Food You Can Eat: Celebrity Sunday Matinee: Federico Fellini’s Linguine

"You say Fellini, and I say linguine..."

The fountain scene from "La Dolce Vita." The vita really is dolce when you're Marcello Mastroianni or Anita Ekberg splashing around in the Trevi fountain in 1960.

Fellini’s Linguine: You see what a fun language Italian is? This is a very simple recipe and perfect to make around now, because all of Italy is celebrating Ferragosto. Ferragosto is the annual extravaganza italiana when the whole country seems to shut down and head to the beach. The tourist used to have two options: die of hunger and thirst in the deserted cities, or risk death by trampling as Italian vacationers raced to secure their spots on the lidos up and down Italy’s extensive coastlines. It’s calmed down a little. 

Technically it’s only one day, the 15th, but that will not do for Italians, and certainly not in August. Now it’s not uncommon for Italian companies to shut down for a couple of weeks (and force their employees to use up two weeks of their generous vacation time thereby) but it’s also not uncommon for companies, especially hotels and restaurants that don’t cater to the tourist trade, to shut down for longer. You don’t have to be that old in Italy to remember when the whole country went on vacation mode for the entire month of August. It’s an ancient holiday, instituted as August 1st under the Emperor Augustus just before the switch from BC to AD, so over 2,000 years ago. Then when the Catholics came along, they moved it to August 15th to blend in the Feast of the Assumption, one of the many pagan Roman rituals that morphed into devout Catholic practice.

So, Signore Fellini. As you read his biography, you have to remember certain key dates. Mussolini became Italy’s Prime Minister in 1922 and then took over in 1925 as its dictator (Il Duce) and created the first Fascist state. Mussolini invaded Ethiopia in 1935 and Hitler was all for it. Around the same time the two backed Franco’s insurgent forces in Spain and Franco ultimately won, bringing on a brutal Fascist dictatorship of his own which lasted until his death in 1975. In 1939 World War II began, but Mussolini held out until 1940, when he joined his ally Hitler and invaded France. In 1943 Mussolini, clearly losing the war, was arrested by his own government. The Germans swooped in, rescued Mussolini, and a puppet Italian state was created in the north. In 1945, just before VE Day, Mussolini and his mistress were captured and executed by firing squad. Then their bodies were famously strung up in a public square in Milan.

So, Fellini was born in 1920 and where was he during all of this? He opened a portrait shop in his hometown of Rimini in 1937 and started writing comedy and was a caricaturist. He went to Rome in 1939 (let that sink in: he went to Rome in 1939) to go to law school to please his parents but dropped out. He soon found work at a humor magazine (imagine a humor magazine in Berlin in, say, 1941), made lots of connections, and in 1942 was sent to Libya, occupied by Italy, the site of the Battle of El Alamein, to…write a screenplay. The walls are closing in on Mussolini, he’s desperately recruiting everyone he can, but an allied bomb destroyed a building housing Fellini’s medical records so now he kind of didn’t exist. He hid with his girlfriend for a few months and then Italy, or at least his part of it, were free.

Wow. As far as I know no German within Germany lived through the Fascist period in quite that way.

So obviously he became very famous but it took a while and he had gifted collaborators. In 1956 he made Nights of Cabiria, which was produced by Dino De Laurentiis (future carmaker and granddad of Giada) and whose script was translated into Roman dialect by Pier Palo Pasolini, who wore many hats and made some disturbing films and was the victim of an unsolved murder which occurred during a street argument with a male prostitute…boy, I hope he has a celebrity recipe.

But then came La Dolce Vita, one of the most influential and talked-about movies ever made, and it may well have ushered in the golden era of Roman filmmaking, but lots of stuff was going on at the time. La Dolce Vita scandalized the great and the good of Italian society but it broke all box office records. Every call for its ban only served to make it more of a must-see event. 

Fellini then fell in with Jungians and experimented with LSD. I would have done the same if I were him. His dreams and hallucinations, the Jungian concepts of archetypes, all informed his films going forward, like 8 1/2, City of Women, and Fellini Satyricon. When Fellini went to LA in 1962 (8 1/2 was nominated for four Oscars and won two) he toured Disneyland with Walt Disney himself, because of Fellini’s keen interest in circuses, costumes, and masks, both metaphoric and literal. He made a docu-movie called Clowns. In 1970 he pronounced, “Who can still laugh at clowns?… All the world plays a clown now.” Perhaps he was inspired by a remark attributed to Milton Friedman in a 1965 edition of Time magazine, “We are all Keynesians now.” If Friedman ever said it, it would have been with a tone of disgust.

Here’s a snipped from Wiki about his 1971 Roma

The film’s opening scene anticipates Amarcord while its most surreal sequence involves an ecclesiastical fashion show in which nuns and priests roller skate past shipwrecks of cobwebbed skeletons.

And today some tired retread of Top Gun breaks box office records worldwide. 

