Tuna and Tomato Pasta

DinnerBudgetCasseroleCanned Tuna

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

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

Are you a fan of canned tuna?

I love keeping a few cans on hand in the pantry, usually for whipping up the occasional tuna salad sandwich.

Tuna also works with pasta, quite well actually (check out tuna pasta with capers in white wine sauce). But I had no idea it also worked with pasta and tomato sauce and cheese until this dish, recommended to us by a reader (thank you Audrey), a favorite of hers from the 1967 classic Mama Leone’s Italian Cookbook.

We’ve changed the recipe only slightly from the one reader Audrey gave us, we’ve cut the butter in half, to 1/4 cup from a half cup. And we tossed in some chopped fresh basil, because we have plenty growing in the garden.

Oh my gosh, this is so good! Wow. And easy too.

Pasta with Tuna and Tomato Sauce

My only caveat is that I think you need to be a tuna lover (or liker at least) to like this recipe.

The recipe only calls for one 6-ounce can for a recipe that serves 4, so it’s not as if the tuna overwhelms the dish.

It doesn’t. But you definitely taste the tuna. Obviously if you want to skip the tuna, you can make something similar with a little bit of cooked Italian sausage in place of the tuna.

Tuna and Tomato Pasta Recipe

  • Prep time: 5 minutes
  • Cook time: 40 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 6-8

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.


  • 4 tablespoons 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


1 Simmer tomatoes with butter 30 min: 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 Cook pasta: While 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 Combine tuna, tomato sauce, ricotta, pasta, basil: 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.

4 Put into casserole, top with parmesan, broil: 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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Tuna Pasta Salad with Lemon, Olives and Capers - from Kalyn's Kitchen

Creamy Tuna Tomato Pasta - from Food Wishes

Elise Bauer

Elise Bauer is the founder of Simply Recipes. Elise launched Simply Recipes in 2003 as a way to keep track of her family's recipes, and along the way grew it into one of the most popular cooking websites in the world. Elise is dedicated to helping home cooks be successful in the kitchen. Elise is a graduate of Stanford University, and lives in Sacramento, California.

More from Elise

27 Comments / Reviews

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Did you make it? Rate it!

  1. Adele

    Made this tonight. So yummy. The only tuna in olive oil I could find was one with sundried tomatoes, yum, when I opened the can I just wanted to eat it then, lol. Also I didn’t have shells so I used rotini and also added fried onions and garlic. It was a nice change to my usual tuna casserole. Thank you


  2. Dana

    This was delicious! It had such a comfort feel that just makes you feel warm inside. The only thing I changed was adding an extra can of tuna…we love tuna! I didn’t have tuna in oil on hand so just added some oil an hour ahead of making this. I did add in some garlic because I don’t think I make anything without garlic! Thank you for a delicious and easy recipe!


  3. pam

    looks easy & good (esp.for those, e.g., Lord Hubby) who hates fish. LOL

  4. Carol

    Carol from South Africa.
    Perfect recipe. I made this last night and it turned out great. Just my basil was dry instead of fresh leaves and I only had cheddar instead of ricotta and parmesan, this still came out good. Next time I’m perfecting it. Thank you.

  5. 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.

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