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Summer truly begins with your first bite of Southern-Style Tuna Macaroni Salad! This nostalgic pasta side dish combines tender macaroni, tuna fish, freshly chopped veggies, and creamy dressing – a perfect addition to any picnic or BBQ!
Summer is just under a week away, but it’s felt like the dog days down here in Florida for quite a while. Between the high humidity, afternoon thunderstorms, and incessant cicada chirping at night…
I am just not meant to live in this. I miss the cooler spring weather SO much already.
My favorite part of summer – and really the only good part in my opinion – is the eats!
Grilling all the things.
Peaches, cherries, and tomatoes galore.
Big bowls of salads of every color.
That’s what’s happening this week, folks. It’s unofficially salad week over here, and I’ve got some really tasty ones to share that are going to make the most popular chef at the potluck!
JUST TAKE ME TO THE SOUTHERN-STYLE TUNA MACARONI SALAD ALREADY!
If you’d rather skip my (pretty darn helpful) tips and tricks, essential cooking info, and similar recipe ideas – and get straight to this deliciously easy tuna pasta salad recipe, just scroll right on down to the bottom of the page where you can find the printable recipe card!
Summer is the perfect time for big ol’ backyard get-togethers.
There are so many holidays to celebrate in this three-month season, and this Tuna Macaroni Salad is perfect for all of them!
Just TRY to find an American that doesn’t remember at least one big bowl of pasta salad at every barbecue, picnic, or potluck.
Canned tuna fish is a staple in our house. I grew up eating tuna & noodles, and it’s one of my go-to lazy lunches to this day. Abe doesn’t care for my overly simple 2-ingredient version, so I usually have to dress up his share.
I can promise that this bowl of classic Tuna Macaroni Salad also works as dinner, even if there are no picnics in sight.
What To Serve With Pasta Salad
If you’re a tuna lover like I am, you’ll be happy just eating this as a meal by itself! But if you’re taking it to an outdoorsy-style meal, pair it up with some grilled BBQ chicken and/or burgers and hot dogs or brats.
How To Make Tuna Pasta Salad
Pasta salads are super simple to make, involving little more than chopping veggies and mixing.
First, boil some pasta to your desired texture. Not quite al dente, but not too mushy is ideal. Follow the package instructions for the recommended cook time.
When the pasta is cooked, drain and rinse it under cold water. This helps stop the noodles from cooking and flushes the starch that causes them to stick together.
Elbow macaroni is the classic type of noodle for pasta salad, but you can also use:
While the pasta is boiling, prep your other ingredients. Hard boil some eggs, chop celery, red pepper, red onion, and dill pickles (my secret ingredient!).
Lots of other similar salad recipes use sweet peas, and if that’s what jogs your childhood memories, feel free to toss those in, as well.
Combine everything in an extra large bowl with 2 cans of tuna fish and the drained pasta. I’m partial to olive oil-packed chunk light tuna, because FLAVOR and less mercury than albacore. Feel free to use your favorite – or whichever one is on sale!
In a small bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, lemon juice, salt, and black pepper. Taste the dressing and adjust the seasoning if you’d like, then pour it over the bowl of pasta & veggies.
Mix everything up well, so that the dressing coats everything in the bowl. Cover the bowl and refrigerate the macaroni salad until you’re ready to serve it. Sprinkle the top with paprika or cayenne pepper, and garnish it with fresh parsley, if you’d like, then watch it disappear.
Serve this tuna pasta salad at every potluck and barbecue this summer, and give everyone the nostalgia feels!
Can You Make Tuna Macaroni Salad In Advance?
Yes, you can definitely make this pasta salad recipe ahead of time. Prepping it a few hours or even a full day in advance actually makes it taste better, as the flavors have time to blend and marinate.
If there is any of it left over, store it in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Is There A Way To Make This Pasta Salad Healthier?
Tuna salad is already extremely healthy for you, and this tuna pasta salad comes out at about 376 calories a serving. There are a couple substitutions you can make to lighten it up even more if you’re interested:
- Opt for whole-wheat pasta, chickpea pasta, or quinoa pasta over regular enriched pasta. You’ll cut down on the carbs, and amp up your protein. This is also a great option for gluten-free folks.
- Swap out half or all of the mayonnaise with Greek yogurt to lower calories and increase protein.
- Use tuna fish in water instead of olive oil.
- Load it up with even more veggies!
LOOKING FOR MORE EASY PASTA SALAD RECIPES?
- Easy Caprese Pasta Salad
- Chicken Cordon Bleu Pasta Salad
- Antipasto Italian Pasta Salad
- Summer Vegetable & Sausage Pasta
- Shrimp Boil Pasta Salad
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Southern-Style Tuna Macaroni Salad
- 16 ounces (1 box) elbow macaroni pasta
- 10 ounces (2 cans) tuna fish drained (chunk, oil or water)
- 3 hard boiled eggs chopped
- ½ cup (2 ribs) celery chopped
- ½ cup red onion finely chopped
- ½ cup red pepper finely chopped
- ¼ cup dill pickles finely chopped (or sweet relish)
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- Fresh parsley for garnish
- Paprika or cayenne pepper for garnish
- Boil the macaroni according to package direction, adding a bit of salt to the water as it begins to boil. Drain, rinse, and set aside to cool.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the cooked macaroni, tuna, eggs, celery, onion, pepper, and pickles. Toss gently with a spoon to combine.
- In another small bowl, combine the mayonnaise, mustard, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Taste and season with more salt and pepper as needed.
- Pour the mixture over the macaroni and stir gently until well combined. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, up to overnight.