Food in Film: Pasta Sauce in Goodfellas

Photo by Vincenzo Consenza
It's little surprise many famous movie scenes involve food; there's a certain pleasure in watching characters eat the foods we enjoy in real life or grapple with the familiar challenges of cooking, say, lobsters. But have you ever been watching a film and someone mentions a food you've never heard of? Or there's a dining scene and you can't pay attention to the dialogue because you're too distracted wondering what the heck they're eating? This series is devoted to answering those questions.

Although more often a movie or television program inspires me to eat a very specific dish, sometimes, the reverse is true. When I'm going to eat Italian food, for example, I usually turn on The Godfather (always Part I) or an episode of The Sopranos. For some reason, the gratuitous violence doesn't turn my stomach and I really relish the cooking and dining scenes.

A few weeks ago, I had organized a lovely solo supper for myself of pesto tortellini and decided to pregame with a movie and a glass of wine. On this particular occasion, I opted to watch Goodfellas for, ya know, a change of pace. And the opportunity to look at the young Ray Liotta.

I should tell you also that before I started the movie, I was craving Italian food but not marinara sauce, tomato gravy, whatever you want to call it. In fact, I made a specific decision to have pesto with my pasta because having eaten pizza the night before, I had satiated my pomodoro craving.

Fast forward to the scene in which the incarcerated mobsters are all cooking dinner in the clink. Suddenly, I wanted to ditch my dinner plan, turn on some Bobby Darin, and make tomato sauce. But not just any tomato sauce, what the cool gangster kids were making, a giant vat flavored with three kinds of meat, (too) many onions, and garlic sliced "razor thin."

Several obstacles stood in my way in addition to my chronic laziness when it comes to culinary preparation. First, I had none of the ingredients for the sauce (that is, the ones mentioned). Second, I was completely uncertain as to the proportions. Third, I was already getting very hungry and something told me this was not twenty-minutes-or-less kitchen project. Prison pasta sauce would have to be postponed.

In the meantime, I did some research as to possibilities for the recipe's composition. A few intrepid chefs and foodies have taken a guess as to the directions and proportions. Dave Watts, I think, has the most thorough explanation of recipe and substantiates his choices with quotes from the movie.

Now that I have my recipe I just have one question left: Will the sauce taste as good if I'm not behind bars?

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My Voice Nation Help

Why people feel the need for a recipe for something so simple blows my mind. You're the cook. You're feeding yourself. You (apparently) know what flavors you like. So why go to someone else for advice? If you like garlic, use more garlic. If you don't like onions use no onions. Want black pepper, or a little heat, throw in some red pepper. You don't turn to a sex manual to make love do you....

MadMac topcommenter

Rita Rudner, "My Mom was a bad cook. I'm not great either, but I know fabric softner doesn't go in mashed potatoes."

Some of us need a guide on our first culinary attempts, if for no other reason, than to avoid conducting a $15 science experiment.

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