Tomato Sauce with Tuna

Having been raised a Catholic, the arrival of Lent reminds me of the countless meatless Fridays of my youth. Even when “the rules” changed in the 60’s, our house continued the practice of fish on Fridays, for the most part, and that was due largely because we all liked fish — and the Bartolini Sisters knew how to cook them. I hope to get to some of those recipes later but, for now, I’m going to start with a pasta dish. (Big surprise!)

Next to a marinara, this is about as simple a sauce as one can make. With tuna as its protein, this sauce is not as strongly flavored as, say, a puttanesca. As a result, one needs to be careful not to overpower the tuna with a lot of strong herbs and spices. The recipe, as presented, is exactly as my family made on many a Friday, with the exception of the capers and mushrooms. I happen to love both with my pasta. As for you, if it isn’t a tomato sauce unless you taste oregano or some other herb, spice, or ingredient, then by all means add it. Just be careful not to overwhelm the tuna and, please, just say no to cheese.

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Tomato Sauce with Tuna Recipe

total time: approx.  1 hour


  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 can (28 oz) tomatoes (use crushed, diced, or whole that you mash during cooking)
  • 4 – 6 button or crimini mushrooms, sliced — optional
  • 1 can (5 oz) of whole chunk tuna, water-packed, well-drained
  • 2 tbsp + 1 tsp fresh basil, chopped
  • 3 tbsp capers, drained — optional
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • 1 lb pasta


  1. Add oil to a medium sauce pan and heat over a medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, and parsley and sauté until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes.
  2. If using mushrooms, add them now and continue sautéing another 3 or 4 minutes.
  3. Add tomato paste and sauté for about 2 more minutes.
  4. Add tomatoes, stir to thoroughly combine, bring to boil, and reduce to a simmer. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.
  5. After 30 minutes, carefully add tuna so that the chunks do not fall apart. Add pasta of your choice into the boiling water.
  6. When the pasta is cooked al dente, remove from heat and drain.
  7. Add 2 tbsp basil (and capers, if used) to the sauce and stir carefully.
  8. Combine cooked, drained pasta with the sauce, stir until well-coated, garnish with remaining basil, and serve immediately.


This is another quick sauce. If you cook it for too long after the tuna has been added, the chunks of tuna will disintegrate.

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7 thoughts on “Tomato Sauce with Tuna

  1. Pingback: Mom’s Calamari Salad (Insalata dei Calamari) | from the Bartolini kitchens

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  3. Really nice dish! I’ve had tuna in pasta sauce, but never made it – I really should. I’ve basically given up on water-packed tuna — too often I find it has little flavor, and the tuna is kinda mushy. It’s olive oil for me now most of the time (OK, I still do buy some water-packed, but not when I really want texture from the tuna). Good stuff — thanks.


    • Thank you, John. Tuna in a tomato sauce was pretty much a Friday night staple, along with some sort of fish. Looking back, I’m amazed at the variety of seafood that made its way to our table on Fridays. Going “vegetarian”, in today’s sense, wasn’t even considered. Like you, I use water-packed tuna less and less. “Washed out” comes to mind.


  4. Strange, I almost made my – even quicker (with fresh tomatoes – we still have beautiful tasty tomatoes here) version of this last night, but opted for chunks of mozzarella in place of the tuna (as I had one, and not the other!). The capers and mushrooms would have been a delicious addition!


    • I really enjoy using fresh tomatoes with pasta. The sauce has a fresh taste that no tinned tomatoes will ever have. I can’t wait for Summer and its fresh tomatoes!! This sauce is one that my family served countless Fridays. A couple ingredients can be added and or dropped, though, and the result is still a delicious dish of pasta. Just like you created. 🙂


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