12 Best Ways To Use Canned Seafood In Pasta Dishes

When you want to get dinner on the table quickly, pasta is often the immediate answer. It's easy to customize depending on the crowd and the contents of your fridge. Of course, the latter might be lacking, causing you to make do with a few basic pantry staples. If canned seafood isn't a regular in your household, you'll want to add it to your next shopping list.

This convenient source of protein is a versatile ingredient to improve your cooking. One of our favorite uses is to add a can to pasta recipes and tailor it to a wide range of tastes. Whether you're going the red sauce route, adding cream, or making use of the extra oil, canned seafood is a great solution for the eternal question, "What's for dinner?" Pair it with veggies and fresh herbs and consider your plate of pasta a complete and nourishing meal.

Aside from the many culinary possibilities, canned seafood is an affordable way of adding a nutritious element packed with omega-3 fatty acids to your dinner. Not to mention, it's a shelf-stable option that you can keep on hand to satisfy your seafood cravings whenever they strike. Read on for the best ways to add canned seafood to your pasta dishes.

1. Add clams to enhance tomato sauces

If you haven't been adding clams to your ordinary tomato sauce recipe, consider it a surefire way to elevate a pasta dish. With their briny and subtly sweet taste, they'll infuse the sauce with layers of flavor and complexity, as well as a pleasantly chewy and tender consistency to contrast the smooth sauce. Not to mention, you can skip the tedious task of shelling each clam while you enjoy your meal.

Pair canned clams with plenty of garlic, onions, and fresh herbs like parsley and basil to complement a tangy tomato sauce. For an extra touch of umami, try roasting the tomatoes and garlic beforehand. Add a splash of white wine to deglaze the pan, as well as clam broth for another hit of salty flavors. If you have a taste for spice, build some heat by sprinkling chili flakes or cayenne powder into the sauce. Pair the rich sauce with spaghetti or bucatini to savor every last drop.

2. Use anchovies to make outstanding meatballs

Forget about what you think you feel about anchovies and let yourself be open to the many possibilities of this umami-enhancing ingredient. Thanks to their salty and oily nature, the tiny fish can infuse a recipe with complexity and flavor. Try adding anchovies to your meatballs to take an ordinary recipe to new heights.

If the idea of mixing anchovies with ground meat isn't tempting, keep in mind that in small doses the fishy quality won't be noticeable. Try chopping them up finely, mashing, or melting them with olive oil as you brown some onions. Keep in mind that you won't have to season the meat as heavily with salt thanks to this savory addition.

Apart from the flavor component, anchovies provide a smooth textural element to the meatballs as well. This helps the meat and other ingredients like breadcrumbs, herbs, and seasonings to bind together successfully. The result is sure to be tender and juicy and an excellent complement to a tangy tomato sauce. If you're still skeptical, simply start by incorporating a single anchovy fillet into a pound of ground meat and slowly work your way to more.

3. Incorporate the leftover oil from canned tuna to make pasta salad

Your first instinct might be to pour out the leftover oil from a can of tuna, but you would be wrong to miss out on this flavor-packed liquid. If your pasta salad tends to lack richness, this oily addition is sure to enhance it. Paired with vegetables, herbs, and of course, the tuna in question, the dish develops extra layers of goodness thanks to the fish oil.

You'll get a pleasant hint of seaside flavors as well as an unctuous consistency thanks to the combo of fish oils and whichever oil is used to can the tuna. If you're low on time or don't want to whip up a dressing for your pasta salad, the oil will immediately amp up the flavor. All the same, an extra squeeze of lemon juice will complement the fish taste for a delicious result that leaves plenty of room for customization. Chop up black olives, slice some avocado, and add some artichoke hearts or sundried tomatoes to pair with this tasty tuna pasta salad.

4. Enlist anchovies for a seafood substitute in carbonara

Granted, a simple spaghetti carbonara recipe primarily consists of eggs, pecorino or Parmesan, pancetta, garlic, and pasta, but that limits the satisfying dish to meat eaters. Instead, try swapping the meat with canned anchovies for a quick last-minute weeknight carbonara dinner. Much like pancetta offers salty bites of richness interspersed between creamy strands of spaghetti, anchovies will add a similar umami component.

