Because everybody has a can of tuna, pasta, canned tomato and some sort of dried herbs in the depths of their pantry, everybody should have one wickedly delicious Tuna Pasta Bake recipe up their sleeve. Forget tuna mornay from a jar – this is a Tuna Pasta Bake that will have everyone begging for more!
Confession: I say “Everybody has a can of tuna” but I don’t. Well, I do have lots. But it’s not for me. It’s for Dozer. So on the odd occasion that I do want tuna, I swipe his.
So here’s the truth. This Tuna Pasta Bake in these photos is made with Dozer’s tuna. 😂
Oh, just to be clear – it’s normal human tuna. Whatever is on special at the time, and I get the little cans so I had to use a bunch of them to make this big batch of Tuna Pasta Bake.
You should have seen the look on his face as I was popping open can after can. His eyes were sparkling and he was wriggling like a puppy with excitement, thinking Christmas had come early. Then his tail slowly started sagging as he realised it was going into something I was making, and not into his food bowl!
I grew up in a household where I was sent to school with bento boxes when all I wanted was a peanut butter sandwich. So I totally missed the Tuna Mornay experience that many of my friends shudder at the memory of – some sort of white sauce in a jar mixed with pasta and tuna, then baked.
I shudder at the description.
And while actually, I do enjoy Tuna Mornay (made from scratch – use this Seafood Gratin recipe but sub tuna for seafood), I prefer this tomato based Tuna Pasta Bake.
This recipe is almost a guide so I’ve provided suggestions for substitutions. Basically, you need tuna, pasta, canned tomato or passata and/or tomato paste, some sort of dried herb or spices, garlic or onion (or leek / shallots/scallions/green onions or eschallots) and that’s it. Everything else you see in the recipe is something that takes it up a notch, they aren’t deal breakers.
If that makes sense? 🙂
To be honest, my favourite part of this Tuna Pasta Bake is that golden crust on the surface. Yes, it is fantastic with a sprinkling of cheese, but even without it, it’s still fantastic (try panko or breadcrumbs if you don’t have cheese). Your mind will be telling you that it’s Cooks’ Privileges to pick at the top, but don’t do it because if you start, you may find you’ve picked all the surface off before it gets to the table.
Now that wouldn’t be very fair, would it? 😉 – Nagi xx
When the cupboards are bare, and all you have is canned tuna, pasta and canned tomato, you can still make a wickedly delicious dinner! I make this in an ovenproof skillet but you can transfer everything to a baking dish. This is a quick everyday version that tastes terrific and lends itself to many variations – add vegetables, fresh herbs, chilli flakes, stir through cheese, olives, capers, sun dried tomatoes – get creative! Serves 4 generously, 5 normal servings. See note 9 for HEALTHY version.
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves , minced
- 1 small onion , finely diced
- 800 g / 28 oz crushed tomato (Note 1)
- 1 tbsp tomato paste (optional, thickens sauce slightly)
- 3/4 cup / 185ml water (Note 2)
- 1 tbsp Italian mixed herbs , or other dried herbs of choice
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 425 g / 15 oz can chunk tuna (preferably in oil), drained (Note 3)
- 200 g / 7 oz spiral pasta (or other pasta of choice)
- 1 – 1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese (100 – 150g) (Note 4)
- Olive Oil , for drizzling
Preheat oven to 180C/350F.
Cook pasta per packet directions, minus 1 minute. Drain, rinse under tap water to stop it sticking together, set aside.
Meanwhile, make the sauce. Heat an ovenproof skillet over medium high heat. Add garlic and onion, cook for 3 minutes until golden.
Add tomato, water, herbs, salt and pepper and tomato paste if using. Stir, bring to simmer, lower heat to medium and simmer energetically for 5 minutes (stir every now and then) until it thickens.
Adjust salt to taste. Also add a touch of sugar if it tastes a bit sour (depends on quality of tomato).
Turn the stove off, add pasta, stir in.
Add tuna and GENTLY stir it in – don’t break up the tuna so it disintegrates into mush. Leave some chunks on the surface (nice when it is golden).
Drizzle with oil, top with cheese then bake for 20 minutes until golden and you get those nice crusty bits you see in the photos.
Stand for 3 minutes then serve!
1. You can substitute this with:
– 700g / 1.2 lb tomato passata or American Tomato Sauce (NOT Aussie / UK Tomato Sauce)
– 400g/14 oz crushed tomato + 1.5 cups chicken or vegetable broth + 3 tbsp tomato paste + 2 tsp sugar
2. If you have chicken or vegetable broth, that would be a terrific addition, or add a crumbled bouillon cube or 1 tsp chicken or vegetable powder.
3. I find Tuna in oil has better flavour for a recipe like this, but any canned tuna or salmon is great for this recipe. “Chunk tuna” is my preferred because it comes in chunks which I think is nicer than the fragile tuna that disintegrates through the pasta.
4. Tomato paste thickens the sauce slightly which is what I used in the recipe I made for the photos. I did not use it in the recipe video – but you can see that it’s still lovely and tomatoey, not watery and thin.
5. Try using 3/4 cup panko / breadcrumbs sprinkled with salt and drizzled with oil instead of cheese. Crunch is fantastic!
6. STEP IT UP A NOTCH: Finely chop 2 anchovies and add them in with the onion, they will disintegrate and add a savouriness that is no fishy at all. Add 1 tsp of red pepper flakes – or more if you dare! Use Chicken or vegetable broth in place of the water and stir through fresh basil with the pasta. This is no longer a basic pantry Tuna Pasta Bake, but I thought I’d share what I do if I am making an effort!
7. Nutrition per serving, assuming 5 servings.
9. DIET TUNA PASTA BAKE – pursuant to reader request, here are recipe adjustments for a healthier version with 251 calories per serving (5 servings), 23g carbs: Reduce oil to 2 tsp, add 1 cup each finely chopped carrot and celery plus 1.5 cups diced zucchini with the onion and saute on low heat for 10 minutes until soft and sweet. Then proceed with recipe but REDUCE pasta to 100g/3.5 oz and stir through 2 handfuls of spinach when you add the pasta. Spray surface with oil then top with low fat mozzarella. Healthy AND delicious!!!
WATCH HOW TO MAKE IT
Tuna Pasta Bake recipe video!