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Tuna loaf and the relationship between Bologna and tuna fish

Tuna loaf recipe

Tuna loaf is present all over Italy. But, even if it could seem an original thing, under the Two Towers, Bolognese people consider it their traditional recipe.

Tuna loaf recipe

A close relationship.

It is indeed an odd couple.
After all, Bologna is not a seaside town. Yet this city, where you can find so many seafood recipes, has a very close relationship with this particular fish.

Think spaghetti alla Bolognese. Not those dressed with meat sauce.
This dish was almost certainly born from the desire of an expatriate who wanted tagliatelle with meat sauce and made it with what he had. An Italian doesn’t season dry, long shape pasta with meat sauce, as we know that it does not pick up the sauce well.

Spaghetti with tuna is the authentic recipe of spaghetti “alla Bolognese”. Of course, this is an established but not ancient tradition that dates back to the twentieth century when, in the so-called lean days, when religious precepts determined the menu, the Bolognese did not eat meat.

But why tuna?

There was a time when tuna was fished in the stretch of the Adriatic Sea in front of Romagna. And, perhaps due to the proximity of Romagna to Bologna, a habit of using this fish arose.

The origin of spaghetti with tuna, like that of tuna loaf, is not known.
They are recipes that originated in domestic cooking and everyday use. And as it happens often, when the oral transmission is limited to the recipe without history or reasons, the origins are forgotten.

Tuna loaf recipe

Tuna loaf  (polpettone di tonno).

Tuna loaf is a dish that is familiar on the tables of Petronian people.
This recipe is also linked to lean days but it is popular in summer when you can eat it cold. It is also an excellent single dish.

The last time I ate it was last summer, prepared with great skill by my friend Fabrizia. It was so good that I still remember it. It stood at the center of the table, surrounded by a squiggle of mayonnaise, capers, and whole olives. We were on one of the city’s most beautiful private terraces, there was a beautiful, red sunset, and we devoured the tuna loaf as if we had been a hundred burly, hungry men.

This memory reminded me that there was a gap to fill on the blog.

The recipe.

Some people mix breadcrumbs with the chopped tuna, others bread soaked in milk. Finally, some prefer bread that has been coarsely chopped.

I use boiled potatoes, which leave the meatloaf soft and moist.

If you use bread and the mixture seems a bit dry, add some milk.
If you want the slice to hold its shape, chop or finely chop the mixture.

I sometimes cut the meatloaf into slices and put it in the freezer, just ready to use.

The best side dishes to accompany this dish are green bean salad, potato and parsley salad, and tomato salad. It forms a perfect pair with coleslaw, which you can find here on the blog.

Perfect for a mid-week or weekend meal.

Buona cucina, Monica

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Tuna loaf recipe

Food tips.

You can bake the tuna loaf in a bain-marie in a rectangular mold (18-20 cm) lined with baking paper and covered with aluminium foil. Or divide the dough into two small molds.

If you use tuna in olive oil, leave the tuna to drain.

Use taggiasche, green or black olives, as you prefer.

Tuna loaf “alla Bolognese” recipe

serves 4-6
List of Ingredients

450 g natural tuna
30g taggiasca olives, drained
20g capers
250 g boiled potatoes
2 eggs, small or normal
about 1/2 glass of milk
50 g grated Parmesan cheese
olive oil to taste

capers or olives and mayonnaise for decoration


Cook the potatoes, peel, and mash, then mix with a bit of olive oil.

Chop the tuna with a fork. And finely chop in the mixer while adding the milk a little at a time (don’t use it all if you don’t need it).

Rinse the capers under running water and finely chop the capers and olives.

In a bowl, beat the eggs. Add in all the ingredients and mix before helping with the fork, then with your hands.

Cooking in the pan.

Shape it into a meatloaf, wrap it in a sheet of baking paper and seal it with a layer of aluminium foil.

Fill a large pot with water; place the loaf into the pot; turn the heat and bring to a boil, put the lid on, and cook for about an hour. When the meatloaf is cooked but still soft, gently lift it out of the water and allow it to cool completely before removing the cover and cutting it into slices.

Or in the oven.

Line a mold with wet baking paper and bake in a bain-marie in a preheated oven for about 40 minutes at 170C degrees.
Remember to cover the mold and remove the aluminium foil 10-15 minutes before the end of cooking.

Once cooled, store in the fridge until ready to serve.

I recommend preparing this recipe the day before, as the flavors will have time to blend, the meatloaf will taste better.

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