two minutes per side in olive oil). Time it so the pasta and shrimp are done at the same time. Drain pasta and toss piping hot with dressing and shrimp. Immediately add crumbled feta. Toss gently for a few moments so feta melts a bit.

  10. Jenna

    Oh, my crew would love this.

    Thank you!

  11. Carol at Wild Goose Tea

    What a new take on tuna casserole. Tuna casserole has always been a family favorite. So I will have to spring it on my family and see what they think. I suspect it will be a positive response.

  12. Pat

    I have not made a tuna casserole in ages and this has put the idea up front and center. It surely does look good!

  13. Bill @thewoksoflife

    I have never tried cooking canned tuna with tomato pasta but I don’t know why. Great idea!

  14. Sydney

    If you wanted to use fresh tuna, woudl you just pan cook the tuna and then use a fork to flake it? I’m just not a huge fan of canned tuna.

  15. Anna

    Thinking of adding artichokes…..Thoughts? Let me know in the next 20 if you see this, please.

  16. Prema Picardi

    I wasn’t sure if I’d like this recipe or not. I’ve never had tuna with tomato sauce and pasta together. I was curious , so I gave it a try. It turned ou to be a really easy, tasty midweek meal with plenty of leftovers for lunch the next few days. I used fire roasted crushed tomatoes, cilantro instead of parsley and I doubled the amount of olives because I love kalamata olives. I will definetly make this again when I am craving a tomato and pasta meal. The tuna is a great addition.

  17. Lauren

    Oh this is one of our go-to favorites! We usually use halved cherry tomatoes though. So good…and so easy! Perfect weeknight meal. May have to make it tonight!

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