Zuni's Pasta with Preserved Tuna

February 4, 2014

Test Kitchen-Approved

Author Notes:

Adapted from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook (which can never be praised enough). Judy Rodgers created the recipe as a way of saving leftover tuna on Sunday. I assume you do not have that problem, but if you do, take the time to preserve the tuna yourself. It isn't hard and it is wonderful; you can find Rodgers's method in the Zuni cookbook. What's below is her adaptation for canned tuna -- good olive oil-packed tuna. As for the pasta: Rodgers recommends penne, ziti, or ditali, but I've made this with spaghetti and perciatelli and I was pleased. Also, while we're being heretical, have I substituted walnuts for the pine nuts before? I have.

Nicholas Day

Serves: 4


  • 1 pound pasta (see above)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest, in thin strips
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili flakes (optional, for the sake of small humans)
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper (optional, for the same reason)
  • 2 garlic cloves, slivered
  • 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 2 tablespoons capers, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon preserved lemon, rinsed and chopped (optional)
  • 12 ounces olive oil-packed tuna (slightly more or less is fine)
In This Recipe


  1. Set a large pot of salted water to boil.
  2. In a small skillet, gently warm the olive oil with the lemon zest, bay leaf, chili flakes and black pepper (if using), garlic, and fennel seeds. Cook for about 15 minutes over very low heat to let the flavors infuse the oil. Then add the canned tuna, pine nuts, capers, and preserved lemon (if using). Gently nudge apart the tuna and let it warm up but not cook.
  3. Meanwhile, once the water boils, cook the pasta until al dente. Drain well and toss in a serving bowl with the tuna mixture. Serve.

More Great Recipes:
Pasta|Capers|Fennel|Pine Nut|Seafood|Tuna|Winter|Fall|Spring|Summer|Weeknight Cooking|Entree

Reviews (48) Questions (0)

48 Reviews

Paula A. October 3, 2018
Do I drain the oil off the tuna, or toss it all in, oil and all?
Andrea M. July 18, 2018
This is my go to pantry meal. Winter or summer. Often with some broccoli blanched in the last minute of pasta cooking. Love it.
Gwenhwyfar May 23, 2018
I used the infused oil part of this to inform a variation I made last night with a tin of mackerel and fresh pappardelle, with chopped green olives and balsamic-marinated baby cippollinis in place of the capers (which I don't like). My preserved lemons had turned, so I used the zest of a large lemon and squeezed fresh lemon on top when serving. Incredible flavors! The spices and warming steps are going into my own recipe now - thanks! :)
EC February 18, 2018
I made a non-carb version of this with Wild Planet tuna (packed with no liquid) and on a bed of steamed shredded napa. Great flavor that elevated the tuna. Though the tuna was a bit dry given that it is not the oil-packed kind. I’m sure if I had the oil packed Italian tuna it would have been much better. Nicholas - What brand of oil packed tuna do you use?
ghainskom September 1, 2017
I skipped the bay leaf and lemon zest for lack of it, as well as the chili and pepper for the sake of the kids, and subbed the pine with hazelnuts. Still a winner.
ghainskom September 1, 2017
My 5yo when I told her we were having pasta and tuna: "I don't like tuna". My 5yo after she'd had a bite, because I always insist they give each dish a chance before dismissing it: "I still don't like tuna. But you can put some of that in my plate". Made an effort to not lol, she could've changed her mind... :)
Dan May 22, 2015
I used whole wheat shells and three cans of tuna in olive oil (15 oz. total). The tuna was three different brands: the Trader Joe's looked the best and the Cento looked the worst. I had barely enough lemon zest, but I did have preserved lemons, so that worked out. It was delicious both warm, and later that evening (he said guiltily) cold. I can't wait to make it for guests!
candace May 19, 2015
This was so damn good. The flavor profile is so much more complex than I imagined. I made a few small changes: no black pepper, I added 3 diced black kalamata olives, I used chopped caper berries because I had no capers, and subbed walnuts for the pine nuts. Really lovely. I thought it had an almost traditional Chinese flavor - I'm guessing because of the fennel seeds.
Tonya April 15, 2015
This was excellent, everything went so well together. <br />I did add an anchovy as somebody suggested and used less oil. Also I didn't have pine nuts, so I used sliced almonds. It was delicious, will definitely make it again.
Can I. October 16, 2014
Holy smokes, this is good. A perfect weeknight meal, plus tomorrow's lunch. I didn't change a thing.
chelsy October 8, 2014
this dish sounds great, however i do not have tuna (and don't really like it) i have canned salmon. would that work in place of tuna?
Hannah M. June 13, 2014
This was brilliant. Honestly. I didn't add anything (which I ALWAYS do). This was so incredibly delicious as is. Having said that, melting an anchovy or two in the oil would probably add EVEN more of an umami element. Not that this dish really needs it, but still.<br />While I didn't add anthing, I made some slight changes in quantity:<br />1. I upped the fennel seeds a bit to somewhere between half a teaspoon and a whole one (I don't really measure spices, just shake the jar until it looks like an amount I'm happy with. This tends to be rather a lot).<br />2. I used the rind of half a preserved lemon (which was probably more than a tablespoon).<br />3. I used 1/3 cup oil. Cause we all love olive oil but... I dunno. Just letting the oil-weary know that it was delicious with less oil, too.<br />THANK YOU for this recipe.
MaryAlice April 13, 2014
This was so good my husband, who hates tuna, loved it.
allison W. March 24, 2014
SO GOOD and so simple. Will certainly become a staple now that I have preserved lemons on hand (I feel they really add to the flavor complexity). Also, makes a great tuna salad - add chopped onions and a tiny bit of good mayo, served on toast or lettuce.
Heather March 3, 2014
This was very good and so simple. I can't wait to try it again with preserved lemon.
Heidi March 2, 2014
This was an excellent recipe! My very picky almost-4-year-old even liked it. I used tuna that was in water, and will definitely use the oil packed tuna the next go round. The preserved lemon was very much worth it, nicely rounded out the flavors.
helicopterina February 28, 2014
fantastic delicious amazing! it's gonna be a staple in our house from now on - thank you for posting this genius recipe. and i also loved that i could infuse the olive oil and then come back to it after an unexpected pause before going on to making the pasta, tossing in the tuna/capers/pine nuts, and blending it all at the table... it's nice to have something so tasty and so flexible...<br />
melissa.velik February 19, 2014
I made this tonight and it was good, but was I supposed to drain the canned tuna or use the tuna from that for the 1/2 cup at the start?
deanna February 16, 2014
Delicious and addictive. Added chopped kalamata olives. Couldn't wait to have it again the next day. I can my own albacore tuna, which makes this over the top great. Good enough for company.<br />
Chrissie February 15, 2014
Great recipe for canned tuna - delicious!