This tuna pasta salad is made without mayo and is packed with bright Mediterranean flavors, making it a customizable and healthy main dish recipe.
I’ve never been a big fan of traditional tuna salad or cold, mayo-based salads (exceptions granted for curry chicken salad and a few others). But with canned tuna being both a shelf-stable and cost-effective ingredient, it can easily be worked into no-mayo salads for a protein- and nutrient-rich addition.
Always on hand for healthy baked tuna cakes, I started adding canned tuna to one of my very favorite non-green salads: pasta salad. And the verdict? YUM.
Reasons To Love This Recipe
- This tuna pasta salad features a variety of Mediterranean-flavored ingredients such as greens, beans, and cheese that can totally be tweaked depending on what you have on hand. No cannellini beans, celery, and/or pine nuts? No problem.
- It’s a no-stress menu item. Great served warm right away or after being chilled in the fridge, sometimes I think it may taste even better once it chills overnight.
- This cannot be overstated: it’s a tuna pasta salad without mayo, for the mayo-leery among us. The vinaigrette-esque dressing provides all the moisture and cohesiveness we need.
- Canned tuna: Either tuna packed in water or oil will work just fine, but my preference is to use tuna packed in oil. It has a little extra moisture that’s welcome as everything here isn’t covered in mayo.
- Pasta: Look for medium-sized pastas for pasta salad. Here I used casarecce, but other shapes that work well are penne, rotini, farfalle, gemelli, fusilli, etc.
- Arugula: Two packed cups of greens add a healthy boost to pasta salad. Baby spinach can be subbed in.
- Rice vinegar: As far as vinegars go, rice vinegar has a very mild flavor (it’s great in this honey mustard vinaigrette!). If you don’t have it you can use another variety, like apple cider or white wine. Even balsamic would mesh well with the flavors here.
- Herbs: Fresh thyme, parsley and/or basil mesh with these Italian flavors, but you can use whichever ones you like. And if you don’t have fresh herbs available, your favorite dried ones are fine. Just be mindful that you’ll need less of them (versus fresh herbs) as their flavor is more concentrated.
- First add all dressing ingredients to a measuring cup or bowl and whisk well to combine. Once that’s done, don’t put your whisk in the sink just yet because you’ll want to give it a final whisk right before you dress this tuna pasta salad.
- Next set up a big pot of salted water to boil, then cook the pasta according to the middle timing on your particular package. Usually that’s called “firm”, and will be a minute longer than al dente and a minute less than tender.
You’ll have around fifteen minutes (or more) while the water comes up to boil/the pasta cooks to prep the rest of your ingredients: opening and draining the tuna and beans, rinsing/chopping the veggies and herbs, grating the cheese, etc.
- Once the pasta has finished boiling, transfer it to a large colander and give it a rinse under cool water to bring the temperature down.
- Add rinsed pasta and the rest of the pasta salad ingredients (except for the dressing) to a large mixing bowl.
- Give the dressing another whisk to re-emulsify it, pour it over the salad, and stir and toss to coat evenly.
- Top with additional herbs for garnish. Take a taste and see if you’d like more salt, pepper, dried herbs, lemon juice, Parmesan, etc. This pasta salad can be served warm or chilled from the fridge.
- When it comes to pasta salad, ensuring that all of the ingredients are bite-sized makes it easier and less messy to eat. Keep this in mind when chopping up the tomatoes, breaking up the tuna, and choosing a pasta shape.
- Rinsing the pasta under cool water is beneficial for pasta salads as it stops the cooking process quickly (so that pasta doesn’t get overdone and mushy). It also prevents it from clumping up immediately if you’re still wrangling the rest of your ingredients and slows down the pasta from absorbing all of the dressing right away.
- It’s inevitable that leftover pasta salad will absorb the dressing. If making this pasta salad ahead of time, you can reserve a portion of the dressing to dress it just prior to serving, or you can mix up a little extra to add to leftover portions when you eat them.
I think so! One-quarter cup of olive oil makes up the majority of the dressing for this salad, which yields a good 6-8 servings. This recipe includes leafy greens as well as as tomatoes, beans, and nuts, and the canned tuna provides lean protein and other nutrients.
Yes, this recipe can be prepared a day or two in advance of when you’d like to serve it. As it will absorb the dressing the longer it sits, you may wish to reserve some of the dressing and stir it in just prior to serving, or make up an additional smaller portion of it to add at that time.
This tuna pasta salad should stay in the refrigerator for 3-4 days, but as always, if something looks or smells off before that time, then better safe than sorry and toss it.
If you’ve enjoyed this recipe, I’d love for you to leave a star rating in the recipe card and/or a comment review below!
Mediterranean Tuna Pasta Salad
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tbsp rice vinegar
- 1 tbsp lemon juice, more to taste
- 2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
- ½ tsp kosher salt, or to taste
- ¼ tsp ground black pepper, or to taste
- 12 oz medium-sized dry pasta such as casarecce
- 2 5-oz cans tuna drained (either packed in olive oil or water)
- 2 cups arugula
- 1 cup sliced cherry tomatoes
- ¼ cup finely-diced onion
- ¼ cup chopped celery
- ¼ cup cooked cannellini beans
- ¼ cup grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan
- ¼ cup pine nuts
- Fresh herbs to taste, such as parsley, thyme, basil, etc.
- Add all dressing ingredients to a bowl or measuring cup and whisk well to combine. Set aside for now.
- Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil and cook pasta according to package directions. While the pasta is cooking, prep the remainder of your ingredients: slice tomatoes, grate cheese, dice onion, chop herbs, etc.
- Add the cooked pasta to a large colander and run cold water over it to cool it down. Once the pasta has cooled down some (it can still be slightly warm), transfer it to a large bowl. Add the rest of the salad ingredients to the bowl and stir to combine.
- Give the dressing another good whisk to combine it again and then pour it over the salad. Stir it up so that everything is coated evenly, garnish with more herbs, then serve.
- Making sure all of the ingredients are bite-sized makes it easier and less messy to eat. Keep this in mind when chopping up the tomatoes, breaking up the tuna, and choosing a pasta shape.
- Rinsing the pasta stops the cooking process so the pasta doesn’t get mushy. It also helps prevent it from clumping up in a big pile as it sits and stops it from absorbing all of the dressing straight away.
- Leftover portions will absorb the dressing as they sit in the fridge. If preparing this pasta salad ahead of time, either reserve a portion of the dressing to toss in just prior to serving, or mix up a little extra to add to leftover portions right before eating.
Nutritional information is provided as an estimate. As it can vary due to many factors (brands used, quantities, etc.), we cannot guarantee its accuracy.