As well as infusing the dish with a savory complexity, canned anchovies have the benefit of coming pre-cooked, reducing the prep time for your meal. Simply chop them finely or coarsely to your liking and add them straight to the dish or sauté them with garlic to allow them to slightly melt into a rich sauce. Paired with a hint of lemon zest or chili flakes if desired, anchovies seamlessly blend into the creamy pasta dish. If you're happy to veer slightly outside of standard carbonara territory, adding capers is sure to bring out the briny nature of the small fish.

5. Opt for crab as a filling for ravioli

There are plenty of delicious fillings to load up your homemade ravioli, but if you want to infuse them with a gourmet quality, canned crab is an optimal choice. You'll be saving plenty of time by not having to extract all of the meat from the shell, which is a huge bonus. Not to mention, you won't have to wait for peak crab season when the desire for seafood ravioli strikes — nor will you need to pay a small fortune. Just keep a few cans of canned crab in your pantry and you'll be able to prepare this hearty pasta stuffing at any time.

Thanks to the naturally sweet and briny taste of canned crab, you can pair the meat with an assortment of complementary ingredients. Your crab ravioli recipe could include ricotta for an extra creamy consistency, parsley for an herbal touch, and lemon juice for a tangy bite. Or, season the meat with Cajun spices for a different twist. All you need to complete the dish is a generous drizzle of melted butter over top, which is sure to enhance the richness of the crab.

6. Mix tuna into butter for velvety sauces

If you're all about rich velvety pasta sauces, try combining canned tuna and butter for your next creation. The dish is decidedly simple yet flavor-packed, and an easy way to coat every piece of pasta with an unctuous layer. Start by combining canned tuna (ideally packed in olive oil) and butter in a bowl, allowing the two to blend together into a creamy mixture. Once you cook the pasta, add it to the sauce and mix the contents to properly coat the pasta. To add an extra silky consistency and help the ingredients combine more smoothly, add a splash of starchy pasta water too.

It's hard to whip up such an easy and flavorful pasta dish with so few items. Of course, good ingredients are the key to making this dish exceptional, so seek out gourmet tinned tuna and the best quality butter and pasta you can afford for optimal results. While the trio of ingredients is sure to impress, you'll want to add loads of freshly cracked black pepper and season the dish with salt to taste. Take it a step further and add lemon zest or juice, sautéed garlic, fresh herbs, and grated Parmesan to finish it off.

7. Use canned clams or octopus to make superb white sauces

Whether you're making a creamy béchamel, a cheesy Alfredo, or a white wine-based sauce, seafood is a classic ingredient to enhance your pasta dish. That being said, dealing with fresh seafood can be time-consuming, whether you're removing shells or cooking it to perfection. Skip the extra effort by opting to add canned clams or octopus to a white sauce.

If you're going the light and citrusy route, combine olive oil, garlic, white wine, lemon zest, parsley, and canned clams for an easy-to-prepare linguine meal. While the pasta is cooking, sauté the garlic in olive oil, add white wine and clam juice from the can, then stir in the chopped clams, zest, and parsley. Then, just combine the pasta and the sauce and dig in.

For a richer take, make a cream-based sauce or a simple béchamel with milk, butter, and flour, and add canned octopus to complete the dish. You'll often find this seafood preserved in olive oil, which infuses it with flavor and creates a pleasantly tender consistency. Garlic makes an excellent pairing with octopus, as does a generous sprinkling of chopped fresh parsley leaves.

8. Include anchovies for a better pesto

Pesto offers a savory foundation for a wide range of customizations, from classic basil to sundried tomato. Whether or not you're already an anchovy aficionado, you will be once you incorporate the tiny fish into your next pesto recipe. If the idea sounds unconventional, it isn't so far-fetched, as variations of pesto include the salty addition. Some recipes for pistou, a Southern French herb-based sauce similar to pesto but without nuts, also incorporate anchovies for extra complexity.

