This mayo-free Zesty Italian Pasta Salad with Tuna is healthy, easy-to-make, and chock-full of veggies, protein, and flavor!
This recipe was originally published on July 14, 2020. It was updated on May 10, 2021.
Satisfy your whole crew with a recipe that's easy to make but big on flavor with this Zesty ItalianPasta Salad with Tuna. Don't be intimidated by the homemade dressing-- it really isn't that hard! Just measure out and whisk up your dressing ingredients and you're good to go.
Next, you'll mix in your pasta, veggies, and tuna, and dinner will be on the table! This salad is perfect for potlucks, barbecues, summer lunches, and makes delicious leftovers for meal prep!
Who says tuna pasta salad has to have mayo?!
I mean, nothing against mayo -- I'm definitely a fan girl-- but sometimes we need a change of pace, or to feed our "no mayo" friends and family.
And even though we can find more healthy and processed ingredient-free mayos out there these days, sometimes I'm looking for something lighter and healthier.
Or, sometimes, I'm looking for a salad that is more veggie forward or will last for a longer period of time out of the refrigerator. And sometimes I'm looking for a healthier take on traditional Italian pasta salad.
Growing up northeast and Midwest states, Italian pasta salad was a staple. I mean, if you didn't see it at a summer barbecue or potluck, it would make you start to wonder if something was wrong.
The look was borderline iconic -- tri-color rotini pasta tossed in that golden bottled Italian dressing with sliced black olives, a few diced vegetables, cubed cheese, and -- if you were lucky -- diced up salami or pepperoni scattered throughout.
And though I'm not here to dethrone such a legendary dish, I am here to introduce another, just as tasty, but healthier take on Italian pasta salad.
With tuna in place of the salami, and a handful of shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese in place of the cubed cheese, we lower the saturated fat in this recipe. The tuna provides lean protein, healthy fats, and minerals (source), not to mention flavor. Oh, and all of those vegetables? They contribute crunch, fiber, and nutrients while making the salad more filling.
Most importantly, I want to encourage you to not be intimidated by the salad dressing. Really!! It's homemade, yes, but it uses all common pantry ingredients and whisks up in no time.
But, of course, if you really don't want to make your own, I won't judge. Primal Kitchen's Italian Dressing is quite good, too, and lacks any weird preservatives or other mystery ingredients!
Either way, you'll be doing good by both your taste buds and your health with this healthy and fresh salad. Make it up for yourself and enjoy it as meal prep throughout the week or be the star of your next barbecue or potluck by showing up with big bowl for your friends. After all, sharing is caring, eh?
Table of contents
- This recipe is...
- Recipe ingredients
- Ingredient substitutions
- What type of canned tuna is best for this salad?
- How do you store tuna pasta salad?
- Can you freeze this tuna pasta salad?
- Can you halve, double, or triple this recipe?
- Can you make this pasta salad gluten-free?
- How do you make the best tasting pasta?
- What do you serve with this Italian pasta salad?
- Tools you need to make this salad:
- How to make this Italian Tuna Macaroni Salad...
- Other salad recipes to check out:
- Other pasta recipes to check out:
This recipe is...
This is my best Italian pasta salad recipe: it's just like a traditional Italian pasta salad, but with tuna added! It has flavor and crunch and the savory Italian dressing you love and some extra protein to add flavor and fill you up.
This pasta salad is made with ingredients that are pretty easy to find year round in most major grocery store chains!
- Canned tuna
- Olive oil
- Distilled white vinegar
- Dried basil and thyme
- Sweet onion
- Sweet pepper
- Baby tomatoes
- Shredded mozzarella cheese
- Grated Parmesan cheese
- Vinegar - don't have distilled white vinegar? You can also use white wine vinegar in its place.
- Oil - avocado oil will also work in place of the olive oil
- Sugar - this recipe has just a wee bit of sugar, but if you'd rather use a natural sweetener you can substitute honey. It will affect the flavor just a bit, but the overall experience should be pretty close to the same. 🙂
- Herbs - you can substitute in fresh herbs in place of the dried if you have them on hand. Just use 3 times the amount of fresh ingredients as you would dry.
- Tuna - flaked canned chicken or small cooked shrimp can substitute well for the tuna
How to make this Italian tuna pasta salad with no mayo...
- Boil the pasta according to the package directions. Drain the pasta in a colander, rinse briefly with cool water, and let the pasta rest for 5 minutes.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients.
- Gently stir the pasta, vegetables, tuna, and shredded cheese into the dressing until the vegetables and pasta are evenly covered with the dressing.
- Let the salad cool for 1-2 hours covered in the fridge or serve right away. Enjoy!
- Boil the pasta in heavily salted water - Salting the water that you boil the pasta in will give you the best-tasting pasta. To salt the water for the best flavor, add 1.5-2 tablespoons of salt for every 2 quarts of water you boil.
- Left the salad rest before serving - let the salad rest for at least a few hours before serving. This will let the pasta marinate in the flavors of the dressing, making the dish the most flavorful.
- Use your favorite pasta shape - many types of pasta (macaroni, rotini, orecchiette, bow-ties, etc.) work great in this recipe so just use your favorite shape.
The best type of canned tuna for this salad is solid albacore tuna. It is a meatier type of tuna that has a cleaner flavor than chunk light or other types of tuna. If you don't have or can't find albacore tuna, however, chunk link tuna can work as a substitute.
