Recipe of the Month – Rudolph Valentino’s Secret Spaghetti Sauce

“He loved to make spaghetti and meatballs.  He had his own special sauce.  I never tired of it, and I will never share with anyone else the secret of his meat sauce.”  

So said Pola Negri!


Pola definitely looks like a woman who can keep a secret…

But luckily Hedda Hopper had no morals, so SHE shared the secret.


Watch out!  This is going to be a lonnnnnng post, I have a LOT to say about Rudi’s spaghetti sauce.  Take a deep breath and get yourself a nice glass of Puglian red.

I love to write, but more than that, I love to research and there follows a tale of a SUPER exciting find.  I felt a bit like someone making a huge medical discovery, or a mathematician cracking a particularly difficult sum.  

Let’s travel back to 2006.  In the early days of this project, I didn’t include the stars’ recipes or photos of the food I cooked when I wrote about them.  This was mostly because the concept of “food blogs” didn’t really exist then, or at least if they did, I didn’t know about them.  I was just writing for my own amusement, and for friends who shared dishes with me.  Since then, of course, many food bloggers take photographs to a professional standard (unlike mine) and only cook exemplary dishes (unlike mine – remember Pat O’Brien’s Corned Beef and Potato Patties?)

Only a professional photographer employed by Waitrose can make corned beef and potato patties look appetizing

I’m always happy to send recipes on, when blog readers email me asking for them (although sometimes it takes me a while….)  So it was, when reader Diana Wesolowski emailed out of the blue to ask if I could send over Rudolph Valentino’s recipes for Chicken From Parma and his Secret Spaghetti Sauce.  Of course! The Chicken From Parma was easy to find, and here it is for the record…

But looking for the Secret Spaghetti Sauce was another matter entirely.  Here is the Rudolph Valentino recipe that can be found on many a website in variously tweaked forms, and the one I have made several times.  It is utterly delicious.  

But read on if you want to know more about the PROVENANCE (good word) of Rudi’s recipe…

Rudolph Valentino’s Secret Spaghetti Sauce


2 tablespoons olive oil, divided use
1 large onion, diced
1 and 1/2 cups / 115g sliced mushrooms
1 can (8 oz / 225g) tomato sauce
1 can (8 oz / 225g) tomato paste
1 can (16 oz / 450g) whole tomatoes, chopped and undrained
1 lb / 450g Italian sausage, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon fresh oregano
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary
1 can (2 oz / 55g) anchovies, drained
1/2 cup / 120ml red wine, plus more wine if needed


Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a Dutch oven and sauté the onion pieces and mushrooms over low heat until they soften, adding a little water if needed. Add the tomato sauce, the tomato paste, and the whole tomatoes. Continue to cook over low heat, partially covered.

In a separate skillet sauté the sausage pieces, adding the second tablespoon of oil if they start to stick. Add the garlic pieces as the sausage cooks. When the sausage has browned, scoop the pieces of sausage and garlic up and pop them into the Dutch oven. Stir in the oregano and rosemary as well.

Deglaze the skillet with the red wine, and add the wine and any pieces of sausage that are in it to the Dutch oven. Stir in half of the anchovies.

Simmer the sauce for 10 minutes, partially covered, and taste. Add more anchovies as needed.  Cook for 30 minutes more, stirring occasionally. Cover the pot and/or add a little more wine if the sauce starts to get too thick.

Serve with spaghetti and grated cheese. Serves 4.

A research rabbit hole story!

I originally found this recipe via the wonders of Google around 2010, on a site where home cooks could post up their favourite recipes.  Here’s how the poster prefaced her recipe.

Supposedly it has been a sought after recipe?  By whom, I’m not sure.

The story goes that Hedda Hopper, the gossip columnist who had worked as an actress with Valentino during the early days of film revealed the secret of the anchovies in Valentino’s secret sauce.  They just melt away!

And that’s all I’ll say!


Tantalisingly at the end of the recipe….

This recipe wasn’t written very well but I post it as I read it from my newspapers food section.  

WHICH NEWSPAPER?!!  I tried contacting the person who had posted it up a couple of times, to see if there was any date or mention of the newspaper in which it appeared on the clipping, but got no response.  I included a link to the place I’d found the recipe in one of my blog posts, but the site seems to have now transmogrified into a fancy pants lifestyle site, so goodness knows where the original post has gone…  Here is my original link…  In the olden days, that took me DIRECTLY to the post about Rudi’s spaghetti sauce, but now it just goes to the home page with photographs of  “Gluten Free Country Peach Cobbler” and “Swirly Pastel Unicorn Bark.”  WHERE IS MY RUDI RECIPE?!

