Spaghetti con il tonno alla bolognese

Spaghetti’s battle for Bologna

As previously explained, although the party line is that a bolognese does not belong with spaghetti, Bologna is home to a growing number of spaghetti bolognese apologists.

In 2016, “Il Comitato per la Promozione della Ricetta originale degli Spaghetti bolognesi” (“The Committee for the Promotion of the Original Spaghetti Bolognese Recipe”) was formed, headed up by lawyer Gianluigi Mazzoni and chef Stefano Boselli.

Il Comitato’s pork-rich ragù, mixed with peas and poured over spaghetti was welcomed by some but rubbished by many, particularly at the heart of the Italian cooking establishment - L’Accademia Italiana Della Cucina (or The Italian Academy of Cuisine).

L’Accademia were not willing to accept this version of the bolognese story and in 2018, two years after il Comitato had formally assembled, they permanently froze those spaghetti lovers out, crushing any prospect of them returning.

It was a Machiavellian power-play of evil genius - they filled their archives with their own recipe for spaghetti alla bolognese!

This may sound like an epic own goal, but there was smallprint:

Spaghetti con il tonno alla bolognese
Spaghetti bolognese with tuna

That’s right. According to l’Accademia, the authentic spaghetti alla bolognese is prepared with tuna.

There is a bit of a backstory here. Under Catholic rules, meat is prohibited on Fridays. The same rule extends to Christmas eve. According to l’Accademia, from the start of the 20th century, this resulted in a Bolognan tradition of consuming spaghetti con il tonno alla bolognese as a yule tide tradition.

European tinned tuna, combined with fresh tomatoes and served with spaghetti now takes its place in l’accademia’s hall of fame as a Bolognan specialty.

Those outside Italy who grew up with spaghetti bolognese being a combination of browned mince and tomato sauce may be left a little disappointed by this “official” version.

It is good but by no means great. The tomato-rich base, seasoned with olive oil with the addition of (optional) anchovies makes for a wonderfully fresh flavour. However, the tuna is too “meaty” for this sauce, which really deserves prawns or mixed seafood.

The preparation is as simple as it gets, and I recommend spaghettiphiles sample this dish at least once - if only to remind yourself how much you love a good spaghetti bolognese with beef!

Click here now to read the full The Bolognese Story!


Serves 4

Tinned tuna doesn’t tend to freeze well, so I recommend eating this dish fresh.

Spaghetti con il Tonno alla Bolognese (serves 4)

  • 180g Maruzzella “Filleti di Tonno”
  • 500g fresh, ripe, vine-on tomatoes (about 8 medium)
  • 1 medium red onion
  • 10g fresh parsley
  • 2 fillets of anchovies
  • 320g De Cecco spaghetti no. 12
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 30g salt for cooking pasta
  • Additional salt for seasoning

Spaghetti con il tonno alla bolognese


Spaghetti con il Tonno alla Bolognese

  1. Place the tomatoes in a bowl and prepare a larger bowl, filled with water and ice.
  2. Submerge the tomatoes in freshly boiled water and leave for 15 seconds. Quickly transfer the tomatoes to the iced water and allow to cool to prevent any further cooking1.
  3. Using the butt of a knife, score the tomatoes and peel back and discard the skins2.
  4. Using a sharp knife, half the tomatoes, then scoop out the membrane and pips with a spoon and transfer to a bowl3. Finely slice the tomato flesh and transfer to another bowl. Repeat for all remaining tomatoes.
  5. Transfer the tomato pips and membrane to a chinois or fine sieve and sprinkle with salt to draw out the water.
  6. After 10 minutes, gently push the tomato membranes through the sieve and into the bowl containing the tomato flesh.
  7. Remove the stalks from the parsley and finely slice the leaves4.
  8. Cut the onion into fine slices and set aside.
  9. Cut the anchovy fillets into small pieces5.
  10. Pour 4 tablespoons of olive oil into a pan and gently wilt the red onions over a low-medium heat for about 10 minutes, or until they are starting to turn translucent.
  11. Add the tomatoes and continue to cook for an hour on a very low heat, checking the seasoning and adding more salt if required.
  12. Have a 3 litre pot of boiling water ready.
  13. Transfer the tuna to a bowl and break the chunks apart with a couple of forks. Add the tuna chunks to the tomato mix for the final 10 minutes of cooking.
  14. While the tuna is warming, force 320g of Spaghetti under the boiling water and cook until al dente, this should be about 9 minutes.


  1. Drain the cooked spaghetti in a colander and combine with the tomato and tuna sauce, stirring so that the sauce is well spread among the spaghetti.
  2. Transfer to 4 bowls and sprinkle each with a little parsley.

Cook’s notes

  1. This is the general advice you’ll read pretty much anywhere to prevent cooking of the tomatoes prematurely. We are about to cook them, so I’ve often taken this advice with a pinch of salt.
  2. This is supposed to be very easy and with the right tomatoes the skins will peel away easily. If it is not easy you are probably working with out of season or under-ripe tomatoes.
  3. Although this is not explicit in l’Accademia’s recipe, I would recommend this step is taken. A lot of the tomato flavour lives in and around the membrane and it is a shame to waste it.
  4. It is generally good advice to start chopping the most delicate ingredients first. If we start with the anchovies we are going to end up with anchovy flavoured parsley, which would be fine for this recipe but not all recipes.
  5. The cutting action will start turning the anchovies to mush and by the time they have cooked the flesh will have dispersed amongst the sauce.

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