Meatless Monday Challenge

Canned Tuna Pesto Pasta Salad

on April 18, 2021
last updated June 11, 2024
This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure policy.
This Tuna Pesto Pasta Salad is fresh, hearty, and satisfying. And with it being so affordable, easy, and abundant, it will be your new go-to family meal!
serving of tuna pesto pasta on a black plate surrounded by lemon and basil

Looking for a new twist on the classic pasta salad? Try out this Canned Tuna Pesto Pasta Salad for an inventive tuna recipe that will feed the whole family.

It’s bursting with fresh flavor, affordable, and can feed up to 6 hungry people! It’s absolutely one of my favorite pasta salads, and to me, just tastes like home. The pesto brings an added layer of vibrant color and flavor to this wholesome dish.

Green tip: The most sustainable way to eat canned tuna is by making sure it is skipjack or yellowfin tuna. Most tuna labeled as “light” is skipjack or yellowfin, as opposed to “white” tuna which is usually albacore. Opt for “light” to reduce your environmental impact.

Want to sharpen your kitchen skills?

Download My Free eBook

Tuna Pesto Pasta Salad Ingredients

Here’s everything you’ll need:

  • Short pasta. Like Rotini, Cavatappi, Fusilli, Penne, Farfalle, Gemelli, Rigatoni, or Ziti.
  • Canned tuna. The net weight of tuna in one can is usually 4 ounces, so you’ll need 3 cans.
  • Mayonnaise. You can use full fat, light, olive oil, or even veganaise—whatever is your favorite!
  • Lemon juice. I highly recommend using a fresh lemon.
  • Olive oil. For your homemade pesto.
  • Arugula. For added pepper flavor.
  • Basil. For freshness.
  • Garlic. For bite.
  • Salt and pepper. To amp up all the other natural flavors in this dish.
salt, pepper, canned tuna, mayonnaise, lemon, arugula, olive oil, rotini, basil, and garlic

Tuna Pesto Pasta Salad Tips and Tricks

Cook Your Pasta First

The key is to allow your pasta to cool completely before mixing in your ingredients.

Both the tuna and the pesto taste best raw, so mixing it into hot pasta is not ideal. It’s best to cook your pasta according to the instructions on the package first, strain it, and then set it aside to cool.

I like to transfer the cooked pasta to a large glass bowl and stick it in the freezer to accelerate the cooling.

You can even opt to make your pasta and your pesto the night before if you want to do a little meal prep.

adding rotini pasta to a large pot of coiling water

Whip Your Pesto Up Next

Pesto is super easy to make in a food processor or blender. Just throw all of your ingredients in, blend, and voila! Easy peasy!

Classic pesto is absolutely one of my favorite ways to infuse flavor as it’s just so vibrant and fresh. This recipe teaches you how to make your own for this dish, but you could also opt to buy pesto to add in place of the basil, arugula, and garlic.

The only big difference between a pesto you may buy already made and the one in this pasta salad is that I’ve left out both nuts and parmesan, as the tuna and mayonnaise bring enough extra fat and salt to not need it.

adding lemon juice to blender with arugula to make pesto

Prepare Your Tuna Salad

Crack open your cans of tuna and drain out as much water as you can.

Then transfer it to a bowl and use a fork to break down any large chunks. Add your mayo and stir to combine.

adding mayonnaise to canned tuna

Mix Your Tuna Salad and Your Pesto

Next, you’ll add your fresh pesto directly to your tuna salad.

Use your fork or a spatula to stir, until your pesto is evenly distributed throughout the tuna. You should have a vibrant green mixture to coat your pasta with.

stirring fresh pesto into tuna salad

Add Your Pesto Tuna Mixture To Your Pasta

Once your pasta is completely cooled, add the tuna pesto mixture to the pasta.

