Polpette di Tonno | Tuna “Meatballs”

Ciao! I made these tuna “meatballs” for dinner last night and they were delicious. I posted a photo of them on Instagram and got numerous requests for the recipe, so I am sharing it here. They are stuffed with olives, breaded and fried. Their flavor reminds me of olive Ascololane, the famous meat-stuffed olives of Ascoli Piceno (by the way, you can find a recipe for those in my book Big Night In).


I started with this recipe that I found online and made some changes, adding more seasoning and stuffing each tuna ball with a pimento-stuffed green olive. The original recipe calls for rolling the polpette in bread crumbs and then baking them, but I went old school and fried them instead. They were surprisingly light, maybe because they weren’t dredged in flour and egg before being coated with bread crumbs. Even without that extra armor, they held their shape nicely during frying.

We enjoyed the polpette for dinner, with salad on the side. But they would make a great holiday appetizer. You could also treat them like meatballs and simmer them in tomato sauce. Just be sure to use good quality Italian tuna packed in olive oil, and good Spanish Manzanilla olives. As you know, in Italian cooking quality makes all the difference.

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11/30: University Club of DC annual book fair

12/3: Tasting and book signing at Horton Vineyards, 10:30 a.m.-1 p.m.

12/4: Les Dames d’Escoffier DC chapter Culinary Women in Words holiday book party, 2-5 p.m. at Salon ILO in Georgetown.

12/10: Tasting and book signing at Olio2Go, 10 a.m.-12 p.m., Fairfax, VA

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Makes 20 to 24 "polpette"

Polpette di Tonno | Olive-Stuffed Tuna “Meatballs”Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

Think of these tuna "meatballs" as a mashup of Italian meatballs and those famous fried stuffed olives from Ascoli Piceno. Serve them hot or at room temperature as a holiday appetizer, or enjoy them for dinner. If you like, treat them like classic meatballs and simmer them in tomato sauce.


  • 1 baking potato, scrubbed
  • 1 slice sturdy white bread, crusts removed
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 2 (7-ounce) cans good quality tuna in olive oil, drained
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 20 to 24 pimiento-stuffed Manzanilla olives
  • Dried bread crumbs for dredging
  • Sunflower or vegetable oil for frying


Cut the potato in half and put it in a pot of cold water to cover by 2 inches. Salt the water generously and bring to a boil over high heat. Simmer until the potato is completely tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Drain and let cool. Peel and mash the potato and set it aside to cool.

Tear up the piece of bread and put it in a small bowl with the milk.

Place the tuna in a bowl and crumble it with your fingers until it is completely broken up into small flakes. Squeeze the milk from the bread and add the bread to the tuna. Add the cooled mashed potato, egg, and parsley. Season the mixture with salt and pepper (I used homemade celery salt).

With a small scoop or spoon, scoop out some of the mixture to make a golf-ball size ball. Flatten the ball and press an olive into the center. Reform the ball around the olive, making sure the olive is completely concealed in the center. Roll the ball in bread crumbs and set it on a plate. Continue until you have used up all the mixture. You should end up with 20 to 24 tuna polpette. (You can go classic here by first dredging the polpette in flour, beaten egg, and then bread crumbs, but I like the lighter version using only bread crumbs as a coating.)

Heat 2 to 3 inches of oil in a medium heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat until it shimmers (or until it registers 375F on an instant-read thermometer). Fry the polpette, a few at a time, until they are golden-brown. This will take only a minute or two. With a slotted spoon or skimmer, transfer the polpette to a paper towel-lined plate. Serve hot or at room temperature.

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19 Responses to Polpette di Tonno | Tuna “Meatballs”

  1. Rosa Jeanne Mayland November 30, 2016 at 3:21 pm #

    That is such a great recipe! Polpette can be quite addictive…




    • Domenica Marchetti December 2, 2016 at 1:53 pm #

      Thank you, Rosa. Jumping over now to see your latest blog post. xo

  2. Ciao Chow Linda November 30, 2016 at 3:29 pm #

    I may have a new addition to my Christmas eve fish feast. Would you say they could be made ahead of time and crisped in the oven the next day?

    • Domenica Marchetti December 2, 2016 at 1:58 pm #

      That’s what my mom used to do with the olive ascolane. I have a few left over that I am rewarming tonight. Stay tuned…

  3. Marisa @ All Our Way November 30, 2016 at 4:20 pm #

    I love your old school method — frying them. They look so good, I can’t wait to make them. We are having our family Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve — the polpette will be perfect.

  4. Marilena @ marilenaskitchen.com November 30, 2016 at 5:48 pm #

    I have never made these before but I will have to try them! Love that little speckled bowl you used too!

    • Domenica Marchetti December 2, 2016 at 2:01 pm #

      Thanks Marilena! I got that bowl through my friend Cheryl’s website Team Yogurt. I have several of them in different colors. They are made by a Boston potter.

  5. Marisa's Italian Kitchen November 30, 2016 at 7:38 pm #

    They look and sound like wonderful appetizers! Delicious little bites 🙂

  6. pblevitt November 30, 2016 at 8:19 pm #

    I have the imported tuna waiting…

  7. paninigirl November 30, 2016 at 9:54 pm #

    I’ve made olive ascolane and love your spin on it. Congrats on your latest book getting the recognition you deserve.

  8. Naz December 1, 2016 at 8:25 pm #

    I can’t wait to make these for my family. Thank you for sharing.

  9. elisa December 3, 2016 at 12:17 pm #

    I made them last night, they were delicious!!! I didn’t have enough olives so I made some with capers. Grazie for another great recipe and Buon Natale a te e famiglia. Un abbraccio!

    • Domenica Marchetti December 4, 2016 at 9:29 am #

      Ciao Elisa! I’ll bet these are delicious with capers. As always, thank you for the inspiration. Buon Natale anche a te. Un abbraccio forte!

  10. Frank Fariello December 11, 2016 at 9:00 am #

    This does sounds yummy! Reminds me of polpettone di tonno, only turned into balls and fried—which sounds even more delicious. Bookmarked for an upcoming dinner, maybe even tonight…

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