Garganelli Pasta with Tuna Bolognese

Garganelli Pasta with Tuna Bolognese : Recipe from Emilia-Romagna.

This super simple but yummy 3 ingredient pasta with tuna recipe from Bologna is probably the easiest Italian pasta recipe I know. However, despite its simplicity, it was recently registered as a traditional recipe from Emilia-Romagna with the Italian academy of cuisine (L’Accademia Italiana della Cucina).

garganelli pasta with tuna Bolognese

Pasta con Tonno alla Bolognese.

The Italian Academy of cuisine was founded in 1953 to preserve the gastronomical heritage of Italy! Before a recipe is registered with the Academy a lot of historical research is done to discover its origins and ties to the area where it is considered traditional. This research includes talking to restaurateurs and gastronomy experts. Food is a serious topic here in Italy! But, I guess rightly so as it’s such an important part of the country’s culture and traditions!

garganelli pasta with tuna Bolognese

Pasta with tuna alla Bolognese is a classic fast pasta dish made with canned tuna, tomatoes and onion. Interestingly, although some Italians think of it as ‘fast food’ for lazy singles, it actually became a traditional Bolognese dish as a result of historical events and post war changes in the Italian diet.

ingredients for pasta with tuna Bolognese on white plate

The pasta.

At this point I should mention that the traditional pasta for tuna alla Bolognese is spaghetti. In fact, in Bologna, this is spaghetti bolognese! The famous dish with meat sauce is known locally as pasta ‘al ragu’ and is made with tagliatelle not spaghetti! 

fresh garganelli pasta from Bologna

In this recipe, I used garganelli pasta, also a traditional food product from Bologna registered at the Italian Academy of Cuisine! You can read more about this pasta on my garganelli pasta post. This short egg pasta is often eaten with meat ragu in Emilia-Romagna, so I thought it would go really well with tuna alla Bolognese! I bought fresh garganelli and it was delicious. But, of course, you can use spaghetti or other pasta of your choice!

chopped tomatoes, drained canned tuna and finely chopped onion in 3 white bowls

A little tuna Bolognese history!

Apparently the first use of pasta with tuna in Emilia-Romagna dates back to the early post-war period. At that time, two fundamental things happened. Firstly, the spread and use of dried pasta, particularly spaghetti, in Northern Italy. Secondly, the marketing of tuna in oil as a result of the birth of a local canned tuna industry.

chopped tomatoes and onion cooking in frying pan

Both canned tuna and spaghetti were inexpensive, and combining them became an alternative recipe for what Italian call ‘lean days’ (giorni di magro). These are religious days of fasting, such as Good Friday or Christmas Eve, which call for abstinence from meat. In fact, for the less wealthy classes in Bologna, spaghetti with tuna Bolognese became a special dish reserved for Christmas Eve dinner.

ready tomato sauce and canned tuna in frying pan

Other versions of pasta with tuna.

When I made this garganelli with tuna Bolognese, my Sicilian hubby wanted to add other ingredients such as olives and capers! After all, pasta with tuna is made in other Italian regions too, especially in the South. But, this is the official version from Bologna! The ingredients are typical of Bolognese eating habits! So no garlic, olives or capers! The only exceptions allowed are the addition of anchovies or parsley sprinkled at the end of the preparation of the dish.

cooked garganelli pasta added to tuna Bolognese in frying pan

I think, garganelli pasta with tuna Bolognese is a dish that’s so great for ‘lazy’ days when you don’t feel like spending time in the kitchen. It’s also very popular with kids. The 3 main ingredients are staples in most people’s larders. You can use fresh or tinned peeled tomatoes. Italians use tuna that is preserved in olive oil. That’s definitely best. I like to use the slightly more expensive tuna fillets. Like all simple recipes the better the quality of the ingredients, the better it tastes! Don’t you agree?

garganelli pasta with tuna Bolognese

If you do try this garganelli pasta with tuna Bolognese 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!

Other canned tuna pasta recipes on The Pasta Project

  1. Spaghetti with tuna carbonara
  2. Elbow pasta with tuna and cannellini beans
  3. Pasta shells filled with tuna and ricotta
  4. Fusilli with black olive pesto and tuna
  5. Spaghetti with tuna, mint and capers 

garganelli pasta with tuna Bolognese

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5 from 29 votes
garganelli pasta with canned tuna Bolognese
Garganelli Pasta with Tuna Bolognese
Prep Time
5 mins
Cook Time
35 mins
Total Time
40 mins

This simple but delicious 3 ingredient pasta with canned tuna and tomatoes is a traditional recipe from Bologna that is perfect for meatless days and when you don't feel like too many hours in the kitchen!

Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Emilia-Romagna, Italian, Northern Italy
Keyword: garganelli, Italian recipe, pasta, quick and easy recipe, spaghetti, tomato sauce, tuna
Servings: 4
Author: Jacqueline De Bono
  • 400 g garganelli pasta (14oz) or spaghetti
  • 370 g quality tuna in olive oil (13 oz) I used tuna fillets
  • 1 onion red or 2 large shallots
  • 700 g sauce tomatoes (24 oz) peeled or 400g tinned (14oz)
  • salt for pasta and to taste
  • black pepper to taste
  • 2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • fresh parsley optional
  1. Put a pot of water on to boil for the pasta, add salt once it starts to boil and bring to the boil again!

  2. Peel and cut the onion into very thin slices and peel the fresh tomatoes (if using) by blanching in boiling water for a couple of minutes. Then remove the skins and cut into quarters.

  3. Sauté the onion in the olive oil until it becomes transparent. Add the chopped/tinned tomatoes.

  4. Cook covered over a low heat for about 30 minutes, until the tomatoes are very soft. Stir occasionally to prevent the sauce from sticking and burning. Add salt and pepper to taste.

  5. 10 minutes before the sauce has finished cooking, add the drained tuna, broken into small pieces. .

  6. Meanwhile, cook the pasta al dente according to the instructions on the packet. If the tuna and tomato sauce seems dry, add some of the pasta cooking water just before the pasta is ready.

  7. When the pasta is ready, drain it and mix with the sauce. Serve immediately with a sprinkling of chopped fresh parsley if required.

Recipe Notes

This recipe is traditionally made with spaghetti. You can also use other pasta of your choice.

If you like them add some anchovies when cooking the onions for extra umami flavour.

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garganelli pasta with tuna Bolognese

Garganelli Pasta with Tuna Bolognese

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  • Avatar
    Image Earth Travel
    May 5, 2020 11:26 am

    Will definitely try this version – looks easy and delicious!

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    March 25, 2020 11:27 pm

    I have made this pasta for dinner yesterday and wow! Loved it so much and my whole family loved it. Will be making this again and again – yumm! I will try it with makerel too, do you think it will work?
    Thank you for sharing this wonderful pasta dish – made my kids super happy 😉

  • Avatar
    March 24, 2020 6:53 pm

    I always look forward to seeing your recipes. This recipe is so different than what I’m used to, but I would love to try it out, so I’m saving it for later! Thank you for another inspiring recipe!

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    Jacque Hastert
    March 23, 2020 6:12 pm

    I love the use of tuna in this authentic pasta dish! I can’t wait to make this dinner next week.

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    March 23, 2020 4:12 pm

    Yet another delicious dish from you, this one is amazing. I’ve used a few different pasta types and it is always delicious.

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    March 22, 2020 12:53 am

    I love me a good pasta. Thanks for sharing.

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    March 21, 2020 11:07 pm

    FAbulous recipe share at the perfect timing. The Tuna bolognese sounds great and yummy

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    March 21, 2020 4:10 pm

    i love making dishes with Tuna. This recipe with pasta looks super delicious and tempting me to make ASAP 🙂

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    Jere Cassidy
    March 19, 2020 3:05 am

    As always your pasta dishes look amazing. I so appreciate what the Italian Academy of cuisine has done to keep the Italian heritage of its food.

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    Nart | Cooking with Nart
    March 18, 2020 3:53 pm

    Looks delicious and perfect timing since we can stock up on canned tuna!!

  • Avatar
    Stine Mari
    March 18, 2020 2:10 pm

    This tuna pasta dish is so simple and still packing with flavors, I love it! And it’s always interesting to read the origin and history of your recipes!

  • Avatar
    Felicia Austin
    March 18, 2020 7:46 am

    I always love reading your recipes because I learn something new each and every time! This recipe sounds so easy to make and looks really delicious! We are a big fan of canned tuna in our house so we will be trying this real soon.

  • Avatar
    March 18, 2020 5:51 am

    What an amazing pasta dish. The tuna pasta looks very delicious. I will love to make this in my kitchen

  • Avatar
    March 18, 2020 4:00 am

    I love this recipe. So simple to make, with pantry staples, and so delicious, too. Thank you!

  • Avatar
    March 18, 2020 3:05 am

    Oh that looks amazing. Great pics

  • Avatar
    Lesli Schwartz
    March 17, 2020 10:05 pm

    This looks incredibly delicious! I love the idea of using canned tuna in this pasta dish. Need this recipe in my life!

  • Avatar
    March 17, 2020 9:19 pm

    I love the idea of this dish. I never would’ve thought to replace the meat with tuna. I am not a meat eater, so I am super excited for this recipe. Thanks for sharing

  • Avatar
    March 17, 2020 4:21 pm

    I had no clue that traditional bolognese was made with tagliatelle!

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    Marlynn | Urban Bliss Life
    April 22, 2019 8:04 pm

    Love this tuna twist on classic bolognese. Simple yet so elegant and flavorful!