Let’s consider this a wrap, as they say on film sets. Sorry to go all Cahiers du Cinéma on you. Fellini died at 73 of a heart attack. I see nothing wrong with his linguine recipe but perhaps it is not exactly heart healthy.

Fellini’s Lingine


5 tbs olive oil
1/2 stick butter
1 tbs flour
1 cup chicken broth
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tsp dried parsley
2 tsp lemon juice
salt/freshly ground pepper
1 1/4 ounce can artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
3 tbs parmesan cheese
2 tsp capers
1 lb cooked and drained linguine

How To

Melt 4 tbs each of the oil and butter. Add the flour and stir until smooth, a light flame going, about 2 minutes. Gradually add the broth, stirring until thickened, about 1 minute. Add the garlic, parsley, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste; cook 5 min., stirring constantly. Add the artichokes, 2 tbs of the parmesan and capers. Cover and simmer on very low about 10 minutes.

Heat the remaining 1 tbs each of butter and oil in a pan. Add the linguine and toss. Then add the remaining parmesan and lightly toss.

Arrange the pasta on a platter and pour the sauce over.



      • I went to a Catholic high school, and they would occasionally show us biblical films.  Once (and I swear this is true) they showed us Pasolini’s controversial Gospel According to St Matthew, which is a very unique take on the story of Christ in the Italian neorealist style. I’m pretty sure the Jesuits who ran the school didn’t know who Pasolini was.   I’ve been a fan ever since.  I’ve watched everything he’s ever made.

        • I bet the Jesuits knew exactly what they were doing. They’re endlessly inquisitive and making trouble; that’s why the Papacy hates them so much. A Pope will no sooner issue a Papal Bull in his Infallibility than Jesuits around the world will start asking themselves and each other, in hushed whispers, “But it that really true? Because [and then there are three or four reasons given.]” It’s astonishing that Francis is now Pope, since he is a Jesuit, and there’d never been a Jesuit Pope before.

          It was the Jesuits, after all, who would accompany French, Portuguese, and Spanish expedition voyages and warships all over the globe, and the minute they landed theyd try to track down a few natives and learn their languages, the better to convert them. There are languages that were written for the first time because the Jesuits produced Bibles in the lingua franca; previously they were purely spoken languages. As far as the Popes were concerned, no one except the clergy should be literate enough to read the Bible, and the Bible should be in Latin in any case.

      • The funniest bit for me is when they cut to studio and “Pasolini” is confronted by the upset cricket players:

        (Cut to a vociferous group of cricketers in a TV studio. They are all in pads and white flannels. Above them is a sign saying `BACKCHAT’. They are on staggered rostra as in `Talk-back’. Facing them is Pier Paolo Pasolini.)

        First Cricketer (Graham Chapman): Aye, I mean there’s lots of people making love, but there’s no mention of Geoff Boycott’s average.

        Pasolini (John Cleese)(Italian accent) Who is-a Geoff Boycott?

        (CAPTION: Pier Paolo Pasolini)

        Second Cricketer (Michael Palin): And in t’film, we get Fred Titmus…

        Pasolini: Si, Titmus, si, si …

        (CAPTION: Yorkshire)

        Second Cricketer: … the symbol of man’s regeneration through radical Marxism … fair enough … but, but we never once get a chance to see him turn his off-breaks on that Brisbane sticky.

        Third Cricketer (Eric Idle): Aye, and what were all that dancing through Ray Illingworth’s innings? Forty-seven not out and the bird comes up and feeds him some grapes!

        Cricket is so impenetrable to me that I’m as mystified as Pasolini about what they’re nattering about.

    • Good eye, I didn’t notice this myself. It must be a typo in the original. I found a copycat recipe that says to use 12 oz./2 cups, so the “original,” or the one I thought was a faithful translation Italian/English plus metric/imperial, must have meant 11 1/4 oz. can of artichoke hearts. Or maybe a 14 oz. can. We will call this, “to taste.”

      • In Italy I think family-owned restaurants would use fresh, or might even make their own, and the higher-end ones certainly would, but in 2022 I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a home cook who would go out of their way to not use a box of Barilla if fresh weren’t available for a recipe like this.

  1. I worked extensively with Euros in my time at Nortel.  The European locations in July and August were pretty much ghost towns and I could peacefully work without anyone bothering me.

    To be honest I’m jealous of the Euros and their 6 weeks (starting!)-10 weeks of vacation.  I’d happily give up 15% of my pay for six weeks.

  2. This is late but I’ll add this scolding: Did no one pick up the fact that Federico Fellini toured Disneyland with Walt Disney himself in 1962? Did they share a Magic Teacups ride together? Did Fellini, tripping balls, sing along badly and in accented English to “It’s a Small World After All”? And was his vision actually metamorphizing so that Walt Disney might have seemed knee-high to him? All would have been possible in 1962, pre-Beatles, pre-British invasion, when the #1 single for 1962 was “Stranger on the Shore”?

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