Keep it classic with basil, garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan, and olive oil, and toss a few anchovies into the blender to infuse the sauce with a salty umami touch. Be careful to avoid overseasoning the pesto as the anchovies will add a considerable amount of salt. While you can smoothly incorporate the fish into the sauce, consider garnishing each plate of pasta with an anchovy or two for an extra touch. Of course, if you're still treading lightly into salty fish territory, that might be a move for another time.

9. Make a spectacular vitello tonnato sauce with tuna

Vitello tonnato may appear to be in a gourmet league of its own, but the dish is more accessible than you would think ... especially if you have an extra can of tuna lying around. The traditional dish incorporates thinly sliced veal and a sauce made with tuna, anchovies, capers, olive oil, and lemon. However, you can just opt to make the sauce as a condiment for a simple pasta dish.

Choose olive oil-packed tuna for optimal results, and adjust the amount of anchovies to your liking. Since the tuna already brings in a fishy element, the extra fishiness from the anchovies won't be out of place. Then, simply toss the ingredients into a blender and blitz them until you have a smooth sauce. If you want your pasta to have more textural variation, add extra chunks of tuna or anchovies to the final dish. Garnish with seasoned breadcrumbs, fresh parsley, a splash of lemon juice, and even olives for a salty touch.

10. Add anchovies to a peperonata to spice up your pasta

If you're unfamiliar with peperonata, the vibrant Sicilian dish is well worth the effort of chopping and sautéeing bell peppers, onions, and tomatoes. With the addition of garlic and occasionally olives, this vegetable medley is served hot or cold in a range of preparations. Add it to pizza, a sandwich, or simply enjoy a dollop along with grilled meat. And of course, you can amp up the sauciness and use it to garnish a simple plate of pasta.

While you can stick to a basic recipe or make fusilli with pesto and peperonata for an herbaceous kick, once again, anchovies add an umami bomb that's hard to replicate. The sweet bell peppers and tomatoes make an excellent accompaniment to the salty anchovies, for a well-rounded and balanced taste. Cook the fish with the vegetables to allow it to smoothly blend in and uniformly season the sauce without overtaking the flavor. Or if you're a big fan of anchovies, stir them into the peperonata once you take it off the heat, then dress the pasta.

11. Speed up pasta con le sarde with canned sardines

Fans of canned seafood will want to add pasta con le sarde, aka sardine pasta, to their cooking repertoire. The Sicilian recipe is an absolute treat, brimming with seaside flavors reminiscent of the island's landscape. Of course, if you're enjoying this dish at a restaurant along the Italian coast, it's likely loaded with fresh sardines from the nearby waters and local ingredients. Nevertheless, if picking up the catch of the day from the marina isn't on your agenda, you can make an excellent rendition with canned sardines.

To approximate this local specialty, you'll also need onion, fennel, white wine, saffron, pine nuts, raisins, lemon, olive oil, and anchovies. Cook the vegetables with the anchovies until they are soft, then mix in the seasonings and sardines. The whole is served on long-stranded pasta like spaghetti or linguine along with toasted breadcrumbs for an extra layer of crunch. Serve it with a glass of chilled Italian white wine and you might as well be on vacation.

12. Infuse a smoky profile with salmon

Canned smoked salmon can come in various forms, but you'll commonly find it hot-smoked and sold in chunks. If you're used to paper-thin slices of cold smoked salmon, you're in for a treat. Tender and packed with flavor, the canned version is ready to serve or add to any recipe you choose. Even though smoked salmon has a reasonably long shelf life, it can't beat the canned version which stays fresh and ready to use for multiple years.

Given the richer consistency, you could choose to combine the fish with a cream-based sauce, evocative of a classic cream cheese and lox duo. Add fresh chives or dill to complete the dish and your dining companions are sure to be satisfied. Alternatively, you could opt for a more delicate white wine and lemon-based sauce and let the flavors of the salmon truly shine. A midway between the two is also delicious, especially if served with green vegetables like asparagus or peas.