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 liked traditional tuna salad, or have been a big fan of many mayo-based cold salad recipes. Exceptions granted for curry chicken salad and some varieties of potato and macaroni salads. No egg salads for me under any circumstances.
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.
Starting with pasta salad, which always gets a big YES, PLEASE from me. This tuna pasta salad features a variety of Mediterranean-inspired ingredients such as produce, beans, and cheese that can totally be tweaked depending on what you have on hand.
Let’s start with the big one: canned tuna.
I’m no tuna connoisseur, but my preference for this pasta salad is to use tuna packed in oil.
It has a little extra moisture which is welcome as everything here isn’t covered in something like mayo, and I find it tastes a little less…fishy? But that might just be me.
That said you can TOTALLY use canned tuna packed in water if that’s what you have or prefer to use. I usually use that variety in healthy baked tuna cakes, another family favorite usage of canned tuna.
Next up is the pasta. When it comes to pasta salad, I like to make sure all of the ingredients are relatively similar sizes so it’s easier to eat. So nothing much larger than bite-sized.
Medium-sized pastas work well for pasta salad, and I used casarecce here. Other shapes that work great are penne, rotini, farfalle, gemelli, fusilli, etc.
As for the dressing, it’s comprised of fairly basic ingredients with plenty of wiggle room. We have:
- extra-virgin olive oil
- rice vinegar
- lemon juice
- pressed garlic cloves
I like to use rice vinegar because it has a very mild flavor, as far as vinegars go. I really like it in this homemade honey mustard vinaigrette. If you don’t have it you can use another variety, like apple cider or white wine. Honestly even balsamic would mesh well with the flavors here.
The exact measurements I use are in the recipe card below, but definitely zhush it to fit your tastes. More or less lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper, etc.
Besides tuna, pasta, and the dressing, the other tuna pasta salad ingredients are yours for the choosing. I like to include greens of some sort, so I mixed in two packed cups of arugula. Baby spinach also works!
Other produce in this salad include tomatoes, celery for crunch, and diced onion. You know those marinated quartered artichoke hearts? Those would be delicious here, too. (I was out.)
Also included are canned cannellini beans, pine nuts, grated Pecorino Romano cheese, and fresh herbs to round out the Mediterranean flavor profile.
You can omit the beans and/or pine nuts if you don’t have/like them, or you can sub in something else like chickpeas or walnuts.
I’ve long had a preference for Pecorino Romano over Parmesan so that’s what I use here, but either will obviously work just fine. I’ve taken to buying a big wedge of Pecorino Romano at Costco and grating it fresh when I need it, and man, does that make me feel fancy or what?!
I priced it out and it’s a better deal than buying a 4-oz container of pre-grated at the store, and I find it stays for a loooong time in the fridge.
As for the herbs, use what you have/like. I chopped up a few sprigs of fresh thyme and enjoyed that flavor, but parsley or basil would work, too. 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.
Since we don’t want the pasta to sit for too long once it’s been cooked and cooled, I recommend doing most of the prep before throwing the pasta in.
I start with whisking together the liquid ingredients for the dressing. Once that’s done don’t put the whisk in the sink just yet because you’ll want to give the dressing a final whisk right before you dress the salad.
Then I set up a big pot of water to boil, and then cook the pasta. That’ll give you around fifteen minutes (or more) to open and drain the tuna, rinse and chop the veggies/herbs, grate the cheese, etc.
Once the pasta is cooked to your liking, drain it and run cool water over it to bring the temperature down quickly. Chilling the pasta prevents it from absorbing all the dressing right away, which is more likely to happen with pouring dressing over hot pasta.
Add in your prepped mix-ins, toss with the dressing, and then you’re good to go. See below for tips on making this pasta salad ahead, as with time it’s inevitable that the pasta does starting absorbing the dressing.
- 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.
- This pasta salad can stay in the fridge for several days.
- If you’re digging these flavors, you may also like this Mediterranean farro salad. Love the heartiness of farro in a cold salad recipe!
Mediterranean Tuna Pasta Salad
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tbsp rice vinegar
- 1 tbsp lemon juice, more to taste
- 2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt, or to taste
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper, or to taste
- 12 oz medium-sized dry pasta, such as casarecce, penne, rotini, farfalle, etc.
- 2 5-oz cans tuna drained (either packed in olive oil or water)
- 2 cups arugula
- 1 cup sliced cherry tomatoes
- 1/4 cup finely-diced onion
- 1/4 cup chopped celery
- 1/4 cup cooked cannellini beans
- 1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan
- 1/4 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, 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, then serve.
Nutritional information is provided as an estimate. As it can vary due to many factors (brands used, quantities, etc.), we cannot guarantee its accuracy.