I’m sorry Mr. Rogers wasn’t around to hear it, but when I went to see “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” in South Portland earlier this month, a moving documentary about Fred Rogers and his PBS children’s television show, “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” the audience stood up and applauded at the film’s end. It’s a beautiful film.

I mentioned the experience to Portlander Terry Weyl when I ran into her at the Wednesday Portland Farmers’ Market last week. She used to watch the show, which debuted in the 1960s, when babysitting her young nephew, she told me. This was years ago – he’s now 47. But she still remembers the episode where Julia Child visited the “neighborhood.” And she still remembers what Julia cooked for Mr. Rogers – Marco Polo Spaghetti. Weyl and her husband Peter have been enjoying the dish ever since.

Peter Weyl tosses Marco Polo Spaghetti at his Portland home on Monday.

It so happens we were having this discussion on the very day that would have been Child’s 106th birthday. (She died in 2004.) And it so happens that Weyl emailed me a link to the recipe (as it appears on the website Genius Kitchen) with a note later that afternoon.

“Peter and I make this regularly with varied amounts of ingredients to taste and I think the store non-fancy block Swiss grated is the best. Emmenthaler is too dry. Julia Child visited ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’ and taught him how to make this fun dish. Tuna? Swiss cheese? Not what you might expect, but darned tasty,” she wrote me.

I found the recipe in one of my own cookbooks, too, Child’s “The Way to Cook.” Like the Weyls, she must have thought highly of it, as she writes that she not only cooked it for Mr. Rogers, but also on her own show, “The French Chef,” and she included a recipe in an earlier cookbook, too. (The version in “The Way to Cook” is slightly different – no tuna, a more assertive cheese, and the addition of basil). She doesn’t explain the name, but I’ve a hunch it’s because Marco Polo is often credited (wrongly) with bringing noodles to Italy from China.

I checked an online archive of episodes from “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” and learned that Smokey Bear was a guest on the same episode, and that Julia and Mr. Rogers ate the spaghetti with chopsticks, also, I’m guessing, a nod to noodles’ origins. When the episode aired, the show’s print newsletter suggested how kids could alter the dish to suit themselves: “You might like cutting up small bunches of parsley with scissors – it looks like confetti. Crumpled potato chips can make a crunchy topping.” Kids, we’re not sure about those potato chips, but in honor of Child’s recent birthday and Rogers’ recent documentary tribute, Marco Polo Spaghetti it is.


Peggy Grodinsky can be contacted at 791-6453 or:

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A plate of Marco Polo Spaghetti.


This version of the recipe, slightly edited, comes from Genius Kitchen. When I make it, I’ll toast the walnuts first. Bon appétit!

Serves 4-6


1 pound spaghetti

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

Black pepper, to taste

1 (6-ounce) can tuna packed in oil, flaked, undrained


2 tablespoons diced pimiento or strips of roasted red peppers

2 tablespoons sliced black olives

2 tablespoons chopped walnuts

1/3 cup shredded Swiss cheese

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, to garnish

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the pasta until it is al dente, according to package directions.

Drain the pasta and return it to the pot, stirring in the butter and olive oil and seasoning the mixture with salt and pepper.

Toss the spaghetti with the tuna, pimiento, olives, walnuts and Swiss cheese.

Serve, sprinkled with parsley.

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