Stir until pasta is completely coated. At this point, taste a little to make sure no extra salt or pepper is needed.

pouring pesto and tuna mixture over rotini pasta

Use Fresh Lemon

Fresh lemon juice goes a long way in this recipe. The notes of citrus play perfectly with the fresh basil and arugula, working together to bring an overall freshness to an otherwise heavy dish.

One lemon should provide about 3 tablespoons of juice—the exact amount you need for this recipe!

squeezing fresh lemon juice over tuna pesto pasta

Storing Leftover Pesto Tuna Pasta Salad

Tuna Pesto Pasta Salad will stay delicious for 3-4 days after preparation as long as it is covered and stored in the refrigerator.

After sitting for some time, your tuna pasta salad may get a little dry. Add about a teaspoon of mayonnaise to your serving to add some moisture back in.

It’s best not to freeze this pasta salad because the mayonnaise will separate.

serving of tuna pesto pasta on a black plate surrounded by lemon and basil

Why You Should Make this Tuna Pesto Pasta Salad

  • It’s packed with flavor. Between the tuna and pesto, your tastebuds will be so satisfied.
  • It’s fresh. The herbs and lemon juice give this dish a fresh finish.
  • It’s easy and it feeds a lot. Whip it up in no time and feed 4-6 people!

If you love this fresh Tuna Pesto Pasta Salad and are looking for more pasta salad options, check out this Bowtie Pasta Salad and this Rainbow Orzo Salad.

serving of tuna pesto pasta on a black plate surrounded by lemon and basil

Canned Tuna Pesto Pasta Salad

4.8 from 14 votes
Marley Goldin
This Tuna Pesto Pasta Salad is fresh, hearty, and satisfying. And with it being so affordable, easy, and abundant, it will be your new go-to family meal!
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cooling Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 12 minutes
Total Time 32 minutes
Servings 6 servings



  • 16 ounces short pasta, like rotini
  • 12 ounces albacore tuna in water (12 oz usually = 3 cans)
  • ½ cup mayonnaise (full fat, light, olive oil, or vegan)
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves and stems, tightly packed
  • 2 cups arugula (tightly packed)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • cup olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice (3 tbsp is roughly the juice of 1 lemon)


  • Cook the pasta until al dente according to the directions on the box. Drain water and transfer to a glass bowl. Stick the pasta in the freezer, allowing it to cool completely, tossing a couple of times periodically to make sure the noodles don’t stick to each other too much.
  • Drain water from cans and transfer tuna to a medium mixing bowl. Use a fork to break tuna into smaller pieces. Add mayonnaise and stir well.
  • Add basil, arugula, garlic, olive oil, black pepper, and salt to a food processor or blender and blend until smooth to make your pesto.
  • Add pesto to tuna and stir well. Then, add the tuna and pesto mixture to your cooled pasta, and stir until the pasta is coated.
  • Option to squeeze fresh lemon juice on top for some extra freshness. Enjoy chilled or at room temperature.

Pro Tips

  • Make your pasta first so it has time to cool before adding your pesto and tuna mixture.
  • Toss the pasta a couple of times while it’s cooling so the noodles don’t stick to one another.
  • For even more pesto, check out my best recipes using pesto.


Course Dinner, Lunch
Cuisine American
Keyword 30 Minutes or Less, Easy, Pasta, Pasta Salad, Pescatarian, Tuna Pesto
Did you make this recipe?Leave a comment and let me know what you think! And if you really enjoyed it, help power this website and buy me a coffee!


You'll Also Love

Comment on & Rate this Recipe

I very much hope you enjoyed this recipe!

If you did, please give it a star rating, which will help other people just like you find and enjoy the recipe too 😊

If you have any comments, questions or thoughts on the recipe, be sure to let me know in the comments as well. I read each and every one and would love to hear from you!

1 thought on “Canned Tuna Pesto Pasta Salad”

  1. 5 stars
    I am making this tomorrow! It is easy and sounds like a perfect blend of ingredients to mix with pasta. I’m excited to try this!

4.79 from 14 votes (13 ratings without comment)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating