Tuna Pasta with Tomato and Olives

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.

If you are using water-packed, not oil-packed tuna, add a couple more tablespoons of olive oil to the sauce. You may also want to add a minced anchovy.

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


  • 12 ounces short pasta (shells, macaroni, rigatoni)
  • Salt for pasta water
  • 3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil (plus 2 Tbsp if you are using tuna packed in water)
  • 1/4 cup chopped shallots (can sub onion)
  • 2  teaspoons mince garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 5-ounce cans tuna packed in olive oil, drained
  • 1 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup chopped kalamata olives
  • 1 teaspoon capers
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (more to taste)
  • 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan
  • 1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley


1 Bring pasta water to a boil: 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.

2 Sauté shallots, garlic, red pepper flakes: 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.

3 Add drained canned tuna: 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. Let simmer for a minute.

4 Add tomatoes, olives, capers, salt, pepper: Stir in the crushed tomatoes, olives, capers, salt, and pepper.

Bring to a simmer and reduce heat to the lowest setting to gently cook while you cook the pasta.

5 Cook pasta: 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.

Before draining, remove a cup of the pasta water and set aside.

6 Stir cooked pasta into sauce: Drain the pasta and stir into the sauce. Toss with grated Parmesan and chopped fresh parsley. If the pasta seems a little dry after a few minutes, add back in some of the reserved pasta water.

Click on the comments you'd like to print with your recipe. Grayed out comments will not print.


  • Patricia

    My son wanted tuna pasta and red sauce and olives I didn’t think it would be good but I didn’t want to tell my son that, so I found this recipe. I made and it was very delicious and easy to make! Thank you for your recipe and I am sure that I will make this again.



  • Torrey

    Amazingly delicious. I used some leftover spaghetti sauce instead of canned tomatoes, and Portuguese tuna in olive oil. Diced some zucchini for a little more vegetable. Great, quick, easy dinner.


  • Bebe

    Elise’s recipes are the best! And thanks for those subs. We use a very good albacore packed in water (Costco’s Kirkland brand). If one wanted to be more of a purist, I suppose the drained albacore could go into that extra olive oil ahead of time to pick up some tuna flavor?

    And some of us do not have shallots around…

    Recipe sounds like a nice change.

  • Terry

    The recipe says to remove and set aside a cup of the pasta water then drain the water from the pasta. Why set the cup if pasta water aside? It never says to use it in the sauce which I guess would water the sauce down and it would need further cooking to thicken it back up. I think it would overcook at this point? I’m going to use left over chicken instead of canned tuna.

    • Elise Bauer

      Hi Terry, sometimes when you make a pasta dish the pasta ends up being a bit dry because it keeps absorbing liquid as it comes into contact with the sauce. If the pasta seems a bit dry, that’s when you add back in some of the pasta cooking water. I’ve added that note to the recipe, thanks!

      • Bebe

        If there are leftovers, I often add a bit of that reserved pasta water and stir it in before storing in fridge or freezing so that there is no drying out when reheated.

  • 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!


  • 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.


  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!