                                                          Unicorn Bark – a fun and sparkly snack apparently…

I remember having a great correspondence a few years ago with a writer who ran a fab Rudolph Valentino fan site on the net.  I sent her the recipe, she asked a friend from Puglia to peruse it and there was a brilliant post all about how un-authentic Rudi’s recipe was.  This great blog post seems to have disappeared too. Is this some kind of anti Secret-Spaghetti-Sauce-recipe conspiracy?

For the record, I did a copy and paste of the post, so I do have it should anyone want to write a whole PhD on the mysteries of Rudolph’s spaghetti sauce…

But finally, I’ll get to the exciting bit.  When Diana asked me to send over the recipe, I realised that it was on my old steam-driven computer, which I do need to crank up at some point to get all my “important stuff” off.  Being lazy, instead of doing that, I started googling for the recipe, and made a fabulous discovery.  Lurking in a dark corner of the internet I found this…

Tricky to read, so here’s a transcription..


Rudolph Valentino’s recipe annoyed Miss Lena Coniglione of Hartford.  “My Italian blood boiled over his way of cooking spaghetti.  So will you kindly print this real Italian recipe that real Italians and American-born Italians will say is okey,” 

Love the spelling of OK.  There then followed Miss Coniglione’s recipe, which if you are interested, you can find here.

I was sooooooo excited.  This appeared in the Independent Record newspaper, published in Helena, Montana on Saturday, September 24th, 1938.

I love you Google!  However, finding the original recipe that sparked the argument proved beyond the power of machines.  I had no luck finding it with all kinds of searches within – my current best friend – so I could only conclude that the original paper in which the recipe appeared, had not been properly indexed. 

As a former cataloguer, I am FASCINATED by the automation of things that only a human should be allowed to do.  I have written all about this in a post about Jeanette Nolan’s Sizzling Liver and Walnuts.  Several newspaper articles which featured Jeanette’s recipe were transcribed via optical character recognition software, which gave me lots of laughs. The title of the recipe in one newspaper was “Sizzling L1vkrs and Wals’uts”, and in another, the recipe has the glorious final line: “Flour bear, and walk through that wild country”.  Yes, of course.

I’m digressing, I’m digressing, I’m digressing…

I began going backwards through The Helena Daily Independent to try and find the edition of the paper in which Rudolph’s recipe appeared.  The Modern Menu was a daily column and there were recipes for American Style Chop Suey, Fresh Mackerel with Mint Sauce, Macaroni Meatloaf and Ox Tongue Escarlot.  But NO Secret Spaghetti Sauce.  I looked at every edition of the paper from 1st September to the 23rd September 1938 (the day before Miss Coniglione’s complaint) to no avail, but…

Monday 5th September’s edition of the paper is missing, unscanned, unfindable – ARG.  Perhaps this was the very issue that the original recipe appeared in?  

Meanwhile, having the rough date of “probably sometime in September before the 24th” I spent a couple of hours trawling through Hedda Hopper’s September columns in the Los Angeles Times.  This was sparked both by the original recipe I found that mentioned Hedda, and the idea that maybe Miss Coniglione was reacting to the recipe appearing in another newspaper, perhaps it was a cause celebre that everyone was talking about?  NOTHING.

Then, just now, when doing my umpteenth Google search using variations on the theme of Rudolph Valentino’s Secret Spaghetti Sauce, I found this:

and when I pulled up the full page of the newspaper, I almost missed it, but TADAH!  Here is Mrs Gaynor Maddox’s column from 22nd August 1938 entitled: “Valentino Revival Unreels Tale of The Famed Lover’s Spaghetti Recipe”.  Imagine my excitement…

There is one word I couldn’t quite make out, but here’s a transcription.


Spaghetti and love have a historical tie-up. The revival of Rudolph Valentino’s “Son of the Sheik” and “The Eagle,” calls for revival of his famous spaghetti parties.

Poor, just starting in Hollywood, Valentino used to ask everyone connected with the studios. He made a novel salad of a huge bowl of lettuce in which he’d cut up fresh figs and tomatoes and add cream cheese.

The great lover cooked the ???? dish lovingly. Even at his zenith he liked to cook for his friends.

Valentino Spaghetti

Serves 4 approximately

One package (8 ounces) spaghetti, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 large onions, 2 green peppers, 1 pound ground round steak, ½ pound grated Parmesan or pale American cheese, 1 ½ cups tomato soup, salt, pepper, paprika and dash of cayenne.

Plunge spaghetti into large kettle of rapidly boiling salted water. Cook until nearly tender.  Drain at once.

Heat olive oil in large frying pan. Chop onions and green peppers.  Fry in oil until well browned.  Remove.  Fry ground round steak, stirring frequently until thoroughly browned.  Then return onions and peppers to pan and stir in the tomato soup.  Mix well, season and simmer 15 minutes.

