Pasta with tuna and crispy bread crumbs is a simple dinner that tastes like it took a lot more work. Tuna, capers, lemon juice, tomatoes, olives, garlic, and a sprinkle of red pepper flakes definitely give this bowlful of pasta a punch. Serve with farfalle and top with crispy panko breadcrumbs.
There are two tricks to excellent tuna pasta—the first is to use canned tuna in oil (or mix drained brined tuna with a little olive oil), the second is to stir the tuna into the pasta right at the end of the cooking time to prevent it toughening up and disintegrating into the sauce. This pantry-friendly pasta is inspired by Sicily with its capers, lemons, and breadcrumbs.–America’s Test Kitchen
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Tuna Pasta FAQs
What is panko?
A lot of our recipes call for panko, rather than regular, old-school breadcrumbs. So, what’s the difference? Texture, for the biggest part. Panko is Japanese, used in lots of Asian food (especially tempura) but, basically, it’s still just breadcrumbs.
The difference is that it’s made from just the interior of the bread–no crust, just the lightest, fluffiest part. Soft, white bread is processed into flakes, rather than tiny crumbs, which makes it larger and, well…flakier than breadcrumbs. Because of this, it fries up with a lighter texture. Panko is adored for its ability to make a crisp, crunchy coating or topping.
What should I serve with this canned tuna pasta?
Our testers enjoyed this with a tossed green salad. A loaf of crusty bread or garlic bread would also be a welcome addition to the meal.
Pasta with Tuna and Crispy Bread Crumbs
- 1 pound farfalle
- Table salt
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
- 3 tablespoons capers rinsed
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest preferably organic
- 4 garlic cloves finely chopped
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 can (28 ounce) crushed tomatoes
- 1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives chopped
- 12 ounces good-quality olive oil–packed tuna drained
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Lemon wedges for serving
- In a large pot, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Add pasta and 1 tablespoon salt and cook according to package directions, stirring often, until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water, then drain pasta and return it to the pot.
- In a 12-inch (30-cm) nonstick skillet over medium heat, warm 1 tablespoon oil until shimmering. Add panko and capers and cook, stirring frequently, until panko is golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in lemon zest and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Dump the topping into a bowl.
- Wipe skillet clean with paper towels. Return the skillet to medium heat and warm the remaining tablespoon of oil until shimmering. Add garlic and pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
- Stir in tomatoes and simmer until thickened slightly, about 10 minutes. Stir in olives and remove from heat.
- Add sauce to the pasta and stir until pasta is well coated. Fold in tuna gently until combined but chunks still remain. Season with salt and pepper to taste and adjust consistency with reserved cooking water as needed.
- Sprinkle with reserved panko mixture. Serve with lemon wedges.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
This pasta with tuna and crispy bread crumbs is an easy weeknight dinner, one that uses good ingredients, that when put together become more than just the sum of their parts. With so few ingredients, please use the best you can find.
Olive oil-packed tuna is a must. I used a wonderful tuna imported from Italy. It really does make a difference.
I also used a can of imported Italian crushed tomatoes. The flavor of the meal I put on the table was top-notch. Both of those ingredients really shined and gave the sauce a fresh, wonderful taste.
I was drawn to this tuna pasta recipe because it reminded me of one of my favorite pasta dishes that I make, an orange tuna puttanesca. With the exception of the orange zest and juice, and some anchovies, this recipe was close enough. What this recipe has that mine does not, is panko bread crumbs. I liked them so much, that when I next make my orange tuna puttanesca, I am thinking of adding that to the top of our bowls of pasta.
We enjoyed this dish with a tossed green salad and a medium-bodied Grenache.
Pasta with tuna and tomato sauce is one of the dishes we make most at home, as a quick and tasty comfort meal, with ingredients that we always have in our pantry.
This recipe for tuna pasta and crispy bread crumbs adds some elements that make this dish even better: the crunchy breadcrumbs, and the acidity of the capers and lemon, in addition to the intense flavor of the olives. Perfect combinations, to do again and again!
Originally published August 19, 2021