Tuna Pasta

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This cheesy and comforting Tuna Pasta with peas can be made in one skillet and ready in 30 minutes or less!

While the noodles are simmering, whip together a quick side dish. This Olive Garden salad or kale avocado salad would pair nicely with this pasta and tuna dish.

 

Overhead image of Tuna Pasta in a skillet.

Tuna Pasta

Growing up, my mom frequently made a creamy tuna casserole; it was one of my favorite meals. Her version is quite a bit different than this one; she used cream of mushroom soup for the base and we usually had it over rice.

Luckily, everyone else in the family loved it and the dish was easy to prepare (so mom loved it). Needless to say, we ate that tuna-and-rice dish often.

I wanted to make a dish close to that one, but with a healthier twist (no cream of mushroom soup) and simplified a bit. This Tuna Pasta is made in just one skillet, with extremely streamlined preparation (no veggie chopping!). It’s great for a busy night, and with school starting up again, I’m sure every parent could use a dinner recipe like this one! 

Process shots-- images of the pasta, water, milk, tuna, seasonings; bringing it all to a boil; adding cheese; then the peas; and warming through.

Let’s talk skillets

To ensure pasta and/or tuna doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan, it’s important to use a nonstick skillet. Make sure the skillet has a fitted lid.

I use a 10-inch, 3 quart (2.8 liter) nonstick skillet with a fitted lid for this tuna pasta. (If you’re curious, here’s the exact pan used in this recipe). Too big or too small of a skillet, and you may experience some uneven cooking.

What pasta to use

To ensure everything is cooked through evenly and within the time suggested in the instructions, you’ll want to use small pasta.

For this Tuna Pasta, I use miniature penne pasta (even though the pictures make it look regular sized!). I also tested this recipe with small shells and elbows, both of which worked well, but the penne is definitely our favorite.

Barilla® makes miniature penne pasta, which is usually the brand we use (not sponsored). Whatever pasta you choose, make sure the pasta can be cooked in 6-8 minutes and it should work in this dish!

Overhead image of Tuna Pasta in a skillet with a spoon scooping some of it up.

Tuna Pasta tips

  • Use good-quality ingredients: I like a good olive oil-packed tuna fish (Genova® is my favorite; not sponsored). Make sure to thoroughly drain the tuna before adding to the skillet. I do this in a fine mesh sieve/strainer.
  • Seasonings go a long way! There is no onion or garlic in this dish (we’re emphasizing quick prep!) so you’ll want to make sure to add the suggested seasonings and then adjust to personal preference. If you’re missing the onion flavor, try adding 1/2 to 1 full teaspoon onion powder.
  • Add freshly grated cheese. To avoid clumping, I like to freshly grate the cheese (packaged grated cheese has a cellulose coating that keeps it from melting as smoothly). I also highly recommend sharp or extra-sharp Cheddar for maximum flavor.

QUICK TIP

If you don’t feel this recipe has enough flavor, you may just be missing salt and/or pepper; don’t forget to add more as needed! Keep in mind that the pasta hasn’t been cooked in salted water, so it does need a good amount of seasoning. Add salt and pepper until the flavors “sing.” You can also add in some freshness and flavor with some lemon zest or lemon juice. Dijon mustard is another great complementary flavor. Fresh herbs, like Italian parsley, can also add a lot to Tuna Pasta.

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Cheesy Tuna Pasta

5 from 8 votes
This cheesy and comforting Tuna Pasta with peas can be made in one skillet and ready in 30 minutes or less!
Print Recipe

Cheesy Tuna Pasta

5 from 8 votes
This cheesy and comforting Tuna Pasta with peas can be made in one skillet and ready in 30 minutes or less!
Course Dinner, Main Course
Cuisine American
Keyword tuna pasta
Prep Time 7 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 22 minutes
Servings 4 servings
Calories 498kcal
Author Chelsea Lords
Cost $5.76

Equipment

  • 10-inch nonstick skillet with fitted lid

Ingredients

  • 2 cups (222g) miniature penne pasta (See Note 1)
  • 1 can (5 oz; 142g) tuna packed in olive oil
  • 2 cups (455g) whole milk (See Note 2)
  • 1 cup (205g) water
  • 4 tablespoons (59g) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon EACH: dry mustard powder, paprika, roasted garlic powder
  • 2 cups (210g) sharp cheddar Cheese (See Note 3)
  • 1/2 cup (69g) frozen peas
  • Fine sea salt and fresh cracked pepper
  • Optional: fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley, chopped; hot sauce

