A Pasta—With Canned Tuna!—That's Better Than George Clooney

April  3, 2018

As Food52 gets older (and wiser), and our archive of recipes grows, we're making the effort to revisit some gold recipes and pick the brains that invented them. Today, it's not just a recipe, but a dreamscape of a travel essay on one very dishy spaghetti.

A long time ago, Food52 contributor Cynthia Ware—a.k.a. boulangere—visited her daughter in Florence. She carried a red Moleskine notebook with her everywhere she went. "My daughter usually had a journal with her as well," she tells me over email, "but I suspect hers was filled with penetrating insights, whereas a glance through mine might bring one to ask if we ever did anything but eat. FNIFS was the first dish I recreated when I got home."

Oh, hi George. Photo by Julia Gartland

FNIFS refers to First Night in Florence Spaghetti..., a recipe she posted on our site back in 2011, after she tasted a very similar dish at a student hangout named Friends. The spaghetti recipe's headnote starts with Cynthia flying over Lake Como, considering her friend's request that she find George Clooney (who has a house there), and ends with Cynthia saying: "It was worth the price of the entire trip to have tasted [the spaghetti]. With my daughter. I was in heaven. George was on his own." Other dishes inspired by that trip include Chasing Cézanne Carrot & Corn Salad and Lost Shoes Risotto, also on our site.

Shop the Story

Notice a theme? These are not your average recipes. They tell the story of particular dishes, emphasis on particular, and leave you with the possibility of making a magnificent meal to boot. (Community member pierino is also a master of this kind of creative recipe writing.)

Below is a barely edited excerpt from Cynthia's recipe for FNIFS:

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“This is also one of my all-time favorite pasta recipes on the Food52 site. So simple, but so delicious!”
— cookinginvictoria

[The airplane] flew over the gorgeous hills north of Florence; I think we passed over Lake Como. Under strict orders from my friend Marci to Find. George., I took a mental note. After all, I’d been trapped in a window seat on the wrong side of the restrooms. So I was a little ragged when I flopped into Florence at 3 p.m. in the afternoon, 18 hours after I had first taken off (and a couple of days before I was capable of doing the math).

Leaving the airport was like walking into a pizza oven. Hot. Seriously hot. I took a taxi to the daughter’s apartment, where the kind concierge was expecting me and let me in. I forced myself to stay awake until the daughter arrived a couple of hours later, but don’t ask me how. I was determined to start living on Italian time from the start so as not to miss one precious moment of the whole experience. I suspect a shower was involved, and probably a change of clothes. Lordy, it was hot. How few clothes could I get away with? I was never going to see most of these people again, right?

I was determined to start living on Italian time. I suspect a shower was involved.

When the daughter and her roommates arrived home, the first thing she did was take me for a walk along the Arno and around her neighborhood: the favorite café, the nearest market, and most importantly, the best gelato place. With free WiFi. Have I mentioned it was hot? I didn’t exactly hang on the daughter’s arm, beg abjectly and weep, but I did suggest that perhaps we for just the first night we could have dinner Americanly early rather than Europeanly late. The daughter, who was getting by on the 10,000-calories-a-day required for an extreme dancer’s diet, was up for it.

She took me to their favorite student-priced restaurant. Its name? Friends. I could barely remember my own. I felt myself disintegrating, practically hallucinating. I wasn’t sure I could make myself understood in English, let alone Italian. I was easy pickings. I don’t recall what the daughter ordered (pizza would be a safe guess). But I will never, ever forget this pasta. I took the first bite. My mouth dropped open. I gasped. I gently set my fork down in my plate and folded my hands in my lap. I very slowly said, “This. Is. The best thing. I have ever tasted. In my entire. Life.” The daughter, who’d been eating like that for a month, sort of shrugged—oh, that old thing—and tucked into whatever she had ordered. If this recreation—I believe one says “avatar” these days—comes even slightly close to the one I tasted that night, you may get to experience some of what I did. And I really don’t believe it was the fatigue talking. Make it with and for people you love. Buon apetito.

Cynthia, a chef by profession (it's her 4th and happiest career by far), wrote a blog called The Solitary Cook, which she eventually migrated to FNIFS lived up to Cynthia's praise when I tasted it, perfectly al dente strands slick with garlicky olive oil, the tuna and tomatoes playfully coexisting. Was it better than George Clooney? Let's just say I agree with Cynthia's next statement:

Ah, George. The best of all possible situations would be if I could prepare this for and sit down to eat it with George Clooney. And Amal. And the twins. And my daughter. Add me to the guest list, Cynthia!

Listen Now

On our new weekly podcast, two friends separated by the Atlantic take questions and compare notes on everything from charcuterie trends to scone etiquette.

Listen Now

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Bevi
  • Chiara
  • lastnightsdinner
  • cookinginvictoria
  • boulangere
Former Associate Editor at Food52; still enjoys + talks about food.


Bevi February 17, 2020
My son recently said he was making an Ottolenghi version of THE Italian fish pasta. I asked him which was THE Italian fish pasta? He replied: "Food52 First Night in Florence George Clooney Sex fantasy," as he termed it. After he made a somewhat analogous Ottolenghi, he said he was never veering off the course of Cynthia's recipe again.
Chiara February 15, 2020
I saved this a long time ago. Can't find the original comments which were awesome!
I have made this ....
18 times. Never for George Clooney, but always for my loved one.
PS: ingredients ALWAYS on hand. "Just in case". A++++
inpatskitchen February 15, 2020
Original comments are at the recipe:
All 174 of them!!
Chiara February 17, 2020
Thank you!
That was one of the best threads I've read. My Italian in laws were impressed by the Irish "girl" ( citizen...) making this.
lastnightsdinner April 4, 2018
I'm sad that I can't make this right now! It sounds perfect - going on next week's menu for sure. Thank you!
cookinginvictoria April 4, 2018
Oh, so glad that this recipe is getting some new love. This is also one of my all-time favorite pasta recipes on the Food52 site. So simple, but so delicious!
70&holding April 8, 2018
Me too! A plate of spaghetti noodles, with, anything on top is how I, learned to love, everything! The last scrapes of fish, my Father or I caught, was my favorite! My Mother was a magician at, stretching food!!!raf
boulangere April 3, 2018
Thank you, Bevi
boulangere April 3, 2018
I believe this came about thanks to your kind comment on the canned tuna story. Thank you very much, @inpatskitchen!
Nikkitha B. April 3, 2018
That is exactly what brought it to my attention! Thank you inpatskitchen!
Bevi April 3, 2018
This recipe is one of my all time favorites. Everyone who tastes it literally swoons. This is so great that FNIF finally gets the credit it deserves!
inpatskitchen April 3, 2018
About time!!!!! YAY Cynthia!