Penne Pomodoro with Vegan “Tuna”


I have crawled up in a rusty canopy swing with the computer in my lap, spiderweb from the canopy tangled up in my hair, Mr Bojangles on repeat (I always write with a single song on repeat in my ears) and Elsa balancing on my legs. We are spending a few days at my dad’s summerhouse and while Luise is drawing with Isac, I wanted to tell you about this pasta dish that we cooked and photographed the other day.

I’m trying to formulate my thoughts into words. How soaked sunflower seeds almost magically get the texture of canned tuna when mixed in a food processor. But it’s not easy. Elsa is using every muscle in her body to steal my attention from the computer screen. Her mouth is forming words (that I can’t hear because of the earplugs), her head is jumping from side to side while her eyes are actively seeking mine. She is smacking her hands together right in front of my face and she grins when I finally look up from the computer and pull out the earplugs.

– Do you know what this means on sign language? She asks me with giggle in her voice while she keeps smacking her hands together and then pointing at herself.

– No, tell me.

– I want a saaaaandwich!

– Are you hungry?

– No, I’m just teaching you sign language.

– Ok, nice. But I’m working right now. Maybe you can teach me more later?

– Ok. Just one more. Do you know what this is? [Taps her forehead with her hand and pulls it away in a half circle.]

– Ehm, maybe a unicorn?

– Nooo stupid, it means thank you. Actually, I think I want a sandwich.

– Maybe you can ask mom to help you?

– Okaaaaaaay.

She jumps down and runs into the house. Earplugs back in. I’m guessing that I have approx 5 mins to write this. Here we go.


It’s not often that we create dishes that mimics meat. In fact, we often do the opposite by letting the vegetables shine in all their glory. I don’t remember eating tuna a lot before I became a vegetarian, but after having seen a few vegan sunflower seed “tuna” recipes on the web (especially this beautiful Tuna Tartine from Faring-Well) I suddenly got this weird craving for it. So we decided to give fake-tuna a try. By pulsing soaked sunflower seeds in a food processor together with salty capers, shallots, oil, apple cider vinegar, lemon and nori sheet, you actually get something that looks weirdly similar to canned tuna with a crumbly, moist texture and a flavour that reminds me of salty seas and umami.

Most recipes we’ve seen use this sunflower seed tuna as a spread or as a tuna salad (often with the addition of celery and herbs) but we instead added it to a tomato sauce and served it with penne, creating a classic Italian poor mans dish. The vegan “tuna” adds a nice texture to the sauce and it improves the flavour as well. The kids loved it! It is a simple recipe if you are on a budget and it is a tad more special than your basic pasta pomodoro. So go put your sunflower seeds in water and pretend they are a fish.

I can see Elsa eyeballing me from the window now so I better round this up. I have got a class in imaginative sign language up ahead with my favourite teacher.


Penne Pomodoro with Vegan “Tuna”
Serves 4

It’s important to soak the sunflower seeds to achieve the right texture so don’t skip that step. If you’ve got some white wine opened in the fridge, you can add a glug of that for extra depth and flavour.

Vegan Tuna
140 g / 1 cup raw sunflower seeds, soaked in water for 6 hours or overnight
1 small shallot or red onion, minced
3 tbsp capers + brine

1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp cold-pressed olive oil (coconut oil, ghee or butter)

1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp sea salt

1/2 sheet of nori (the seaweed you use for sushi), cut into tiny pieces (optional)

Pomodoro Sauce
1 onion

2 cloves of garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
3 x 400 g / 14 oz cans of chopped tomatoes
1 handful fresh basil or 2 tsp dried

sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Serve with
Pasta of choice (we use wholegrain penne or a gluten free version made from dried beans)
80 g / 1/2 cup large capers
fresh parsley, finely chopped

To prepare the “tuna”, simply add all ingredients to a food processor. Pulse a few times until it you have a coarsely textured mixture. Taste and add more salt, lemon juice or vinegar. Pulse again and scoop the mixture into a bowl.

Peel and finely chop the onion and garlic. Place a large sauce pan on medium heat and add olive oil. Sauté the onion and garlic for a few minutes until fragrant. Add tomatoes, basil, salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes. Taste and adjust the flavours throughout. Add a splash of water or white wine if it starts looking dry.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to the instructions on the package.

