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01 June 2012

Polpette di Tonno (Tuna Balls) and the Town of Bolsena

Thirteen years ago, when I moved here, no one could understand me when I ask where and how are the malls are.  Finally, my husband took me to the mall.  It was a small one (but already their biggest) with about 15 shops in all.  I was disappointed. 

For a country that remained with a closed fist on the classics, the transition I witnessed over the years had been remarkable.   Big malls mushroomed around the country where big retailers opened shops too.  Everything became huge in size but unfortunately, the quality of everything went down.  Shops are beginning to stay open in the middle of the day and on Sundays as opposed to the usual custom of siesta.  Before, shopping meant going along with everyone.  Often, we would wait outside the supermarkets to open for the afternoon shift.

At first, I was excited about these new changes.  But as I grew tired of them with standardized merchandise, I hurriedly retreated back to the little shops which are now fast dwindling in numbers.  After all, they cannot compete anymore with the big shops.   It is much easier to park the car and do all the shopping in one place in spite of the inferiority of  the quality that goes with the cheaper prices.  The younger people are more dynamic now, wanting cheaper prices even if the quality is less, things to be more accessible and fast.  It's tedious to keep on moving around town or the next town just to buy the best fish, the best meat, vegetables or bread but if you want to go for quality and you have the time, then it's worth going for it. 

Ironically, I have been writing about quality food and such and here I am presenting to you a quick and easy dish of tuna balls made from canned tuna the idea of which came when I was watching a cooking show.  It may be canned, and oh, fried too (what else?) but these polpette are absolutely good and very tasty.   It definitely merits a space in your appetizer plate.  Yes, they're fried, but if you drop them in the hot oil at the right temperature of 170-180°C, they will absorb less oil that you end up eating. 

Here is one of the towns that still retains the old way of living with small shops specializing in local products.  Bolsena is a medieval town and you feel and see it still when you walk around the vicoli (alleys).  It's one of those little old villages that transport you back in time.  Even some bars serve their aperitivi outside with quaint wooden benches set against the wall.

It is a resort town along Lake Bolsena, a crater lake bordering the regions of Tuscany and Lazio (where Rome is.).   Its history goes back to pre-Roman times, which was probably the Etruscan settlement of Volsinii Veteres (Old Volsinii).  What is fairly certain is that it is the successor of the Roman town Volsinii Novi  (New Volsinii) to distinguish it from the Etruscan city.  

Like all old hamlets, it is dominated by a castle.  In Bolsena, it is called Rocca Monaldeschi from the 13th century as a symbol of the family holding power in the place. 

Local restaurants, usually run by families, make use of local produce, sometimes even coming from their own gardens like this gem of a place we happened to pass by on the way to the town.  It's surrounded by trees and has an overpowering relaxing ambiance. 

Bolsena is also known for a miracle that happened in 1263 when Peter of Prague was celebrating Holy Mass above the tomb of St. Cristina.  Blood started to seep from the consecrated Host.  After investigations conducted by the church and the facts were ascertained, Pope Urban IV instituted the feast of Corpus Christi a year after.

Saint Cristina was the daughter of the Prefect Urbano.  She converted to Christianity against her father's will.  Being a Christian, she destroyed her father's pagan idols.  As a  punishment , she was tortured from which she emerged unscathed.  Afterwards, for more severe punishment, her tongue was cut and she was shot through the heart with an arrow that finally led to her death.

I hope you enjoyed looking at the photos and reading about Bolsena.  It is a marvelous place with a rich history dating back from the Etruscans.  It's amazing how preserved the whole town is from thousands of years ago.  This is just one of the many historical towns that Italy has, most of them unknown and hidden.  Seeing these places push me, shove me, if I have to say, to keep on exploring and discovering.  

Have a good week to all of you and I hope you enjoy this simple recipe I prepared in this post.  It may be simple and not a real looker but it is tasty and very good. 

I would like to thank the ones who had joined my giveaway.  If you haven't yet, please take a look at this link and see the giveaway of Bronte pistachios, almond paste brick and Sicilian dried oregano.  It is going on until Sunday, the 3rd of June at 12 Midnight, Rome Time (GMT +2).  Thank you!

Polpette di Tonno (Tuna Balls)

Makes 19 - 20 polpette
  • 250 grams canned tuna preserved in olive oil
  • 2 slices of bread (sides taken away)
  • 50 ml. milk  
  • 2 eggs
  • handful of parsley, chopped finely
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 3 tablespoons breadcrumbs (add more if the composition is too soft) + more for covering polpette
  • flour for covering polpette
  • peanut oil for deep frying (or any similar oil good for frying)
  • 200 grams cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  1. Drain the tuna well.  Squeeze out the excess liquid by pressing with a fork.  Set tuna aside.
  2. In a small bowl, soak the bread in milk then let the bread absorb it.  Discard the excess milk.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine 1 egg, tuna, bread, parsley, breadcrumbs, salt & pepper.  Mix well until it becomes compact.  Shape them into balls. 
  4. Prepare three small bowls.  One containing 1 whisked egg.  Another one containing flour and a third one with breadcrumbs.
  5. Heat a lot of peanut oil for frying.  
  6. Dip the balls in the following sequence:  egg, flour and breadcrumbs.  Always shake off excess.
  7. When the oil is very hot, dip the polpette and cook until golden brown.
  8. Put them paper towels to get rid of excess oil.
  9. In a small saucepan, sautè the garlic in extra virgin olive oil.
  10. Add the tomatoes.  Cook for a few minutes.   Season with salt & pepper.  
  11. Serve the polpette with the tomatoes.