Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Rudolph Valentino's Spaghetti Sauce - A "Q & A" with and Commentary by Renato Floris

Q:  Renato, as an accomplished Italian chef... and I will attest to that!...I would like to hear your thoughts on Valentino's spaghetti recipe as it is posted online @

A:  I did not know about this recipe until recently and when I saw it I was surprised. Because the ingredients have almost nothing to do with the Italian cuisine. So let's look at the recipe.

Q:  I know Italian sauces consist of very few ingredients to create a specific taste. Italians do not like to mix many flavors together and are very traditional. The great vocabulary of Italian sauces can not be messed with believe me. You mentioned to me you found some un-Italian things in this sauce recipe.

A:  Well first, the “mushrooms sliced”. We have a culture of mushrooms and we use different kinds of mushrooms and would say what kind to use. This is probably the mushrooms you find most in America which are the portobello mushrooms.

Another thing is the “Italian sausage”...which in Italy means nothing because every province and city has its own sausage and its own cheese and its own wine.

The Italian sausage in America looks like a kind of Sicilian sausage with fennel inside

Q:  So there seems to be some conflicting flavors.

A:  Yes... oregano and rosemary. They are very strong flavors and together they mean a mess of flavor.
The final touch here for me is anchovies... This creates a mix that I think no Italian would like.
Also what kind of tomatoes? Italians use different tomatoes for different dishes, such as paste, chopped, fresh.. usually in Italy to make a sauce we use peeled whole tomatoes.
And rosemary is used mostly for meat. Maybe some foccacia breads or potatoes but never in a tomato sauce.

One more thing I can add is to comment on the picture of Valentino cooking the long spaghetti. If he did this he knew nothing about the Italian kitchen...because it had to be a joke. The reason for spaghetti to be that long then was that the technology to produce pasta was not able to make the short pasta so it was sold longer... But it was always broken into pan lengths.
The recipe of my Grandma Elena's “Sauce of the Fisherman” or the “Marinara” is as follows:

Ingredients: oil, garlic, whole peeled tomatoes, parsley and salt


In a small saucepan you put several tablespoons of olive oil
Then peel two cloves of garlic and press them flat and put in the cold oil.
Heat this oil until the garlic is browned
Then while holding in one hand the cover of the saucepan...! and in the other a can of peeled tomatoes....
Pour the entire can of tomatoes into the boiling garlic and oil and slam that lid down instantly or it can be an explosion
after one minute reduce the heat and let it simmer for about 10 minutes or so.
Then crush the tomatoes and you can leave the garlic or take it out.
Right before serving... add in some raw, well chopped Italian parsley..
And salt to taste.

A Note From Renato on Rudolph Valentino's Spaghetti Sauce:

Perhaps the secret recipe for Rodolfo Valentino's spaghetti was such a secret that even he did not know it but, apart from making easy jokes, as I know a little about Italian and Italo-American cuisine, I will try to understand how it was created. Italo-American cuisine began to exist when the first Italian emigrants landed in the United States. Generally they were mainly from southern Italy, and leaving widespread poverty there, they were used to being frugal with food. Because of the scarcity of some products, they learned to make the best use of what they had.

After an emigrant's first difficult moments, it became a sort of status symbol to serve rich and opulent dishes. It was then the traditional small Italian meatballs became the jumbo meatballs for spaghetti; a dish that never existed and still does not in Italy but was born in a Brooklyn kitchen.

The first thing to consider is where Valentino came from.. in the region of Puglia. This is a region with strong culinary traditions and for many, many years it was considered "the Grainery of Italy" because wheat was grown there with which to make flour for bread, pasta, desserts and so on.

From north to far south in Italy, we have very different cultures starting from the dishes of Austrian and French origin in the north to southern foods such as the Sicilian cous cous. Even the types of pasta differ according to the region and often the city. In Piedmont, the tajarin pasta is typical. This is very thin soft noodles of fresh pasta seasoned with succulent roast sauces. Further south we have in Naples, the "maccaroni" aka “spaghetti” with the name spaghetti due to the shape of the pasta being similar to the string or tie, called “spago”.

In Puglia, in addition to wonderful baked pasta, the typical format of the pasta is that of the Orecchiette which have nothing to do with the monstrous six feet long spaghetti Rodolfo Valentino was photographed with for fun.

In my opinion Valentino's recipe, is absurd for the Italian taste. It is an Italian-American deformation of the Pasta alla Carrettiera, as this is the closest to the one we are talking about here. Here is a brief recipe for the Carrettiera pasta, typical of Roman cuisine which I offer as a more authentic version.

Ingredients for four people:
400g. Spaghetti, spaghetti or guitar spaghetti.
400g. Peeled whole tomatoes
50g. Dried porcini mushrooms
100g. Canned Tuna
4 spoons of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 clove of garlic
salt to taste and chopped parsley.

I believe this could have been the original recipe, with subsequent questionable additions, which became known today as Rudolph Valentino's recipe. It should be added that although I am knowledgeable in the cuisine of Puglia, I asked a chef from Taranto there, what he thought of the Valentinian recipe and he said laughing, “Now I understand why Valentino died so young, if he ate this crap.”

And that's it!

Renato making his Christmas Agnolotti