Fusilli pasta with black olive pesto and tuna.

Fusilli with black olive pesto and tuna.

 fusilli pasta with black olive pesto I’m always on the lookout for tasty pasta recipes which work well as salads too and don’t take long to make. This recipe for pasta with black olive pesto and tuna from Calabria ticked all the boxes. It takes no time at all to make, it’s very flavourful and can be eaten warm or as a salad! In fact, I ate the leftovers cold the following day and still can’t decide which I preferred, hot or cold?

(click to go straight to recipe)

fusilli pasta with black olive pesto

Recipes for pasta with olives are typical in Southern Italy. This is not surprising since most of Italy’s olives and olive oil come from the southern Italy regions of Calabria, Puglia and Sicily. In fact, olives have been cultivated in the Southern Italian regions for thousands of years and the landscapes of all these regions are dominated by olive groves.

pasta with black olive pesto ingredients

Tonno sott’olio.

Tuna (mostly canned tuna) is very often paired with olives in pasta recipes. In the past, Southern Italians living in coastal areas and on the islands used to preserve fresh tuna in olive oil themselves. Then, they consumed it during the winter or sold it inland. Some still do this to this day. Of course, nowadays, tuna in olive oil is readily available in every supermarket. In Italian, they say ‘tonno sott’olio’ for tuna preserved in olive oil.

pasta with black olive pesto

Having said that, like every ingredient, quality is key to taste. Luckily here in Italy, good quality tuna in olive oil is easily available. When buying tuna in a can or jar, take the time to read the label. If it’s fished and canned in Italy then it’s likely to taste great!

pasta with black olive pesto

Traditionally pasta dishes with tuna and olives or with tuna, olives and capers are served sprinkled with toasted bread crumbs. Southern Italians use toasted breadcrumbs a lot. Apparently it’s a throwback to the days when cheese was too expensive for the peasant population. Consequently, they used breadcrumbs as a substitute. It’s also very traditional on pasta with fish. In general, Italians don’t put cheese on seafood pasta dishes (except in seafood carbonara!)  I decided not to use breadcrumbs myself in this pasta with black olive pesto dish, but you can and it works well!

pasta with black olive pesto

What makes this recipe is the pesto! It’s similar to a rough olive tapenade but can also be used in the same way. So, if you make extra pesto, it can be served on pizza, bruschetta or crostini!  In Calabria, home to 30% of Italy’s olive production, olive pesto is also made and sold in jars by a number of companies. It’s possible to buy it ready made all over Italy and even abroad.  However, I much prefer to make my own!

fusilli pasta with black olive pesto

What type of olives?

You can use a number of different types of olives to make black olive pesto. Of course, ideally you want to buy destoned olives. The pitted Spanish ones that are found in most supermarkets are okay. However,  they are much darker in colour than ‘black’ Italian olives (which are actually purple or reddish-brown.In my opinion, they are also not as tasty or sweet. The best types, although hard to find already pitted, are Latium olives from Gaeta, Ligurian Taggiasche (my favourites!) Tuscan Lucchesi olives and even Greek Kalamata olives. Very green or bright green olives  generally taste a little sour, so they’re not as popular for pesto.

fusilli pasta with black olive pesto

Other ingredients.

Tomatoes, both fresh and dried, and capers make up the other main ingredients in this recipe.  Both are typical Southern Italian foods and find their way into almost all pasta or seafood dishes in the south. I used just dried tomatoes not those preserved in oil as I used olives preserved in oil and didn’t want the dish to be too oily.

fusilli pasta with black olive pesto

The pasta.

I used dried fusilli from Rummo, a pasta company from Campania which, in my opinion, produces a very high quality pasta. The fusilli were an excellent pairing for this recipe. They look really nice, keep their shape after cooking and the sauce and bits of tuna get inside the spirals so every mouthful is tasty and you don’t leave most of the sauce on the plate! Having said that, as with most pasta recipes you can serve other types of pasta with black olive pesto. I would recommend short pasta tubes as an alternative to fusilli.

If you do try this recipe, I’d love to hear what you think. Please write a comment here on the blog or post a comment on the Pasta Project Facebook page.


Your feedback means a lot to me!

Buon appetito!

(to see the recipe go to the next page. Just scroll down and click 2)

If you like fusilli pasta salad you may also like my green salad with edible flowers recipe. Click here for that recipe.

green pasta salad with edible flowers

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  • Avatar
    Julie @ Running in a Skirt
    March 26, 2018 2:11 pm

    What a tasty dish! I love the use of tuna and olives with the pasta- so cozy!

    • admin
      March 28, 2018 4:00 pm

      Thanks so much Julie. Yes pasta, olives and tuna is a great combination and it can be eaten warm or as a pasta salad! Greetings from Verona! Jacqui

  • Avatar
    Brian Jones
    March 26, 2018 6:48 am

    I must have a ee bit of latent Italian in me as I share the aversion to cheese and fish, it does not work for me at all. I also love sprinkling pasta dishes with toasted breadcrumbs, I often “melt” down an anchovy fillet or two in the oil that I toast off the breadcrumbs in too!

    This is such a tasty sound recipe, must get round to it soon, sans olives though as the latent ‘Italian’ does not stretch to a love of olives 😉 😀

    • admin
      March 28, 2018 4:05 pm

      I agree there must be some Italian blood in your ancestry Brian. You have very Italian taste! Pity about olives. You can make this with sun-dried tomato pesto instead. That would be good! All the best. Jacqui

  • Avatar
    March 25, 2018 10:44 pm

    I love pasta! I love that this has black olives and tuna, both are some my favorite foods!

    • admin
      March 28, 2018 4:07 pm

      Thank you Deanna! Yes tuna and olives go so well with pasta. It’s a great combo and this dish can be eaten warm or cold as a pasta salad. Greetings from Verona! Jacqui

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