A little more than 25 years ago, Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece, Goodfellas (which is a part of Warner Bros.’ Holiday Gift Guide), hit the screen. Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, and Joe Pesci didn’t just “play” gangsters — they embodied them. With eyes wide, we watched “the life”, brimming with equal parts glamour and brutality.
Some of us longed to be wiseguys, too. Parking our cars wherever we damn well pleased, scotch and cocaine and beautiful women, and no one daring to f*ck with us unless they wanted to get got. Not to mention the really good suits.
Others of us longed for those dates Henry Hill took Karen on — the Copacabana and champagne in fur coats and endless cigarettes, finishing the already romance-filled evening by making out in a convertible? We might hide a gun for you, too, in exchange for that kind of night.
Some of us may have gotten squeamish from all the face-beatings and gunfire and grave digging, while others of us had hunger pangs from the scenes of Italian home-cooking. That food! Classic NY-Italian cooking twined through the plot in the same way that the smell of good tomato sauce reaches every corner of the house on Sunday. These mobsters did what they wanted and owned the night, but almost nothing was as important as the food they ate.
Here are some culinary lessons we learned from re-watching Goodfellas; plus some tips and recipes to take with you.
1. Mom’s Cooking Is The Best
Remember the scene where Henry, Tommy and Jimmy stop by Tommy’s mother’s house to get a shovel to do away with Billy Batts’ body? Remember the cute little Italian mother who comes out and insists they eat before they leave? That is actually Catherine Scorsese, Martin Scorsese’s mother. And this scene is a testament to the reverence Martin Scorsese has for his own mother’s cooking.
All the fine dining in the world will never compare to what is cooked at home. Need some pointers? Your marinara not up to snuff? If you don’t have an Italian mother to teach you, you can order the Scorsese Family Cookbook and have a go at some of their recipes. Maybe skip the ketchup on the pasta like we saw Jimmy do in the clip above. But don’t skip the bread. Bread at every meal!
2. Wise Guys Eat Like Kings In The Joint
Forget about bologna sandwiches on moldy bread and stale Cheerios with sour milk. If you’re a wiseguy, you’ll eat like a king. Prison life wouldn’t be so bad with deliveries of lobster on ice, J&B Scotch, and bottles of white wine.
First, the pasta course, then the meat or fish. If you’re lucky, you’ve got a Paulie Cicero to slice the garlic up real thin to liquefy in the pan with olive oil. How do you like your steak? Vinnie says “medium rare” and Johnny calls him an aristocrat. Follow his lead though (he’s actually Martin Scorsese’s dad in another cameo). Not to cause any beef here, but that is the right temp for your steak.
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
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.
(Serves two very hearty eaters, with 1 lb. of pasta.)
3. Don’t Let The Sauce Stick
The day Henry gets picked up, he’s cooking a meal for his brother. He’s braising beef and veal and pork butt for the ziti with meat gravy. String beans with garlic and olive oil, peppers over the flame, and cutlets to fry up as an appetizer. He leaves the sauce to run some errands, but not without putting his brother in charge of stirring the sauce. Don’t let the sauce stick! Constant stirring and attention!
For more of Henry Hill’s recipes, check out the Wiseguy Cookbook.
4. Sausage And Peppers; All Day, Every Day
Sausage and peppers is a classic Italian meal. How many times did we see the plump sausage links sizzling up in the frying pan during the movie? When Henry goes to Paulie one last time to ask for help, Paulie is cooking up a batch. This is the scene where Paulie has to turn his back.
Here’s a recipe from the Just a Pinch blog on how to make “Authentic Italian Feast Style Sausage and Peppers.”
5. Never Eat Like A Schnook
Life is too short. You never know when you may get whacked. When Henry was forced into witness protection and left the life for the burbs, he loathed the Italian food available for take-out. “Egg noodles and ketchup,” he whines. Hopefully you’re reading this from a place of freedom, and with that freedom comes choices in what you consume. Don’t eat like a schnook, a sucker, a phony. Just don’t. Go for something authentic or take the time to make it yourself. Be patient, like Paulie, and you’ll do your mama proud.
Hope you enjoyed our look back at Goodfellas. Our friends at Warner Bros. asked us to remind readers that the Goodfellas 25th Anniversary Blu-ray is available for purchase here.