Use large baking dish. Rub it thoroughly with garlic, then butter evenly.  Combine spaghetti and sauce and turn into baking dish.  Sprinkle cheese over top.  Bake in moderately slow oven 325 degrees F for 1 hour.  The great lover insisted the long, slow baking made the difference.

But, wait a minute…  Where are the anchovies?  Where are the Italian sausages?  Where are the mushrooms?  Where is the rosemary?  This may be A Rudi recipe for spaghetti, but it’s not the recipe I was looking for.  

OMG.  Puffed up chest deflates… The search continues…

8 Responses to Recipe of the Month – Rudolph Valentino’s Secret Spaghetti Sauce

  1. Greg 6 May, 2018 at 12:00 pm #

    Such a familiar tale…but I was soooo hoping for the “happily ever after,” fairy tale ending…turns out to be one of those “to be continued”-type serials…. Appears to be a couple of great “accidental” finds along the path though… Great story!

  2. Mark Brisenden 6 May, 2018 at 2:40 pm #

    I want a spaghetti party ! This is a very timely post as I was ‘researching’ spaghetti sauce myself on friday night after coming home with a nice pack of store bought meat balls and a desire that now I have locked down my Chili for the time being thanks to Dave Chasen it’s high time I worked on that other classic ‘spaghetti sauce’ or in Soprano’s parlance ‘Gravy’. After flipping thru your book and website for a bit i did then settle on the Soprano’s cookbook version of ‘Sunday Gravy’ just to see . I’m also v. busy on a project myself and am living on pasta as it’s quick and easy . This does though sound the sort of thing I’m after once I get more time I will playing around with it more .
    Also Pola Negri is the subject of the next silent film night at The Cinema Museum with The Kennington Bioscope group. It’s on the 23rd May if you and Mr R are around . Good luck with future reseach will follow avidly !

    • Jenny 7 May, 2018 at 6:41 am #

      I think you should treat yourself to a spaghetti party once your big bit of work is done. We must reward ourselves when things are done and dusted after all. Babycham and spaghetti?

      I’m a bit like you on the chili front, although my go-to is James Garner’s recipe (I think the reason it tastes so good is the HONEY) I think it is ace to have nailed your chili. It’s a good feeling to know your way around a chili recipe here’s James’ if you want to take a peek

      How was the Sunday Gravy? I have the Sopranos cookbook around the place somewhere. I do like a recipe with a day in the title. Makes it easier to plan the week’s menu – haha. My favourite is Vincent Price’s Friday Chicken – yum yum!

      Alas, I can’t make it on the 23rd, but maybe it is time to start my “Great Bear” project, cooking my way all along the Northern Line starting with eating some of Pola Negri’s Banana Trifle at High Barnet tube station. Do you know the Great Bear? If not, google Simon Patterson Great Bear and you’ll see what I’m on about.

      Coincidentally, the station nearest my house is Highgate, which is Groucho – so when I get to that, I’ll have you over for Groucho din dins!! Jx

      • Mark Brisenden 8 May, 2018 at 1:54 pm #

        No I did not know the Great Bear, but googled as advised and got it now. Fabulous, I look forward to Groucho ! Must take a closer look and see what I have near me. My ‘gravy’ was delicious, but I did not follow the soprano’s too closely as it called for a lot of meat, of course ! But I was intrigued that the herbs were basil and parsley mainly as I always associate italian with is rosemary, but not a whiff of it. But it was very nice and made a good base sauce for the m.balls . with garlic, shallots, carrot, pack of toms and with salt,pepper, basil and parsley . It’s a start, lot more ‘sauce making to come !

        I made JG’s chili a couple of times, v.nice but I prefer the saltiness of Dave’s over the sweetness of James !

        I think for my next roast chicken I will try that, whether it’s friday or not !

  3. Jenny 7 May, 2018 at 6:15 am #

    Ah, thanks ducks! I was sooooooo excited when I thought I had found it, I am sure you know those “EUREKA” moments, but alas no. I will continue looking though!

    • Jenny 9 May, 2018 at 1:59 pm #

      Haha! You are making me hungry again with the description of your meatballs, yum yum!!

      I think I’m going to have another go at the Chasens. Once I have eaten all the chili that’s in my freezer of course!!

  4. Meg 18 Jun, 2018 at 11:02 pm #

    Wow! I just went down a rabbit hole looking for this recipe. Thank you for doing so much research! This helps to weed out the impostors!

  5. Jenny 19 Jun, 2018 at 1:04 pm #

    Haha – thanks Meg – I got a bit obsessed with trying to get to the bottom of it. Still not QUITE there! Jx

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