Elizabeth Baer is a teacher who loves to spend time in the kitchen. She also posts recipes and musings about food on her blog, culinursa.com/blog and can be reached at culinursa@gmail.com.

tuna, noodles and beans

Pull together this dish of pasta, tuna and white beans when things get hectic. You can dress it up with capers, as seen here, should you so desire. 

Being a teacher in May and June is like being on a hamster wheel. From the minute we return from April vacation, it is a sprint to the finish, with AP exams, prom, seniors finishing up, field trips, graduation, finals and so many other end-of-school events. I should know by now how hectic it gets, but still, it always catches me a bit by surprise, and sometimes it gets difficult to organize meals as I normally like to do.

This dish was a favorite of my parents, as it could come together easily with pantry ingredients. With their busy lives and tiny NYC apartment kitchen, this recipe allowed them to have a great home-cooked meal without much forethought. Although normally I love planning meals and cooking, I appreciate opening the cabinet and always having the ingredients on hand. A can of tuna, a can of white (cannellini) beans, some lemon, and pasta is all you need.

For the tuna, it’s great if you can use an imported Italian tuna packed in olive oil. (I’ve seen these both in cans and in small jars.) But if not, drain any can of tuna and use a couple tablespoons of olive oil.

For the lemon, I like to use some zest and some juice. And if you’re missing the lemon, a dash of red wine vinegar will brighten the flavors. I like to add capers because I always keep a large jar of them in the fridge, but they are not necessary.

I tend to forget how much I adore this recipe, and my husband never believes canned tuna on pasta is going to be good, then remarks with great surprise how tasty it is!


Serves 2 generously, can be doubled


1 lemon

1 can tuna, drained if not in olive oil (5-7 ounces, Italian packed in olive oil preferred, but not necessary)

Olive oil, if needed

1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed (14-15 ounces)

1-2 tablespoons capers (optional)

Fresh ground black pepper

8 ounces pasta (any shape or strand)

Grated Parmesan (optional – Italians never put cheese on anything with fish!)


Bring a pot of water on to boil.

Using a vegetable peeler, remove 4-5 strips of lemon zest, about 2 inches in length each. Chop the zest into smaller pieces. (I don’t like to use a zester or grater for this as the small wisps of zest could burn easily.)

Warm a sauté pan over medium heat. If you are using regular tuna in water, heat 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil until shimmering and fragrant. If you have Italian tuna packed in olive oil, once the pan is warm, dump the whole can into the pan, including the oil. Sauté for a minute or two, stirring occasionally. Add the lemon zest pieces, cannellini beans, capers, if using, and a few grinds of pepper. Once all has warmed through, squeeze 1-2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice into the pan.

Meanwhile, add salt to the boiling water, then add the pasta and cook according to package directions. If the tuna and beans start to stick or brown in the pan, turn the heat down until the pasta is done.

When the pasta is done, reserve a small amount of pasta water in case it is needed. Turn the heat to medium under the sauté pan with the tuna and beans, and move the pasta pot right next to the sauté pan. Remove the pasta directly from the water into the sauté pan, using tongs for a strand pasta, or a spider or strainer for a shape. It is important that some water clings to the pasta as that helps keep the sauce moist. Mix the pasta, tuna, and beans gently in the sauté pan. If it seems too dry, you can sprinkle some of the reserved pasta water or add a drizzle of olive oil, mix again, and serve (with parmesan, if desired).

Elizabeth Baer is a teacher who loves to spend time in the kitchen. She also posts recipes and musings about food on her blog, www.culinursa.com/blog and can be reached at culinursa@gmail.com.