Instructions

  • PREP: Open the tuna and drain thoroughly. Fluff with a fork and set aside.
  • ADD EVERYTHING TO A SKILLET: In a large 10-inch nonstick skillet (3 quart; 2.8-liter), pour in 2 cups of uncooked pasta; the drained tuna; milk, water, butter, and seasonings (dry mustard powder, paprika, garlic powder). Add salt and pepper to taste; I add 1 teaspoon fine sea salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.
  • BOIL: Bring to a boil over high heat, stir, and then cover with the lid. Reduce the heat to low or just a few notches above low.
  • SIMMER: Allow to simmer until the pasta is completely cooked through and the liquid has evaporated (about 10-15 minutes depending on your stovetop heat; check at 10 minutes). During the cooking time, stir the ingredients every 5-7 minutes to keep the pasta from sticking to the bottom. While pasta is simmering, grate the cheese.
  • ADD CHEESE AND PEAS: Once the liquid is absorbed, remove the skillet from the heat. Stir in the grated Cheddar cheese until melted. Once melted, add in the frozen peas and stir to warm through.
  • ENJOY: Taste and adjust for any additional seasonings needed. Add salt and pepper to taste as well as any other additional seasonings (more garlic powder, paprika, etc.). Enjoy while hot. If desired, garnish individual plates and freshly chopped parsley and/or a drizzle of hot sauce.

Recipe Notes

Note 1: Check the cooking directions and make sure the pasta you use can be cooked in 6-8 minutes.
Note 2: Skim milk, soy milk, almond milk, etc. were not successful in my recipe testing. Regular dairy milk needs to be used here; I recommend whole milk, but 1% or 2% will work (not skim).
Note 3: The cheese is a big part of this dish so choose a very flavorful cheese you love. I use and recommend sharp or extra sharp Cheddar cheese. I recommend freshly grated, as the bagged cheeses can create a waxy texture when melted.

Nutrition Facts

Serving: 1serving | Calories: 498kcal | Carbohydrates: 44.4g | Protein: 36.3g | Fat: 35.6g | Cholesterol: 116.4mg | Sodium: 666.9mg | Fiber: 2.2g | Sugar: 8.6g

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One Skillet Cheesy Tuna Pasta
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23 Comments

  1. This pasta definitely brings me back to my childhood, Chelsea! I loved tuna casserole but didn’t eat it all that often because my mom didn’t like it. I love this one skillet version! Looks fantastic and so full of flavor!

  2. I have never seen something similar, or even close to it, but wow I am intrigued, to use canned tuna in a pasta dish? with cheese and peas, I am sold!

    1. 5 stars
      Hehe I totally agree! I made it today and me and my bf couldnt get enough! It was so yummy! 🙂

  3. Super random, but this recipe actually reminds me of camping.. I have a campfire tuna recipe that is very similar to this, but I haven’t made the at home version in a while, but I think I’ll just try yours instead! Thanks for sharing Chelsea!

  4. I love this! I should send this recipe to my mom… she always makes tuna casserole, but I’m 99% certain it’s not a one skillet type meal. She’d love it!

  5. I’m going to try this with gluten free pasta, as we are a family of celiacs and gluten intolerant.

  6. I know many are comparing it to tuna casserole, and while it’s similar, this is more like our family’s version of tuna mac growing up. And your childhood inspiration recipe also sounds more like what I grew up with. We would take plain old boxed mac and cheese (with the powder cheese, it worked best), prepare it and add a can of cream of mushroom soup, a can of mushrooms, and a can of tuna. Man it was delicious. I still make it from time to time if I’m feeling super unhealthy and really want some childhood comfort food.

    This sounds like a much healthier version, lol. I’m going to give it a try. Maybe swap out the peas for mushrooms, to really get my nostalgia going. 🙂

    1. We used to have one basically the same as you described! 🙂 And yes, SO delicious!! I hope you love this healthier version though! Thanks Krystal!

  7. Can’t wait to try this- reminds me of my childhood. We financially struggled for a few years and I remember my mom often making the cheap Tuna Helper and adding peas to it. I always loved it, but now as an adult with my own family I’d love to make a homemade version myself.

  8. 5 stars
    Made this exactly to the recipe (excluded optional paprika) and my family loved it!

    Tuna mac & cheese is a fav at our house and the recipe I normally use takes twice as long and is not as good as this.

    It is simple to make, quick and super flavourful!

    Thank you!

  9. I’ve made this five or six times, now. Dinner, lunch, whatever I need done and out in about half an hour. It has been a reliable winner, so I turned to it tonight. Tonight, it failed me, and I am at a loss why. Rather then the sauce thickening from simmering and adding cheese, the sauce stayed thin and milky, and the cheese adhered to the tuna, creating large mats amidst the noodles. It was weird! I’m hoping letting it sit overnight in the fridge will do something.

    1. Oh no! I’m so sorry to hear that! Did you change up any of the ingredients this time? I’m hoping it will set up for you!

  10. 5 stars
    This was delicious! I used the mini penne pasta as suggested and left out the paprika, and it was perfect. Such a creamy comforting dish! FYI – I used soy milk and didn’t have any issues.

  11. 5 stars
    This was a hit! Made it for my husband and two boys (4 & 2). I have no left overs! We all loved it! I did add the paprika and it was delicious. This is the fastest and most flavourful tuna pasta I have made! Looking forward to trying some of your other recipes! Thank you so must for the recipe!

    1. SO happy to hear that! 🙂 Thank you so much for the comment and I hope you love whatever you try next!

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