Now more than ever, we need to talk about one of our all-time favorite pantry recipes. Today, we’re sharing our Tuna Tomato Pasta, which can be made with just 9 ingredients that many of you probably have on hand.
That said, if you’re missing something, we’ve got tips and suggested substitutions for every single ingredient so you don’t have to go crazy with food shopping regret.
When In Lockdown, In Pantry We Trust
Tuna Tomato Pasta is one of our favorite recipes to eat, period. It’s also a pantry-based recipe that you can put on the table in under 30 minutes! We’ve been wanting to blog this one for a long time, as it truly makes regular appearances on our dinner table.
With everyone hunkered down at home for the foreseeable future amidst the Coronavirus crisis, we had a newfound sense of urgency to publish this! No joke, this was the first recipe that came to mind when game planning our personal social distancing dinner plans this past week.
Sarah and I live just outside of New York City, and in these parts, we’re pretty much on full lockdown. Bars, restaurants, movie theaters, nail salons, and any other “non-essential” establishments have been closed.
Restaurants can no longer serve food other than delivery or pickup. New Jersey has a strongly encouraged 8 PM curfew every night. Most people are working from home, and I for one, have been in my apartment for 9 straight days already.
For those of you in areas that haven’t yet experienced the spread of coronavirus, these might seem like strong measures, but social distancing is undoubtedly the best way to slow the spread of coronavirus! Plus with a well-stocked pantry, we’re in good shape to stay in and cook.
(If you’d like to donate to organizations helping vulnerable populations access meals and pantry staples, check out this guide!)
An Italian Family Recipe
My Uncle Brian’s family is Italian, and every other year, we spend the Christmas holiday with my half Italian, half Chinese cousins and cook up an epic Feast of the Seven Fishes for Christmas Eve.
One of the dishes Uncle Brian always insists on is this Tuna Tomato Pasta as it’s something that his family has been making for years. A couple of years ago, this menu item got assigned to me.
Sarah was skeptical of it—Canned tuna? Pasta? Red sauce? Everything about it sounded iffy to her, but with a luscious homemade marinara, the proper Italian olive oil packed tuna, and plenty of capers and fresh parsley, it couldn’t have been better.
I got a valuable Itoldyaso to lord over Sarah’s head AND props for major Italian mama cooking chops from the Italian side of the family. WIN.
Substitutions & Making Do With What You Already Have
This recipe only calls for 9 ingredients, many of which we already have in our pantries: dried pasta, olive oil, garlic, anchovies, capers, crushed red pepper flakes, canned tuna, tomato sauce, and parsley.
However, if you don’t have capers or crushed red pepper, not to worry! Here are our suggestions for keeping this recipe flexible:
- Any type of pasta will work. Dried thin spaghetti is our favorite to use, but regular spaghetti, angel hair, linguine, fettuccine, tagliatelle, penne, bowties, or any other short cut pasta will also work.
- Olive Oil: If you don’t have extra virgin olive oil on hand, you can use whatever combination of oil and/or butter you have. You could also use bacon grease––so don’t throw out your bacon drippings from breakfast!
- Garlic: Did you know you could freeze garlic cloves? Garlic has a pretty long shelf life (several weeks if kept in the refrigerator), but if your garlic is looking old, peel it, chop it, and put it in your airtight container of choice in the freezer. That way, you have it for whenever you need it. If you don’t have any fresh garlic, you can use granulated garlic or garlic powder at the same stage of the recipe––substitute ⅛ teaspoon for every clove of garlic and adjust to taste.
- Anchovies: We think anchovies are vital to adding the delicious flavor to this dish, but if you don’t have them or don’t like anchovies, you can omit them.
- Capers: Capers can be substituted with any jarred olives you have in the house!
- Crushed red pepper flakes: You can substitute a chopped fresh (or frozen) chili for the crushed red pepper, or omit it entirely if you’d like to keep the sauce completely mild. If we’re getting really crafty, a dash of your favorite hot sauce could even work. If you’re doing that, we’d recommend adding it to taste after cooking to see how you like it first!
