EVERYTHING YOU SEE I OWE TO SPAGHETTI (A tribute to Sofia Loren, pasta alla puttanesca and pasta alla ciociara)


This post is written for a special friend who is living in London for a short time. Today is her birthday and I have sent her this card ‘Everything you see I owe to spaghetti’. The art work is by Angela Brennan, an Australian artist born in Ballarat, Victoria, Australia.

The quote ‘Everything you see I owe to spaghetti’ is one of Sofia Loren’s sayings and she probably does owe everything to spaghetti – she certainly seems to have eaten a lot of it.

She was illegitimate, born in Rome and raised in poverty by her single mother with the help of her grandmother. They moved to a poor neighbourhood in a small apartment on the outskirts of Naples to have family support. The napoletani are reputed to eat pasta at every meal (i.e. twice a day), and being poor, she probably ate pasta made with inexpensive ingredients.

Before her film career she appeared in publications called fumetti. These were very popular in Italy; they were photo-romance magazines, easy to read because of the pictures. Sofia also took part in beauty pageants, auditioned for film parts and as a movie extra in Rome. This was not an easy life, nor was it well paid and she probably had to eat a lot of pasta to survive.

In her early films she has often played the role of a prostitute (a puttana) or someone who lived in poverty. She ate a lot of pasta in these films (as a poor inhabitant of Rome or Naples) – some of you may have seen the Italian comedies L’oro di Napoli (The Gold of Naples 1954) Ieri, Oggi, Domani, (Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow 1963) and Matrimonio all’Italiana (Marriage Italian Style 1964).


Sofia Loren has also written cookery books and it is not surprising that there are several recipes about pasta.

One of her recipes is for pasta alla puttanesca, probably made more famous because of her film roles as a puttana. This style and recipe for pasta is like a puttana (whore) has time to make and eat in between appointments. Loren says that she made time to cook it in between film shoots.

The ingredients are poor and as found in anybody’s pantry (Italian of course) and the amounts are determined by one’s tastes and accessibility. Do not use large quantities of ingredients – it is a dressing for the pasta, the sauce compliments the pasta, and not the other way around.


Spaghetti or Pasta alla Puttanesca

Extra virgin olive oil, onion sliced finely, garlic cloves (peeled and sliced), anchovy fillets (sliced into small pieces), black olives( stoned), salt-packed capers (well rinsed and soaked for 30 mins before cooking) dried red pepper flakes, a little dried oregano, fresh parsley and a few red tomatoes (peeled and chopped) for moisture. Fresh basil leaves if you have them and grated pecorino cheese (southern Italians like pecorino, northerners have parmigiano).
The pasta is spaghetti and they are cooked while you make the sauce.
Soften the onion in a pan, in hot oil, add garlic and parsley and sauté for a few minutes to bring out the fragrance. Stir in chopped anchovies and dissolve in the heat.
Stir in, olives, capers, red pepper flakes, herbs and seasonings. Add tomatoes and bring to the boil. Lower heat and simmer for about 5 minutes. 
Dress the pasta with the sauce. Add grated cheese and eat.

You may also remember Sofia Loren when she won a Best Actress Oscar in her more serious role as the mother in Vittorio De Sica’s La Ciociara (Women of Rome 1960). The script was written by Moravia and in this film, as a poor woman of war torn Rome, she tries to take her daughter to safely.

 Spaghetti  alla Ciociara

Spaghetti alla Ciociaria is a regional recipe from Ciociara a region of Lazio, south of Rome.

This pasta is also made with inexpensive common produce, easily found on the land.

Olive oil, red peeled tomatoes, peppers (capsicums), black olives and lots of freshly ground black pepper to taste – Romans like pepper, think of carbonara.
It is a sauce for spaghetti and it is presented with grated pecorino (Romano).
Heat the oil, sauté the peppers till softened and beginning to caramelize. Stir in tomatoes, olives and seasoning. Cover and cook slowly for about 10 minutes.
Cook the spaghetti, dress it with the sauce and present it with more freshly ground pepper and the grated cheese. 

Another of Sofia Loren’s quotes is:

‘Spaghetti can be eaten most success fully if you inhale it like a vacuum cleaner.’

My friend in London is celebrating her birthday at the River Café in London (Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray). The restaurant opened in 1987 emphases fresh ingredients and authentic northern Italian cucina rustica (home-cooking- style dishes).

Rose Gray, a founder and chef of the River Café in London, died recently of cancer. She was 71.

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Zucchini flowers (female flowers) at the end of baby zucchini are abundant at present at the Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne where I live. I will mix some drained ricotta with a fork, add some grated parmesan and stuff the zucchini flowers with this mixture. I will dip the zucchini and flower quickly in a simple pastella (a runny batter made with a mixture plain flour, a little salt, a dash of oil, water and then allowed to rest for a couple of hours) and fry them in hot oil.

I think that a couple of these on top of the Puttanesca will do the trick. Not traditional, but seasonal and suitable for any celebratory occasion.