Magna Graecia Pasta by Angela Zagarella

 You are in for a treat today! My guest, Angela Zagarella is a multi-talented woman that embraces life and all that it offers. For starters, she is a master at baking sourdough bread. I knew she was a true friend when she shared some of her sourdough starter (that’s like gold to sourdough bakers) and helped me through the first stages of learning to bake the bread. Her other culinary skills are superb, especially with dishes of Sicilian origin. 

Angela is a native of Sicily and lived in Siracusa until she was 28 and moved to the United States.  I met Angela through the Italian community in Portland. Her warmth and big smile made me feel like we were instant friends. I admire her strength to locate to a new country, assimilate, learn and teach language, and contribute to society above and beyond the norm.

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About Angela:

Angela Zagarella is the Language Program Coordinator and teaches beginning, intermediate and advanced Italian at Portland State as well as Italian cinema and literature. She has taught both in Portland and at the University for Foreigners in Siena. She has reviewed articles, textbooks worked with publishing companies, and written scripts for videos. She has been a language consultant for local theatrical productions and has taught classes for singers at the Portland Opera, travelers, and business people. 

Angela is very active in the Italian community and is one of the organizers of the Portland Italian Film Festival. She is on the board of the Associazione Culturale Italiana and Italian Benvenuti Club Foundation, has been the co-executive director of the Portland Bologna Sister City Association, and is the President of the Oregon chapter of Sicilia Mondo, which promotes Sicilian culture and tradition all over the world.

Her areas of interest are Literature of Migration and Mediterranean Studies, language teaching pedagogy, and second language acquisition. She is interested in exploring the multifaceted representation of Italian Contemporary society as represented through the work of migrant writers in Italian literature. Her research compares the actual experience of migration of Italophone writers from other Mediterranean countries to the experience of migration of Italian writers who moved from Southern to Northern Italy in the postwar years.

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Angela’s story and recipe:

This recipe fuses my identity and my heritage, who I am! Sicilian first of all and then Italian. Siracusa, the capital of Magna Graecia, is my hometown. A 3-minute video was created by a friend of mine, archeologist Davide Tanasi (he now teaches at the University of South Florida) Siracusa 3D Reborn: An Ancient Greek City Brought Back to Life.

Another very informative post about Sicily and the Greeks is worth checking out. There are photos, information, and videos included in that post. Sicily Greeks. Did you know that at one time there were more Greeks in Sicily than Greece?

Pasta with tuna and onion is very popular in Sicily. I learned about making pasta with yogurt from the Greeks, so I combined the two. Creamy, fresh, and fragrant. Delicious! I imagine this dish must have been what the Greeks ate when they were in Sicily.

[Note from Christina: One half of my Italian heritage is from Messina, Sicily, the other half from Bari, Italy. I shared with Angela that my relatives made a very similar pasta dish. One time when I showed up to visit my uncle & aunt in Italy, they were surprised when we arrived. They had the dates wrong and were totally unprepared for our visit. It was close to 5:00 pm and they don’t eat dinner until 10:00 or 11:00 pm.  Knowing we were hungry from our travels, my aunt whipped up the Sicilian version (without yogurt) of this pasta dish. It was sooooo good!]

Magna Graecia Pasta
From Sicily: Tuna, onions, green olives, capers, lemon zest
From Greece: Greek yogurt, mint, parsley. 
[Another note from Christina: Angela graciously shared how she makes yogurt too!]
Making Yogurt
I made the Magna Graecia Pasta with homemade yogurt and whey (in place of lemon). It is less acidic, I think. You could buy regular yogurt and drain it if you want to separate the whey. Or if you have an Instant Pot, here is what I did.  
I used 2% organic milk and I made it in my Instant Pot. Here is the website with Instant Pot instructions Instant Pot Yogurt. I left it overnight for 9 hours and in the morning it was ready. I put it in a cheese bag and let it drain for 2 hours. I collected the whey and what is left is Greek yogurt! TIP: the Instant Pot must be one of the recent models with the yogurt function. 
I use about a pound of pasta and the organic version from Italy at Trader Joe’s. For the tuna, I like StarKist Solid YellowFin Tuna in Extra Virgin Olive Oil  (4.5oz). This recipe will feed about 2-3 people depending on how hungry they are. Generally speaking, in Italy, the rule of thumb is 1/4 pound of pasta per person.  

Magna Graecia Pasta by Angela Zagarella

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  • 1 pound pasta
  • 1 can of tuna in olive oil (approx 4.5 oz)
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • 20 big green olives (I used the garlic stuffed ones)
  • 2 tablespoon of capers (in salt, I brought mine from Sicily, otherwise any capers)
  • 2 tablespoons of lemon juice (see notes below)
  • Greek yogurt, 6 oz. container (see notes below)
  • Fresh mint
  • Fresh parsley
  • Salt and pepper


  1. Boil the water, salt, and cook the pasta.
  2. In the meantime, in a skillet saute the onion. When onions are translucent, add the tuna. Break the tuna apart and let it cook for 2-3 minutes with the onions.
  3. Slice the olives and add them to the tuna and onion.
  4. Rinse the capers and add them too plus 2 tablespoons of lemon juice (see note below). Add 1 tablespoon of grated lemon zest.
  5. In a separate bowl, mix the greek yogurt with the chopped herbs, mint and parsley. Use some of the pasta water to mix the yogurt (it must get to a very creamy consistency so that it can be easily mixed in the pasta).
  6. When the pasta is ready, first drain it loosely retaining some of the cooking water. Put the pasta in the skillet and mix it with the onion and tuna mix. If it is too dry, add some of the cooking water (see note below).
  7. When the pasta is well mixed, add it to the bowl with the yogurt mix.
  8. Make sure that the yogurt coats all the pasta. Grind some pepper and serve it.
  9. Garnish the plate with lemon wedges, parsley or mint sprigs.


I make my own yogurt and drain it to make greek yogurt. I reserve the whey. So, in this pasta, instead of lemon juice and pasta cooking water, I used the whey. It is tangy and works well. It  can also be used it to dilute the greek yogurt, if it is too thick.

IMPORTANT: you must NOT cook the yogurt. Pasta is Added to it at the end and not on the stove. No heat with yogurt!!!!
I can’t wait to add this to the dinner menu soon!
Angela is always teaching, even in her private life as the story to this recipe attests.  Here are some examples of Angela’s innovative approach to teaching from her professional life:
  • An article was published in May 2020 (issue #127, page 60) in the We the Italians Magazine about Angela. Teaching Italian Cinema During Covid-19. (Be sure to click issue 127, and it will forward to page 60.)
You can learn more about Angela at Angela Zagarella PSU 

Grazie mille Angela!

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