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tuna balls in tomato sauce

Tuna Meatballs in Caper-Olive Tomato Sauce

Tuna takes the place of red meat in this pantry-friendly update of spaghetti and meatballs.
Total Time 1 hr
Course Main Course
Cuisine American, Italian
Servings 4


for the tuna balls:

  • 3 5- oz cans albacore tuna in water, drained
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup fresh breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 tablespoon dried oregano
  • freshly ground black pepper

for the sauce:

  • 1/2 teaspoon anchovy paste optional
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup halved Kalamata olives
  • 3 tablespoons nonpareil capers
  • 28 oz canned crushed tomatoes
  • freshly ground black pepper

to serve:

  • 1 lb fresh hot spaghetti (or angel hair)


  • Place all of the ingredients for the tuna balls in a food processor. Pulse until smooth paste forms. Add more oil if needed to help it stick together. Form into balls. Set aside.
  • Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a pan. Add the tuna balls and brown, turning once, for about 5-10 minutes. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate.
  • In the same pan, you cooked the tuna balls in, add the anchovy paste, onion, garlic, olive and capers and saute until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and simmer 5 minutes.
  • Add the tuna balls back to the pan. Cook until heated through, about 5-10 minutes.
  • Serve on hot spaghetti.


I found that the tuna balls did not absorb much oil and I didn't need to add any to the pan when I removed them and started the sauce. Feel free to add more oil at this point.
The anchovy paste is optional but it did boost the seafood flavor of the sauce. Pretty much any grocery store would carry it in the Italian, "International" or canned tomato section and it keeps forever in the fridge. You could also use a couple of filets from a jar.
The tuna was water-packed (as is most tuna in the US) so I added some oil to the mixture. If your tuna is oil-packed, don't drain it and use that oil, adding more if needed. 
Keyword meatballs, pantry cooking