Unfortunately, this pasta salad does not freeze well.
Yes, you can divide or multiply this recipe by whatever amount you would lik and follow the recipes as directed.
You can store this leftover Italian pasta tuna salad covered in the refrigerator. It will last 4-5 days, though is best if eaten within the first 2-3 days.
- Gluten-free: to make this pasta salad gluten-free, just substitute in gluten-free pasta in the place of traditional wheat pasta
- Vegetarian: to make this recipe vegetarian, simply omit the tuna from the recipe.
Cold tuna pasta salad serving suggestions:
This healthy salad is delicious served on its own, but it's also super tasty served the following ways
- On a bed of fresh greens or lettuce
- Alongside burgers
- With grilled chicken or salmon
- With grilled veggie skewers
- With a glass of Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc
Tools you need to make this salad:
More salad recipes:
- Tuna Macaroni Salad
- Balsamic Pasta Salad
- Broccoli Slaw
- Broccoli Raisin Salad
- Greek Penne Pasta Salad
- Greek Quinoa Salad
- 5 Bean Salad
- Roasted Sweet Potato & Quinoa Salad
Other tuna recipes to check out:
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Thank you so much for your feedback and support of Mae's Menu!
Zesty Italian Pasta Salad with Tuna
Satisfy your whole crew with this Italian Tuna Pasta Salad.
It's easy to make but big on flavor. Don't be intimidated by the homemade dressing-- it really isn't that hard! Just measure out and whisk up your dressing ingredients and you're good to mix in the pasta, veggies, and tuna!
- 16 oz. medium-sized pasta (bow tie, rotini, macaroni, medium shells, etc.)
- ⅔ cup olive oil
- ⅓ cup distilled white vinegar
- 1 ½ tablespoon granulated white sugar
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 ½ teaspoon dried basil
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
- ¼ teaspoon freshly cracked pepper
- ½ large sweet onion (white or red), diced
- 2 cups diced cucumber
- 1 ¾ cups halved cherry tomatoes
- 1 sweet pepper, diced
- 1 cup black olives, halved
- 2, 7-ounce cans tuna (preferably albacore), drained & flaked
- 1 ½ cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
- Bring a large dutch oven full of heavily salted water to boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook according to the package directions. Drain in a colander, rinse briefly with cold water, and then let the pasta rest for 5 minutes.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, sugar, salt, garlic, basil, thyme, cheese, and black pepper until well combined.
- Gently stir the pasta, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, peppers, black olives, tuna, and mozzarella cheese into the dressing until all the pasta and vegetables are covered in the dressing.
- Stir the pasta salad right away or cover the mixing bowl and let the salad cool in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours before serving. Enjoy!
1. Leftover pasta salad lasts covered in the refrigerator for 4-5 days. It does not freeze well.
2. This recipe can easily be halved, doubled or tripled -- just divide or multiply all the ingredients by the desired amount and follow the directions as listed.
3. White wine vinegar also works in place of the distilled white vinegar.
4. If you don't like cucumber seeds, just de-seed the cucumbers before dicing. Slice the cucumber down the center length-wise and then scrape the seeds out with a spoon.
5. To make this salad gluten-free, just use a gluten-free pasta!
6. If using a premade dressing for this recipe, use 1 heaping cup.
7. If using fresh thyme or basil in place of dry, use 4 ½ teaspoons chopped fresh basil and 1 ½ teaspoons fresh thyme.
Amount Per Serving Calories 261Total Fat 17gSaturated Fat 3gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 12gCholesterol 15mgSodium 558mgCarbohydrates 18gFiber 2gSugar 4gProtein 10g
This nutrition breakdown is just an estimate of the nutritional value of this recipe and cannot be taken as facts. The owners of Mae's Menu are not nutritionists or dieticians and therefore cannot be held accountable for this nutrition estimate. Please contact your nutritionist or medical professional for a nutritional breakdown of this food. Furthermore, this food is not intended to prevent, diagnose, cure, or treat any disease.
My husband really liked the recipe! You might want to indicate in the ingredients list what size tuna can. And I am wondering if there is a way to make this into a chicken version? What do you think?
Also I messed up when I made it and forgot to put in the mozzarella, lol, adding it now.
sending big hug from you Mom's freshman college roommate and later apt. mate....
Mae's Menu says
Thanks so much for trying out the recipe and letting me know how you liked it! And great catch with the tuna can size -- I went in and changed that!
I'm wondering about the chicken version. My only doubt is the texture of canned chicken can be a bit different-- potentially mushier-- than canned tuna. Possibly with grilled and sliced chicken, though? If you try it, please let me know how it goes!
And Mom talks about you often. 🙂 Thanks again for stopping by and your review!
I made this quickly before a picnic at the reservoir the other evening and it was a crowdpleaser! I wasn’t sure about my toddler liking the tuna but all of the flavors were together so well I don’t think she even knew it was there. I was hoping we would have leftovers for lunches the next day but everyone loved it so much we ate the whole thing. Also it’s nice that the ingredients are common pantry items and that you can modify vegetables really easily. Definitely a recipe I will make again.
Mae's Menu says
Oh, I'm so glad to hear that, Kylie! Thanks so much for the feedback. 🙂