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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. 


  1. A very engaging blog post. Sad to hear that Italy is going the way of the world and losing the little shops with traditional items. I have been to Bolsena and enjoyed seeing the photos. The recipe is very enticing!

    1. Thanks Patricia! I hope you liked Bolsena like I did.

  2. Bolsena is another town to add to my travel list! Your polpette look deliciously crisp and golden, and the quick tomato sauce sounds like the perfect accompaniment.

    1. One good thing about these small villages is that you can combine some of them to see in one day. Thanks Laura!

  3. Beautiful dish! This sounds so fun and tasty!

    1. Kids enjoyed them especially but we loved them too. They were so tasty! Thanks!

  4. Anonymous01 June, 2012

    Buonissime! Le foto di Bolsena sono belli! Complimenti! Laura

  5. Really? Italy is succumbing to big box stores? I never imagined! Me too, I like supporting mom-and-pop, brick-and-mortar stores with more character and personality! I like going into shops and the owners knowing your name! Nowadays, this is slowly disappearing. Sadly. On a different note, these tuna balls are gorgeous! Beautiful presentation also.

    1. There are these small shops especially in the small towns. The big places are opening up outside the towns where there are a lot of spaces. I like the shops too where you have a personal service with the owner. Fortunately, there are still some of them around. I try to go to them as much as possible.

  6. we make similar snacks lovely pictures

  7. I love your pictures! They're just beautiful. And I like reading the info about the towns too. It seems like you get to go on a lot of little adventures. :)

    It's sad to hear that Italy's changing like that. I've mostly only visited small towns in Italy and they all did the siesta. But we did see those huge Wal-mart like places around the bigger cities with tons of people in them. We were shocked by how many check out lines there are. They were seriously about 45 of them at one place outside of Verona. It was crazy.

    1. The good thing is that the little towns still have the specialty shops with local products. The big ones are outside and they can get really crowded and busy. I still prefer the small shops of course but big places are more convenient at times especially when you need to get many stuff.

  8. I would love to visit all of these old shops, the character and warmth is just amazing! And these tuna balls are such fun! My nieces and nephews visit in the summer and would just love these!

    1. I think this is perfect for kids. Mine went crazy with them.

  9. I am also very sad to hear that what we dream of Italy is giving way to mass malls. Late October I will be travelling to Campania and Calabria and hope to find the Italy I long for. I found your blog through a search fro this recipe, so glad I did.

    1. Don't worry, it's not that bad. If ever there are malls in the area, they are usually away from the towns. Campania and Calabria are as beautiful as ever. :-)


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