- Canned tuna: solid white tuna packed in olive oil is the best option for this dish, but we’ll talk about different types of canned tuna and what else can be used in the section below.
- Tomato sauce: Any jar of marinara or other tomato sauce will do. (Homemade is phantasmagorical, of course.) If you don’t have jarred sauce, you can use a can of crushed tomatoes or whole peeled tomatoes (crush them by hand by squeezing them between your fingers). If they’re particularly acidic, add a couple teaspoons of sugar to the mix. To stretch the jar a little bit, just add a bit of the pasta cooking water to the sauce, and season with additional salt, pepper, and a little sugar to mimic the tomatoes’ sweetness. Also, don’t forget to shake the jar with a bit of water to get every last drop of sauce out!
- Parsley: Fresh parsley can be hard to come by in quarantine-land. Instead, I used fresh carrot tops, which I did happen to have. Now is not the time to throw away anything that could potentially be useful, especially nutrient-dense fresh ingredients. Carrot tops are similar to parsley in flavor. They can also be used to make pesto, flavor soups, or make stocks. Sarah even made a carrot top tabbouleh last week! You could also use fresh basil, if you have that on hand.
Different Types of Canned Tuna
Tuna packed in olive oil is the best option for this recipe. If you only have tuna packed in water at home though, that’s ok. Try to use solid white albacore tuna, which is kept in larger chunks. Chunk White tuna is also ok (it still has a firm texture but is separated into smaller pieces).
Chunk light (its name can be misleading) is sourced from smaller fish, and consists of smaller bits with a darker color and fishier flavor. This type of tuna is best used when texture isn’t as important. It’s best for things like sauces/tuna casseroles or tuna salad sandwiches.
Note: I blogged a half recipe of this pasta (I’m only one person!). In the step-by-step photos below, you may notice that the amounts of ingredients are a bit smaller than what the recipe––which serves 6––calls for.
Tuna Tomato Pasta Recipe Instructions
Boil the pasta and heat the marinara sauce.
While that’s happening, heat a skillet with the olive oil. Sauté the garlic until lightly golden.
Add the anchovies and break up until dissolved.
Roughly chop the capers and add them to the pan. Follow with the chili flakes.
Add the cooked pasta to the pan. Toss to coat thoroughly.
Next, add the marinara one ladle at a time until all the pasta is thinly coated in sauce.
There shouldn’t be much standing sauce at all (a chunky marinara is best for this pasta). You may have some marinara left that you can pop back in the fridge for other uses.
Empty 1-2 cans of tuna over the pasta, including the oil. Toss gently to distribute the tuna without breaking up the chunks too much.
Garnish with the fresh parsley (or in this case, chopped carrot tops)…
Tuna Tomato Pasta
- 1 pound dried pasta (such as spaghetti, thin spaghetti, angel hair, or linguine)
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 10 cloves garlic (thinly sliced)
- 4 anchovies (at a minimum; can use up to a whole can)
- 1/3 cup capers (roughly chopped)
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1-2 cans tuna in olive oil (5 ounce/140g cans; we recommend Cento brand. Use more or less to your own taste.)
- 1 jar marinara sauce (Or about 2-3 cups to taste, based on how saucy you want your pasta)
- 1/4 cup parsley (chopped)
- Boil the pasta and heat the marinara sauce.
- While that’s happening, heat a skillet with the olive oil. Saute the garlic until lightly golden. Add the anchovies and break up until dissolved. Roughly chop the capers and add them to the pan. Follow with the chili flakes.
- Add the cooked pasta to the pan. Toss to coat thoroughly. Next, add the marinara one ladle at a time until all the pasta is thinly coated in sauce.
- Empty 1-2 cans of tuna over the pasta, including the oil. Toss gently to distribute the tuna without breaking up the chunks too much.
- Garnish with the fresh parsley and serve!