May: Bucatini with Sicilian Tuna Sauce

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Bucatini al Tonno e Capperi

Sicilian Tuna Sauce finish with script

Buon giorno!

Sicily is known for so many dishes and several can make the claim of “ signature dish”. BUCATINI WITH SICILIAN TUNA SAUCE or “Bucatini al Tonna e Capperi” is one of them. Many who came from Sicilian kitchens will remember this Tuna Sauce made from canned tuna. CANNED? Yes – the authentic dish is prepared with canned tuna packed in oil. The flavor of this sauce cannot be overlooked. It has the essence of the sea without being fishy. It is a beautiful sauce that qualifies as “peasant food” because of its simplicity. Even so, you can tell from the photo that this sauce is well suited for guests at your table and a special dining event. I highly recommend this as one of your “on the patio” dishes for the warmer season ahead. As an added benefit, as with so many Mediterranean dishes, this is a healthy example.

Ahhhhh, Sicilia!

View from Erice - ancient city-hour south of Palermo

The tuna: Even the Sicilians use the canned tuna for this recipe, although they are on an island surrounded by all that beautiful blue water where fish abound. However, your choice of canned tuna is important. I recommend the White Albacore packed in oil. The water packed variety will not give you the level of flavor desired here. You will drain the tuna so don’t worry too much about the oil. Although any White Albacore Tuna packed in oil will do, I like to use a particular brand that I find at Fresh Market by “Wild Planet”. The tuna is “pole caught”! Yes they actually fish for it!  The flavor is really lovely, and it is packed in olive oil. It is a little more expensive that your usual brands but so worth it if you can find it.

Other ingredients: While many may remember this dish prepared in their kitchens much more simply with merely canned tuna, tomatoes, and perhaps garlic or onion, the more authentic preparation includes capers and sometimes olives. The capers are drained but not rinsed as in many recipes, as you want a touch of the brine to flavor your dish. The olives are your choice. The pitted black ones are used here, but I often make this with the Sicilian Castelvetrano Olives – which you know as the beautiful vibrant – bright green olives found in olive bars and even in jars among your grocer’s condiments these days.


Of course, the fresh herbs more than make this dish. You simply will not achieve the fresh and truly authentic flavor using dried herbs here. Reminder: no cheese is necessary or desired with this lovely dish of the sea.

The pasta: Bucatini or Perciatelli is the traditional pasta type use for this dish. The tiny hole running through each strand traps the goodness of the sauce. This type of pasta is just MADE for the tuna sauce. You can also use Capellini or Linguine – as both are used often successfully for fish sauces and would be fine for this one. However, I like the traditional, and you see the imported Bucatini used in the photos.


Serves: 4

Prep: 20 minutes

Cook: about 20 minutes


1 lb. Bucatini or Perciatelli Pasta – cooked according to package directions

1/4 C. Olive Oil

1 Onion chopped

1 Fennel Bulb chopped (optional)

3 Cloves Fresh Garlic – chopped finely

2 Cans (5 oz.) White Albacore Tuna packed in oil (see above for my favorite tuna for this dish) – chopped just a little

1/4 C. Fresh Basil chopped

2 Tbsp. Fresh Italian Parsley – chopped

1 28 oz. Can San Marzano Whole Peeled Tomatoes – drained with 1/2 cup of juices reserved

1/4 Tsp. of red pepper flakes

1/4 C. Capers, drained – not rinsed

1 Cup Whole Pitted Black Olives or Castelvetrano Olives (bright green Sicilian ones)

Kosher or Sea Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper to taste

Extra fresh Basil for garnish


Heat oil in a pan and add the onion and fennel.

After cooking about 6 minutes on medium high, add the garlic and cook another minute.

Then add the tuna and the herbs– do not chop the tuna too finely. Just give it a few whacks with the knife.

Sicilian Tuna Sauce 1

Add the 1/2 Cup of reserved tomato juices along with the tomatoes after crushing them with your hands or in blender. Do not puree the tomatoes. This should be a very chunky sauce which is why I like the hand crushing method.

Add the red pepper flakes, and cook at a strong simmer for about 15 minutes (cooking out much of the liquid and concentrating the flavors).

Sicilian Tuna Sauce 2

Add the capers and olives for the last 5 minutes of cooking. Gently stir so you won’t break up the tuna too much.

Sicilian Tuna Sauce 3

Serve with lots of fresh chopped Basil!

Another finish with script

You and your family and guests will be surprised and happy with your BUCATINI WITH SICILIAN TUNA SAUCE. No one will believe so much flavor and finesse came from canned tuna. Grazie to the Sicilians for knowing best on this one. Grab yourself one of the lovely Rosés available for warm weather dining and enjoy. One taste and everyone at your Italian table will say “BRAVA!”


  Comments are welcome in the “Speak Your Mind Area” beneath this post online.




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  1. The sauce sounds marvelous and since we’ve started making our own bucatini this will be perfect. And in our household we always have the Italian tonno. It makes such a difference we won’t go back to the old stuff we used to buy off the shelf at the local grocery store — ugh!! I’m looking forward to making your sauce. Grazie!

  2. I came over from Carole’s. I pinned your recipe, it sound delish

    • Thank you! This is a delicious sauce that only reaches its great flavor at the end of the cooking time. The key is using a good quality oil packed White Albacore tuna.