By Blake Stilwell
As far back as I could remember, I always wanted to be able to cook like a gangster. Even before I wandered into the Red Lobster for my first job, I knew I wanted to … okay, I’m just kidding. Hey, I love this movie. Everything about it is perfect. It used to make me smile every time I went to the Subway when I lived in Red Hook because my stop was by Smith and 9th and Jimmy was going to have Karen whacked on the corner of Smith and 9th. I’m one of those goody-good people who work shitty jobs for bum paychecks and take the subway to work every day that Henry Hill talked about. Even now, every time I’m introduced to a large group of people at the same time, I think of this scene:
Of course, everything is great until the wiseguys get pinched for a shakedown. But if movies and television have taught me anything, it’s that mobsters don’t go to prisons like the rest of us. This is illustrated in one of my favorite food scenes in any movie ever made. It’s like Henry (Ray Liotta) said: Dinner in prison is a big deal. But a big dinner shouldn’t be just for wiseguys. It’s time for the big family dinner to make a comeback! This week, so I’m posting a recipe that could please a crowd, maybe even the family.
While everyone was in prison, Vinnie was in charge of making the tomato sauce for the pasta dish. Vinnie was played by Charles Scorsese, director Martin Scorsese’s real-life father. Scorsese also cast his mother Catherine to play Tommy’s (Joe Pesci) mother. Luckily for us (and film history) he also got Catherine to cook the food seen in the film… namely the food Vinnie is cooking for the prison dinner pasta dish.
Why is lucky for us? In this scene, you don’t hear much about the ingredients involved… Thin sliced garlic, oil, veal shanks, beef, pork, 3 small onions, 2 big cans of tomatoes. Based on this sliver of information, I could have devised an Italian-style sauce from this… but would anyone want to make a tomato sauce hacked together by some medigan from Southern Ohio? No, it’s lucky for us Catherine Scorsese cooked the food in Goodfellas because she was able to give her meat sauce recipe in to Entertainment Weekly in a 1990 article, the year Goodfellas was released.
For meat sauce:
1/2 lb. piece shank of veal, whole
1/2 lb. pork sausage
light olive oil
medium onion, chopped small
5 large garlic cloves or more, whole
6-oz. can tomato paste
2 28-oz. cans Italian-style tomatoes (preferably Redpak brand)
1 lb. ground mixture of veal, beef, and pork
grated Locatelli and sardo cheeses (this may require a trip to a deli, a Whole Foods, or a specialty store)
garlic salt, optional
salt and finely ground red pepper
2 T tomato sauce
bread crumbs if needed for consistency
Sauté sausage and veal in a large pot in olive oil until a little brown. Put aside. Sauté onion and garlic cloves in the same pot until golden. Add tomato paste and 3 paste cans of water to pot. Put tomatoes through a sieve to get rid of seeds and add to pot. Cook on low flame.
When sauce starts to bubble, add salt and red pepper to taste and simmer for a while, stirring every now and then from the bottom up. Don’t put in any oregano; it keeps repeating on you.
Add the large pieces of veal and pork. Cook uncovered until meat comes apart with a fork.
Mix meatball ingredients together and roll into egg-size balls. Put raw meatballs in the sauce — do not fry them. When meatballs float to the top of the sauce (don’t stir until they do), they should be done. Simmer and stir a few more minutes.
Remove pieces of veal and pork, slice, and serve as a side dish with meatballs. Serve sauce over spaghetti or whatever pasta you want.
So that’s Mama Scorsese’s recipe verbatim.
If you need clarification, I recommend a cup of bread crumbs, and minimal cheese. If the meatballs still aren’t the consistency you like, add some more, just don’t make them mealy. This makes a pretty good amount of food. The recipe originally printed says “two hearty eaters” but this will cover more like five. After cooking this recipe, I have to wonder what Paulie was slicing the garlic to make…
In reality, of course, prison is not this good. I mean, it might have been for Henry, Vinnie, Paulie, and those guys. This movie was based on the non-fiction book Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi, after all. But just think of Jimmy, that poor Irish bastard, he was probably having a much harder time in Atlanta.
Now… take me to jail.