I don't think I have ever been able to resist a second helping of this Easy Creamy Tuna Pasta Bake. This is a meal that is both simple and delightful with rigatoni pasta tubes in a creamy tomato-based sauce seasoned with smoked paprika, oregano and a small amount of cayenne pepper to give the dish a little warmth. The bake also incorporates red peppers and sweetcorn so there is no need to worry about putting on extra veggies. All of this sits under a delicious grilled cheese topping - this is the part I find particularly addictive and the main culprit of the multiple helpings I devour.
Creamy Tuna Pasta Bake is a great way to finish any day, especially a hectic day when you have to skip a planned trip to the grocery store. Most ingredients can be found in your pantry such as tinned tuna, dry pasta, tomato passata and tinned sweetcorn. It's also a quick dish that you can get on the table in under 40 minutes and freezes well if you have leftovers or want to get organised one weekend with some batch cooking.
I have been a big fan of tuna pasta throughout my life. It was a favourite on my childhood dinner schedule and also a go-to during my student days. My goal with this recipe was to inject some big bold flavours into the sauce and give it a wow-factor that some of the previous tuna pasta bakes were lacking. I have also found that some tuna bakes can be a little dry. Somehow tinned tuna absorbs a lot of liquid when baked in the oven. I have added milk and cream to ensure the sauce remains moist and juicy.
The ingredient list for this recipe is longer than I originally imagined it would be. I experimented with various seasonings and sauces I had in my fridge and cupboard and fell in love with the tasty flavours they all brought to the dish. If you don't have all the ingredients, don't worry. I strongly suggest you go ahead and make it and feel free to get creative and use what's available. Creamy Tuna Pasta Bake is a very flexible and versatile dish.
- Canned tuna - use canned tuna, ideally in spring water instead of oil or brine.
- Pasta - choose the pasta type that takes your fancy. I like to use rigatoni because I like it when the filling makes its way into the tubes, but fusili, penne or conchiglie (pasta shells) will all work well.
- Seasoning - oregano, paprika and cayenne pepper bring bold flavours to the sauce. If you are very sensitive to spice it might be best to skip the cayenne pepper.
- Tomato passata - I use passata instead of canned chopped tomatoes because I find a smooth sauce mixes well with the cream.
- Milk & cream - bring richness and additional moisture to the sauce. I use crème fraîche or sour cream. You can use a low-fat cream if you wish to make the tuna bake a little healthier.
- Tomato purèe - gives the creamy sauce a pronounced tomato taste.
- Red peppers and sweetcorn - because a meal just isn't complete without veggies. If you don't have red peppers and sweetcorn feel free to use the vegetables you have available.
- Tabasco sauce - adds additional heat.
- Worcester sauce - adds umami flavour to the sauce.
- Breadcrumbs - sprinkle these onto the cheesy topping to add a crunch
- Jalapeños - are placed on top of the tuna bake to add a little extra heat. I use fresh jalapeños but you could also use the jarred pickled kind.
How to make Easy Creamy Tuna Pasta Bake
1. Cook the pasta
Bring a large pan of generously salted water to boil and cook the pasta according to packet instructions. You can start making the sauce while the pasta is boiling, just make sure you don't forget about the pasta and let it overcook.
2. Fry the onions, red peppers and garlic
Meanwhile, put a large frying pan on a medium heat, add oil and fry the onions and peppers until they are soft and the onions are translucent. Add the garlic and cook for a further minute. Then stir in the tuna and cook until warmed through.
3. Make the sauce
Add tomato passata, tomato purèe, milk, oregano, smoked paprika and cayenne pepper, chicken/veg stock powder, Worcester sauce (if using) and corn. Simmer for 10 minutes before stirring in the cream and optional Tabasco Sauce.
4. Assemble the tuna bake
Mix the pasta and sauce together and spoon into a baking dish. Top with grated cheese, breadcrumbs and jalapeños (optional).
Place the tuna bake under the grill until the cheese has fully melted and browned. This should take around 5 minutes.
Tools & equipment
You don't need any specific equipment to make this yummy Creamy Tuna Pasta Bake. Here are a few key items.
- Sharp knife - for chopping the onions and peppers
- Garlic crusher - the most efficient way to break down a garlic clove into tiny pieces. you can use a knife if you don't have one.
- Large frying pan or Dutch Oven - for making the sauce, cast iron is great because it distributes heat evenly.
- Large saucepan - any pan that is large enough to hold the pasta will do.
- Baking dish - I use a 27 x 16cm cast iron baking dish.
The cayenne pepper and tabasco will give it a little bit of a kick but it is not super spicy. I'd say it's less than a medium level. Skip the cayenne pepper, tabasco and jalapeños on the topping if you are very sensitive to spice
The cooked tuna pasta bake will keep in the fridge for up to 3 days. Make sure you refrigerate it as soon as it is cool and cover with cling film or store leftovers in an airtight container.
You can freeze the cooked tuna pasta bake for up to 3 months. You can also freeze the sauce alone. This would give you a 15-minute dinner with freshly cooked pasta and melted cheese.