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Tuna and Kale Pasta – Budget Friendly One-Dish Meal

This delicious and easy one-dish meal uses canned tuna, pasta, lemon, and kale – all readily available ingredients. Tuna and Kale Pasta is also budget-friendly and on the table in 30 minutes.

January 20, 2023

Tuna Kale Pasta in a wooden bowl

Tuna and Kale Pasta – One-Dish Meal

Who doesn’t love an excellent one-dish meal? No sides are needed, and the sauce is ready when the pasta is cooking. Bingo. If I had to eat one dish for the rest of my life, this tuna and kale pasta recipe would be among my top considerations! 

Tuna Kale Pasta in a bowl

Why Tuna and Kale Pasta is a Winning Recipe

  • Fast – on the table in 30 minutes
  • Budget-friendly – Costs about $3/serving
  • Delicious – it will convert any kale skeptic
  • Fantastic leftovers – warms up nicely in the microwave the next day
  • Pantry Meal – easy to keep canned tuna and pasta on hand

Easy to Grow Kale in the Garden

I have altered the original recipe, Tuna Pasta with Arugula and Lemon, by adding kale. This recipe came to me through a bridal shower recipe book. Everyone invited was asked to provide a favorite recipe for the bride. Thank you, Alexa, for submitting this delicious tuna pasta recipe. I also grow kale in my garden, making it a staple in our family. According to Farmer’s Almanac, kale can be seeded or planted six to eight weeks before the first fall.

Massage kale in lemon juice to wilt the leaves and improve texture and aid digestion

Give Kale a Massage – Say What?

A trick to making this dish extra yummy is to massage the kale leaves. This may seem weird that a vegetable needs a massage, but it improves the kale’s texture and digestibility. I’m sure this tuna and kale pasta recipe will win over any kale cynics.

Tuna and Kale Pasta in a white bowl

Ingredient Notes

  • Pasta – I like this recipe’s penne rigate (with ridges) because the sauce holds well to the surface area. But other pasta will work – linguini, rigatoni or ziti.
  • Tuna – buy the best that you can afford. The more expensive tunas are wild and sustainably caught. If you buy tuna in oil, read the label for healthy fats. Eat This, Not That! It is an excellent resource for choosing canned tuna.
  • Fresh Lemons only – no substitutes because the lemon zest offers so much to the taste of this dish.
  • Red Pepper Flakes – save the little packets that come with your pizza if you do not keep this fantastic spice on hand – no subbing, please, but you can reduce the quantity if heat is an issue.
  • Garlic – jarred garlic in a pinch, but fresh is best
  • Olive oil – no subs
  • Kale–arugula is a great alternative, but you do NOT need to massage the leaves in lemon juice.
  • Kalamata Olives – offer them on the side for picky eaters but try these yummy Greek pearls. Use capers if you are not an olive fan.
  • Parmesan Cheese – The best tasting and most authentic is Parmesan Regioanno -see tip below.  

Are there any pasta swaps for dietary preferences?

You can swap out the pasta to meet your nutritional goals. I use gluten-free pasta for this recipe, and other options are whole wheat pasta, palmini noodles, spaghetti squash, or zucchini noodles.  Just adjust the cooking time as needed according to the noodles you use.

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese from a block.

How to Shop for and Use Parmesan Cheese

  • Purchase Parmesan cheese in block form. Pre-grated cheese is convenient but grate just before using it for the best flavor. 
  • Parmesan Reggiano, called Parmigiano-Reggiano in Italy, is a variety only made in four regions of Italy and is a popular cheese choice for pasta. It’s a hard cow’s milk cheese with a rich, sharp flavor that is aged at least two years. 
  • Parmesan cheese that is not produced in Italy can be used. There are suitable varieties of Parmesan cheese made in the USA. Look for an aged cheese in block form. Try both Parmesan Reggiano and Parmesan and decide for yourself, but using Italian cheese will keep the recipe closer to its heritage. 


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Tuna Kale Pasta in a wooden bowl

Tuna and Kale Pasta – Budget-Friendly One-Dish Meal

5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star 5 from 5 reviews
  • Author: Karen
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 15 Minutes
  • Total Time: 25 minutes
  • Yield: 5 1x
  • Category: Fish & Seafood
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Italian
  • Diet: Gluten Free


This is a quick, delicious, and easy one-dish recipe that uses readily available ingredients of canned tuna, pasta, lemon, and kale and it’s ready in 30 minutes.


Units Scale
  • 1 lb. Penne or favorite pasta, regular or gluten-free
  • 4 cups kale, torn into bite-sized pieces
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • Juice of 3 lemons
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/3 cup Olive Oil
  • 46 Garlic Cloves, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 3 5oz. can good quality tuna in water; tuna in oil can be used but reduce the amount of olive oil above.
  • 1/4 cup black Kalamata olives or 2 tablespoons capers
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan Reggiano cheese, grated*



  1. Cook pasta according to the package direction, adding salt to the water. Scoop out one cup of hot boiling pasta water just before draining.
  2. Prepare kale – Rinse torn kale in a colander or salad spinner and place kale in a large serving bowl with lemon juice, zest, and salt.
  3. Knead kale for a minute or two to soften the leaves. Allow kale to sit while the pasta cooks. The lemon juice, salts, and kneading soften the leaves, improving the kale’s texture and digestibility.
  4. Make tuna sauce –  heat oil in a heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and crushed red pepper. Sauté 30 seconds. Add tuna; stir to break up the pieces and heat through. Remove from heat.
  5. Scoop out one cup of pasta water in a coffee mug and reserve. Drain the pasta and add it back into the cooking pot.
  6. Add the tuna mixture to the pasta pot.
  7. Fold in wilted kale leaves and mix thoroughly.
  8. Season with salt and pepper.
  9. Serve the pasta dish in the serving bowl that held the wilting kale, if desired. Sprinkle with Parmesan Regioanno cheese and garnish with olives.



Note: This recipe was updated on Jan 20, 2023.

*Italians do not usually serve Parmesan cheese with a fish dish, but I like how the cheese and lemon make a rich sauce.

You can use tuna in oil if you prefer – it has more flavor, but reduce the amount of olive oil. Also, try this recipe using arugula instead of kale  Tuna Pasta with Arugula and Lemon.


  • Serving Size: 5
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Let me know your thoughts on this post!

9 responses to “Tuna and Kale Pasta – Budget Friendly One-Dish Meal”

  1. I suggest eating this delicious dish with a friend or loved one because you might accidentally eat the whole thing yourself. We double the recipe now since it’s so good leftover (hot or cold).

  2. This recipe has become a staple in our house. A delicious dish you can feel good about eating. Great served fresh, possibly even better cold the next day! Can’t recommend it enough.

  3. AMAZING!!! I am not usually a fan of tuna and kale but I decided to give it a try and was I enamored by the outcome ! Definitely would recommend

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Karen the Supper Sanity Home Chef

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Hello, I’m Karen, a very passionate meal planner. As a mother of three, I have been planning family menus for years. When I was diagnosed with a digestive condition, I found it necessary to follow an eating regime that eliminated many ingredients. That made meal planning a health necessity. I’ve learned a lot and want to share my resources to simplify meal planning, shop efficiently and cook affordable homemade meals. If you wish to try new recipes, plan healthier meals, and enjoy a great dinner with your friends and family, Supper Sanity can help.

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