Tuna Pasta Salad

tuna pasta salad

I’m bad at lunch. Yes, I [usually] eat it, but I’ve always shied away from the usual, quick-to-prepare fare (read: sandwiches)¹. And the one and only prepackaged-marketed-toward-children lunches I tried — my idea, not my parents — was such an overwhelmingly-salty-yet-flavorless disappointment, it was guaranteed to be my last. Instead, I favor(ed) leftovers, salad, soup and the occasional mystery meat and orange cheese sauce doused nachos that were, in my middle schooler mind, the best thing the cafeteria prepared.

Momma Jo would occasionally make this tuna pasta salad for my lunch — I loved it in all its pungent glory (tuna + red onion = one stinky-yet-delicious lunch). It’s one of those family dishes with a rough outline of a recipe that she also ate growing up (it was her mother’s specialty) … and now even my closest-thing-to-a-kid wants to get in on it, too, as evidenced by this photo. (Oh hello, unintended Mad Men season five, episode seven tie-in.)

It’s especially ideal for those of you who prefer to prepare lunch(es) the night before. The overnight marination really does the dish good — the tomatoes actually don’t suffer much, especially the cherry-size ones — and if you feel the need to “freshen things up” in the morning, go ahead and toss in an extra drizzle of olive oil. And as much as I love mayonnaise, you won’t find any of it here. Or celery. Just pasta, tomatoes, tuna and a homemade, zesty Italian vinaigrette (one might also call it robust, a clue as to which store-bought dressing was once the go-to).

The dressing couldn’t be much easier to prepare, and only calls for approchable ingredients, ones that I use over and over again in a variety of recipes. I haven’t made any salad dressings since the move — besides a quick vinaigrette for Salade Lyonnaise one evening — so I was happy to have the chance to try out my new salad dressing shaker (kindly sent to me, for free, by the folks at OXO).

Typically, I get everything nicely emulsified by one of two methods: (1) vinegar and seasonings go into a bowl, gradually whisk in oil or (2) everything goes into a Mason jar, cover tightly with its lid and shake-shake-shake. While the shaker was really no different from the latter method, I will enjoy having fewer garlic- or other strongly-scented lids about now that I have a designated dressing container. And for those of you who prefer volume measurements to grams/ounces (unlike me), the shaker does beat out the Mason jar as it has cup and milliliter measurements marked on the outside. It’s not often that I make large batches of dressing — I prefer to shake change things up more often, given it’s usually just David and I eating the stuff — but when I do, I’m sure this device will be a much-appreciated gadget to have around, especially with its handy-dandy spout for more controlled pouring.

With all that said, I am quite pleased to announce that OXO generously sent me another dressing shaker to give away to one lucky reader! (It’s my first ever giveaway, you guys!) Here are the rules:

All you need to do is leave a comment below by 5/11/2012 at 11:59pm PST — let me know what you’ll make with your prize, tell me what your favorite recipe from the site is, jot down your favorite lunch that your mom (or dad or anyone else) made for you growing up or just say “hello.” One entry is allowed per person. No “extra credit” is given for liking A Sage Amalgam on Facebook or following on Twitter — though, if you choose to do so I would absolutely appreciate it AND you’ll get a first look at recipes in the works (now that’s a win win, right?). The prize will ship via FedEx Ground, so this giveaway is only open to U.S. residents (sorry!).

Stay tuned, the winner will be announced in a new post on Mother’s Day, May 13th. Good luck and happy National Salad Month (no joke)!

the prize: oxo salad dressing shaker in green
the prize: oxo good grips salad dressing shaker in green
(image courtesy of oxo)

Tuna Pasta Salad

Preparation Time: 15 – 20 minutes
Serves: 2+, as a lunch


Pasta Salad:

  • 8 ounces (227 grams) brown rice fusilli
  • 8 ounces (227 grams) cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters or eighths, rinse to remove loose seeds and dry thoroughly (yields about 1 cup chopped)
  • 1/4 cup (57 grams) finely chopped red onion
  • 1 (5 ounce) can tuna, drained and broken into bite-size chunks²


  • 2 teaspoons (10 grams) minced garlic (reduce to 1 teaspoon if onion is particularly strong)
  • 1/4 cup (57 grams) olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons (28 grams) red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon (14 grams) freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon (5 grams) Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon (3 grams) light agave nectar (optional)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Odds and Ends:

  • Table salt (for pasta water)
  • Lettuce leaves (for an optional retro-flair garnish)
  • Olive oil (to freshen things up, if desired)


Cook Pasta:

Bring water to a boil in a medium pot. Stir in a tablespoon or so of salt and the pasta. Return water to a boil, reduce heat to medium and cook until al dente, depends on shape and brand — Trader Joe’s Brown Rice Fusilli takes about 7 minutes. (I’ve recently discovered that cooking brown rice pasta over medium heat reduces the chances for boil-over, results in fewer broken apart pasta pieces and saves energy, to boot!)

While pasta cooks, prepare dressing.

Prepare Dressing:

Combine garlic through black pepper in the OXO salad dressing shaker or in another container with a tight-fitting lid (such as a half pint Mason jar). Shake vigorously until everything’s nicely combined and the vinaigrette thickens. Set aside.

Assemble Salad:

Once pasta is al dente, transfer to a colander and rinse with cold tap water until chilled. Shake off excess water and transfer to a mixing bowl (I used a 4-quart). Add tomatoes, onions and tuna to the pasta and pour dressing over top. Gently mix until everything is coated. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper. Serve immediately over a bed of lettuce (optional) or cover and refrigerate overnight (stir well before serving and drizzle with additional oil, if desired).


¹ As I recall, the only sandwiches I enjoyed growing up were (1) tuna with lettuce on a croissant, (2) Deutschmacher bologna with yellow mustard on white bread with a side of thin potato chips to add just before consumption (for maximum textural enjoyment, of course), (3) egg salad and (4) the fluffernutter.

² I use water-packed tuna. Recently, I was quite thrilled to find a multi-pack of Wild Planet Foods Albacore Tuna at my local Costco ($14 for 6). From a health and environmental standpoint, it boasts lower mercury levels and more sustainable catching methods (they utilize pole, troll and hand line methods, instead of the more common long lines — you can read more here). And from a flavor perspective, Cook’s Illustrated named it as one of only two “recommended” brands (the other is American Tuna).

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  • Reply
    Kiri W.
    May 2, 2012 at 8:56 am

    This looks fantastic – I never thought to combine two of my favorite cold salads 🙂 Well done!

  • Reply
    Sandy @ tinytinyfork
    May 3, 2012 at 10:16 am

    Tuna is absolutely one of my new favorite ‘easy proteins’. Great recipe and looking forward to some warm weather to break this recipe out!

  • Reply
    Heather Sage
    May 3, 2012 at 10:50 am

    Thank you, Kiri! How do you usually like your tuna salads and pasta salads? (For straight-up pasta salad my former go-to was the classic flavor boxed Suddenly Salad, with tomatoes and broccoli added and the dried olive and tomatoes and/or peppers packet omitted.)

    Me too, Sandy! I’ve been craving tuna like crazy lately. (I have a ridiculous explanation related to increased lead exposure from my new place — I’ve been painting — and my body’s subsequent need to even out my toxic metal levels. Like I said, utterly ridiculous [and a terrible “joke” about something serious].) Thanks so much, and I’m hopeful that picnic weather gets here soon, too!

  • Reply
    May 4, 2012 at 4:26 pm

    My mom made homemade French dressing when we were growing up. It was delicious.

  • Reply
    May 6, 2012 at 5:22 pm

    Great giveaway!

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