The Forgotten Cookbooks of Sophia Loren
Decades before we had endure the endless stream of celebrity cookbooks from major and minor stars, Italian film actress Sophia Loren was in the business of writing recipe books.
Loren’s food books definitely count as celebrity cookbooks – after all, she was one of the world’s most famous people in the 1950s and 1960s – but the actress has a different relationship with food to most of us. One doesn’t truly appreciate food until you have gone without it and we can be assured that Loren’s passion for hearty Italian cooking is genuine.
Born in 1934, Loren’s family moved to Naples where they endured the German occupation of the city and an appalling lack of food. Even after the Allied Forces arrived in October 1943, the Neapolitans continued on the verge of starvation, scavenging for food in fields and along the shoreline, looking for anything that could be turned into a soup or broth. Read Norman Lewis’ Naples ’44 to learn more. Naples is famed for many dishes, especially sea food, and is credited with originating Margherita Pizza in the 16th century.
After the war, Loren and her family returned to her hometown of Pozzuoli where they ran a bar from their home. Sophia was the waitress and dishwasher until making her first acting appearance at the age of 15. She was a star in Italy at 20 and famous worldwide five years later. In 1961, she won an Oscar for best actress for her role in Two Women, even though it was a non-English language film.
During the 1970s, Loren took less film roles and concentrated on bringing up her family. That time at home also resulted in her cookbook, In Cucina con Amore, published in Italian in 1971 by Rizzoli. A year later, the cookbook was published in America as In the Kitchen With Love – copies are now difficult to find and prices can be as high as $400– and also the UK as Eat with Me.
The photography is eye-catching. Sophia wears early 1970s high fashion (flares, head scarves, big, flowing dresses) while introducing Aubergine Mayonnaise Crostini and her favorite variation of meatballs. Wooden panels abound in the dining rooms and kitchens. The image of Loren with a gigantic wooden fork and spoon on either side of her face is memorable.
In 1998, Sophia Loren’s Recipes & Memories was published. It’s a large format book that includes photos of her life as well as recipes such as Neapolitan lamb stew, a sweet-savory rice dish made with turkey, chestnuts, and dried fruit, and numerous classic Italian dishes. Used copies of this book are easy to find and cheap too.
In her 2014 autobiography called Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow: My Life, Loren opens the book with a sentence about struffoli, traditional Neopolitan Christmas pastry. She goes on to write of the years in war-torn Naples: “Hunger was the major theme of my childhood… As time passed there was no more buying food, no money, no supplies. On some days, we wouldn’t even have a crumb to eat.” Her mother begged on the streets for food. When the Americans marched into Naples, a soldier tossed some chocolate to Loren and she didn’t know what it was. Food and particular dishes made by her relations are mentioned time and again in passing, particularly when she returns to Italy after starring in another Hollywood blockbuster with the likes of Cary Grant, Richard Burton, Charlton Heston, Gregory Peck or Paul Newman.
“The recipe that gives me the greatest satisfaction is la Genovese, those 10 pounds of onion sautéed until they are soft, to which I add rolls of stuffed meat, and let everything simmer for four hours.”
Let’s remember this is the woman who is supposed to have said: “Everything you see I owe to spaghetti.”
In 2013, Rizzoli republished Cucina con Amore featuring some additional content but Loren’s English language cookbooks remain out of print. Considering Vincent Price’s Treasury of Great Recipes and Salvador Dali’s Les Diners de Gala have both been republished in recent years, it’s time an English language publisher revised Loren’s In the Kitchen With Love for a helping of classic Italian cuisine.