    • Jacqui
      June 4, 2019 10:16 am

      Thank you Marlynn! We love this tuna Bolognese too! Such a great recipe for when you don’t have a lot of time to spend in the kitchen!

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    April 22, 2019 7:53 pm

    Love this recipe! Such delicious flavor!

    • Jacqui
      June 4, 2019 10:17 am

      Thanks Kim, yes this tuna pasta is really delicious!

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    April 22, 2019 7:40 pm

    You know, I love tuna, but for some reason have never thought to combine it with pasta and sauce. I like the idea of using tuna as another protein source that can go with pasta.

    • Jacqui
      June 4, 2019 10:19 am

      Tuna is a popular pasta condiment here in Italy, Vicky! I’m sure you’ll love it if you try it!

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    Brian Jones
    April 18, 2019 8:30 am

    I’ve never heard of this but it sounds amazing… I came across a chef once cooking a sardine bolognese which sounded and looked outstanding. I must try this!

    • Jacqui
      June 4, 2019 10:21 am

      Sardine Bolognese sounds interesting, Brian. I have to find a recipe for that. Although I imagine it’s quite similar to this tuna Bolognese! Am sure you’ll really enjoy this dish!

  • Avatar
    April 17, 2019 7:32 pm

    Being Italian, I really have to say ‘ una perfetta Pasta con tonno alla Bolognese’. Garganelli are the perfect pasta along with this sauce, an excellent recipe and I liked the history about it. Complimenti!

    • Jacqui
      June 4, 2019 10:24 am

      Grazie di cuore cara Fiorenza! I think garganelli are perfect with this tuna Bolognese too!

  • Avatar
    Chef Mireille
    April 17, 2019 1:40 am

    Your posts are always full of so much history – I read every last word! How interesting to know that ragu is traditionally made with tagliatelle in the region. and this tuna bolognese is definitely one I want to try!

    • Jacqui
      June 4, 2019 10:26 am

      Thanks so much for your comment Mireille! I’m thrilled you like the fact I include some history in my posts! I love food history and you obviously do too!

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    Luci’s Morsels
    April 16, 2019 10:41 pm

    Tuna pasta is something so don’t make nearly enough and so absolutely need to! I love how easy this one looks. And I LOVE all the food history!!

    • Jacqui
      June 4, 2019 10:28 am

      Tuna pasta is a great go-to dish when you don’t have much time for cooking Luci! And there are many different recipes for it so you don’t have to make the same dish each time! Happy you like the food history!

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    Pam Greer
    April 16, 2019 10:06 pm

    I have had pasta bolognese before, but never tuna bolognese! I love how easy this is and so delicious!

    • Jacqui
      June 4, 2019 10:29 am

      Thank you Pam, I’m sure you’ll love this version of Bolognese if you try it! Yes, very easy and delicious!

  • Avatar
    April 16, 2019 9:37 pm

    Tuna Bolognese, I like the sound of that!! This definitely sounds like a lighter pasta dish than a heavy meat one and that is right up my alley. Thanks for sharing.

    • Jacqui
      June 4, 2019 10:30 am

      Thanks Adrianne! This is definitely lighter than a meat sauce! Great for quick meals and warm weather eating!

  • Avatar
    April 16, 2019 9:19 pm

    Wow, tuna bolognese, never would have thought of this but it sounds delicious!

    • Jacqui
      June 4, 2019 10:31 am

      Tuna Bolognese is a great go-to dish for a simple and quick meal Lisa. It’s popular here in Italy and I’m sure you’d enjoy it too!

  • Avatar
    April 16, 2019 8:53 pm

    I have never heard of tuna bolognese before, but it sounds great and something different for us to try for a change.

    • Jacqui
      June 4, 2019 10:33 am

      Thank you Dannii! My motto for this blog is ‘change your pasta life!’ I hope you’ll try this and other recipes here and enjoy making pasta in different ways for a change!

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    Beth Neels
    April 16, 2019 7:41 pm

    This pasta looks amazing! I love anything with seafood! I love the simplicity of this dish, as well! So easy and tasty, I can’t wait to make it!

    • Jacqui
      June 4, 2019 10:34 am

      Thanks so much Beth! Yes this tuna Bolognese is such a simple dish. But simple doesn’t mean bland. It’s full of flavour and I’m sure you’ll love it!

  • Avatar
    April 16, 2019 6:06 pm

    OMG this tuna bolognese looks divine, and that pasta!!! I wish I could find all these types of pasta over here. I must look for these garganelli ones, they look so good, my kids would love them. Gorgeous. Recipe saved!

    • Jacqui
      April 16, 2019 6:08 pm

      Garganelli is a fabulous pasta Ramona. If you can’t buy it maybe you can make it yourself! Happy you like this recipe! I’m sure your kids would love it!

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