Classic Tuna Pasta Salad

Classic Tuna Pasta Salad

Perfect to have in the fridge all summer long, this classic tuna pasta salad is great for lunch or dinner, or as a perfect addition to picnics or BBQs.

I think everyone has their go-to Summer pasta salad. This is mine. It’s simple and classic. It’s a version of a salad my Mom used to make when I was growing up. Over the years, I’ve simplified it and adapted it to use regular pantry items. I love that it makes a big batch, so it sticks around in the fridge a bit, to grab and eat or for summer entertaining, when you need a big bowl.

The original salad used bottled French salad dressing, which I never have around, so a while back, I adapted this salad recipe to use the ingredients in French salad dressing instead. It may sound like an odd collection of ingredients, but it adds such great flavour to the salad!

This is a hearty and filling salad, with the addition of tuna, so it’s perfect for a lunch or dinner, or on a salad plate with vegetables. I like to serve it with some cold hard-boiled eggs and radish. And maybe some sprouts if I have some around.

Unlike some pasta salads, I like to cook the pasta just until barely al dente then drain, but I don’t rinse in cold water to stop the cooking. The salad dressing is then added to the hot pasta. I find the dressing and flavours really incorporate with the pasta this way, rather than just sitting on top. It’s important though not to over-cook the pasta, as the pasta will continue to cook a bit without the cold water rinse.

Classic Tuna Pasta Salad

Cook’s Notes for Classic Tuna Pasta Salad

Just a reminder to watch your pasta closely as it cooks, so you can grab it just when it becomes tender. The timing is probably around 2-3 minutes less than suggested on the box.

I actually made this salad recently using the Barilla Pronto pasta that I cooked with a while back (the no boil, no drain pasta). It worked perfectly, so don’t hesitate to use that if you like. Otherwise, just use any pasta you like.

I love to use rotini (corkscrew) pasta for this pasta salad, as it has lots of surface area to grab the dressing and tuna pieces.

Be sure to season your salad well with salt and freshly ground pepper, to really round out all the flavours.

Store this salad in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed container. Tuna Pasta Salad will keep well in the refrigerator for 4-5 days! If it becomes a little dry, simply drizzle a tiny bit of milk over it and stir. That’s all it usually takes to loosen it up.

Classic Tuna Pasta Salad

Classic Tuna Pasta Salad

Classic Tuna Pasta Salad

Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: American
Keyword: pasta salad with tuna, pasta tuna salad with mayonnaise recipe
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 12 servings
Energy: 335 kcal
Author: Jennifer
A classic tuna pasta salad, perfect for lunch, dinner, picnics or BBQs.


  • 12 oz. rotini pasta
  • 1 can tuna drained and flaked
  • 1 stalk celery finely chopped
  • 1/3 cup red onion finely diced


  • 1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. ketchup or tomato paste
  • 3 Tbsp. sour cream
  • 1 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. white vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Cook pasta to just barely al dente. Drain well, but do not rinse. Place hot, cooked pasta in a large bowl.
  2. While pasta is cooking, prepare the celery and red onion. Mix the dressing by combining all the dressing ingredients and mixing well.
  3. Add 2/3 of the dressing to the pasta, along with the tuna, red onion and celery. Mix well to combine. Allow to cool slightly, then cover well with plastic wrap and refrigerate until completely cool. Cover and refrigerate the remaining 1/3 of dressing, as well. Before serving, stir gently to loosen the pasta and stir in the remaining dressing. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
Classic Tuna Pasta Salad

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  • Would you believe me when I say that I have never made a tuna pasta salad…..never ever!
    Not sure why, my mom never did either, but, she doesn’t like tuna so maybe that’s why.
    This recipe looks very tasty and it does seem easy enough to make.
    This is going on my “must-make-soon” list.
    Thanks Jennifer, have a nice day!

    • Thanks Dalila and I hope you get a chance to make it. It really is a lovely summer salad. I’m always glad to have a bowl of it in the fridge :)

  • I love the simplicity and flavours in this dish, Jennifer. I often make a linguine with canned tuna and throw some tomatoes, lemon and fresh herbs in there. Tuna and pasta rock! I will make this for our next family get together. I bet it would be a big hit on Father’s Day as well.
    Enjoy your weekend. The heat is finally here!

    • Thanks Maggie :) I find the bit of sour cream, besides adding a bit of tanginess, lightens up the richness of the mayo, as well.

  • Omg, I haven’t had a good ‘ole tuna pasta salad in ages, Jennifer!! I absolutely love that you developed this recipe to use the ingredients in French salad dressing instead of using the actual dressing! This is so perfect, totally thinking I am going to have this for lunch today! Cheers, friend!

    • Thanks Cheyanne :) This is a nostalgic salad for me, but even after all these years, I still love to have a bowl of it in the fridge!

  • Hi Jennifer – I love that you add the dressing to the warm pasta – I bet that trick really works to carry the flavor throughout the dish. I haven’t had tuna noddle casserole in years but am craving it now. The homemade french dressing will make my husband very happy. He often makes his own with Greek yogurt and ketchup and who knows what else! Thanks!

    • Thanks Tricia and yes, with this recipe, I do find adding the dressing to hot pasta, then cooling works better for some reason. And yes, for your husband, French dressing is just mayo, ketchup, a bit of vinegar and paprika! (Not as much mayo as is used here though. The sour cream in the dressing is an extra, for a bit of tang).

I love hearing from you, so if you have a question or something isn't quite clear, I'm happy to help. If you made this recipe, I'd love to know how you liked it ~ Jennifer

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