When the tomato sauce is ready, stir in 2/3 of the “tuna”, saving the rest for serving. Divide the pasta in 4 bowls, top with tomato sauce, capers, fresh parsley and a drizzle of olive oil.


  • Jane
    Wow, I just found this recipe and would love to try it!! My only issue is I couldn't find raw sunflower seeds, only roasted (but unsalted!!). Could those still work in this recipe?
  • It looks yummy! thanks for sharing!
  • It’s awesome that Elsa is learning a signal language! She sounds like a totally vivid and active little girl :) This dish speaks to my heart on so many degrees… I wish my Italian grandfather have been nonetheless alive so I may want to make this for him. He instilled in me a big love of pasta, so I recognize he might have loved this penne Pomodoro!
  • Maria
    This is the best Sauce ever!! I have made it several times already and will continue to cook it forever I think :). Also my boyfriend, who is a total meat and fish eater loves it and said it was the best Sauce he has ever eaten.
  • great recipe, I can't wait to try this when I get home. Quick question. I loved the blue bowls that you had displayed the pasta in, can you share where you bought it?
  • Dana
    Hi! I've made this recipe before and it tastes sooo good! Tonight I'll make it for my whole non vegan family, so fingers crossed. I'm very curious though, I know you say 1 cup of sunflower seeds is approx. 140 gram, but my cup weighs just about 70 gram! Should I stick with the cup or stick with 140 gram? Love, Dana
  • This dish was amazing! Really recommend to everyone to make. I made just a third of the recipe because it was only for myself and I found that a mortar worked very well for making the “tuna” Thanks a lot for posting the recipe, this is a keeper! This recipe is amazing and delicious. Thank you so much! The idea of it inspired me to prepare it the same day. Instead of the nori there was a dried blend of seaweed flakes in stock and it worked fine. Soaking the sunflower seeds overnight probably works for less crunchy texture, which was also nice but less tuna-like. Now they soaked for six hours, precisely the time there was between finding the recipe and preparing. The tomato sauce is gorgeous and very tasty. Added a little bit of balsamic vinegar to the sauce, baked little aubergine dices over the pasta and a handful of fresh aragula around the dish for extra color, greens and taste. With the sunflower mixture and extra capers it was incredibly yummmm. A favourite.
  • Peter
    Elsa calls you "stupid"? That's a bit hard :-(
  • This sounds divine! Great blog. Fully informative. Thank for blog.
  • Thank you!!!!! So excited to try this as i love tuna.
  • Clara
    I've just made this for lunch. I used buckwheat penne and added some roasted vegetables too. It was totally delicious! Thank you so much for the many great recipes and wonderful stories.
  • Ahh! Wow, this looks fantastic! Cannot wait to try this recipe :) Thanks for sharing!
  • Riikka
    I made this recipe today and it was really delicious! My kids liked it too. Who needs regular tuna..?
  • The vegan tuna is just aaaammmmmmaaaaziiing! We've had it just on toast with avocado, with salads in my version of Puttanesca. It's just so wonderful so thanks!
  • ivana
    What an AMAZING tuna! I made just the vegan tuna and served it in the italian "vitello tonnato" style, using thin slices of steamed kohlrabi instead of vitello. Fitted perfectly! I just had to add some of the soaking water to make it more liquid. Such an amazing feeling to enjoy tuna, while sparing the poor endangered tuna at the same time :)
  • Thanks for the great recipe, I made it and it was super tasty! I made double of the amount to have some left overs for later. But my husband loved it so much, he ate it all up... :-))
  • I am always looking forward to pasta recipes and this one is pretty much luscious! I will definitely try one on my own.
  • Elsa is such a sweetheart! I love seaweed with anything as well :)
  • jenny
    do the seaweed go in to the blender as well?
  • I love this recipe! Looks so hearty & satisfying, can't wait to try it!
  • I really loves penne pasta and especially when its cooked with new recipe with new ingredients in it, I like your recipe of tuna inside pene, I will try this at home rather food delivery from restaurants or some where. Thanks for sharing your ideas with others.
  • Cassandra
    This dish was amazing! Really recommend to everyone to make. I made just a third of the recipe because it was only for myself and I found that a mortar worked very well for making the "tuna" Thanks a lot for posting the recipe, this is a keeper!
  • Kjersti
    This tasted fantastic!!! Thank you :D

Leave a comment