A Pretty OK Recipe: Godfather Pasta
Most recipe blogs have a tendency to ramble on for hundreds of words before you even sniff an actual recipe. Occasionally, there’s interesting stuff there, but most of the time, it’s an excuse to jam in an explanation of why you just have to make your own yellow curry paste or to discuss your obsession with Williams-Sonoma Collection: French. Don’t get us wrong; we’re still using way too many words here. But since this isn’t actually a recipe blog, we’re going to do something different: recipe first. If you want to stick around and read our ramblings after that, more power to you. If not, you’re free to go enjoy your food. We promise.
Godfather Pasta — the short version
1 box pasta (probably spaghetti)
Sausages and/or meatballs
2 Tbsp. regular olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped (optional)
2–4 garlic cloves, minced
10–12 ounces tomato paste
2 28-ounce cans whole peeled/crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup (or less) sugar
1 “splash” dry red wine
- Prepare your meat(s) as directed and put to the side.
- Heat olive oil in large pot over medium heat and add onions if using. Cook until they soften and are less opaque, about 5 minutes.
- Start cooking pasta according to directions on box.
- Throw in garlic and allow for it to become brown and fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Add tomato paste and canned tomatoes (crushing with wooden spoon/hand if using whole tomatoes). Stir some over the next five minutes until sauce is consistently smooth.
- Add the meat back to the sauce, stirring to coat.
- Pour in sugar and wine, stirring to combine with sauce. Let simmer for 20 minutes, uncovered.
- Ladle over cooked pasta and serve. [Editor’s note: This is unquestionably an inferior way to eat sauced pasta. If you want to be happy, you should probably start boiling the pasta much later in the process—and not 100% of the way, because you’ll actually finish cooking the pasta in the sauce so it absorbs a little tomato-y goodness—but you’re welcome to live how you want.]
Godfather Pasta — the entirely-too-long version
The Godfather is one of those “classic” films that people tend to get upset about if you haven’t seen it. The sheer volume of famous people involved in the film is staggering. It was directed by Rocky’s wife’s brother (Rocky’s wife is in this movie as well because it’s all about “the family”, amirite?). The bad guy from Ocean’s Thirteen is in it (the bad guy from Ocean’s Eleven is in the third installment of The Godfather, but I’ve never seen that and neither should you). So is the dude who yells “STELLLLLLAAAAA” on a very humid evening in New Orleans in A Streetcar Named Desire—you know, Marlon F — Brando.
Anyways, the reason we’re here is that The Godfather has a very important food scene, in which Pete Clemenza explains to Michael Corleone how to make pasta for a group of people, right after giving Michael a bunch of shit for not telling his girlfriend (who happens to be Annie Hall—remember what I said before about all the famous people?) that he loves her. This recipe depicted in the scene is not only dastardly delicious, but also it is so damn simple you should make it every time you watch this film. Or any time you have a hankering for pasta.
Here’s a benefit of making pasta sauce like this: You can say you are making it “from scratch.” This is something that invariably gets people rather excited, even though you know it’s actually pretty easy. In college, I made it a few times while a group of us watched the movie. People dug it, and it was when I first realized that cooking with/for people is enjoyable as hell. To give you an idea of how long the movie is, though, I didn’t start making any component of this recipe until the movie started and I swear the whole meal was ready before the wedding scene is over. Yes, it is a long movie, but that exposition is super important. So, it’s a good time to cook for the people who haven’t seen the movie before. Not that the recipe is too demanding, but it is the best time for you to be somewhat anti-social.
Let’s do this shit.
First, prepare the meats. Clemenza has sausage AND meatballs, but keep in mind that he’s a hearty dude cooking for hearty dudes who do the hearty work of making people’s hearts stop (you know what you did, Paulie). They need that protein; you may not need quite so much protein. I just get one of those packages of like 5 sausages and prepare it in a skillet (3-ish minutes on each side to brown, then add a quarter inch of water to the pan and let it boil covered for ten minutes or until the water is gone). Making meatballs would add to the impressiveness, but any animal protein should do. Hell, you could even just do ground meat. [Editor’s note: Don’t just do ground meat. Save that for another time.] Whatever pleases the group. But please do animal protein. You may have friends who are against animal protein, but remind them that Luca Brasi didn’t die for that shit.
Put the prepared meat to the side and don’t worry about it not being hot because you are gonna add it back into the sauce later. The sauce is what you’re making now. Let’s assemble the shit we need: olive oil (whatever you have but probably not extra virgin as we are cooking not dressing), onion (Clemenza doesn’t use this and you don’t have to but if you have half of one lying around, cut that sucker up nice and small), garlic (let’s say at least two big cloves, minced, because garlic is good), tomato paste (two of the small cans or one of the bigger ones, between 10 and 12 ounces total), canned tomatoes (two 28-ounce cans, which we will discuss in a moment), dry red wine (you obviously don’t need a whole bottle, but wine comes in bottles, so you can just set a little bit aside and then drink the rest of it with the completed pasta—you’re welcome), and sugar (about 1/4 cup, though you’ll probably use less).
Let’s discuss the 56 fucking ounces of canned tomatoes. You can get fancy with this and get San Marzanos, or you can just get the normal store brand variety (having the elite-level palate you obviously have, maybe you’ll taste a difference, but this is likely the first time you’re making it for the group, so they’ll be impressed regardless). Notice I haven’t said “whole peeled” or “crushed” yet. I always get whole peeled and that seems to be Clemenza’s route, but you are your own person. At some point with the whole peeled, you’re gonna use a wooden spoon to mash them up a bit (which is fun but potentially messy, so stay vigilant). Whole peeled make for a thicker sauce; crushed will be a little thinner; either will taste good.
Now for the actual cooking.
Get a fairly large pot. How large? Well, you’ve got 56 ounces of tomatoes and you’ll be throwing meat in there…so pretty much as large as you’ve got (I could tell you “5 quarts” but, like, just grab a big pot).
You can read, so you know how to make pasta. You probably want to get the water started to boil for that. Oh, you have to use the same pot as the one for the sauce? Make it just before you start with the sauce then. It shouldn’t cool too much and you’re ladling the warm sauce over it at the end anyways. [Editor’s note: If you really only have the one pot, then I guess this is the best you can do, but again, there is such a better way to do this.]
Cover the bottom of the pot with olive oil, about 2 tablespoons or so, and crank up the heat to “medium,” whatever that means. You doing the onions? Good choice. Throw ’em in and cook them down for five minutes—or until they get how you like them (some places say “translucent” but that’s a confusing word and I prefer letting people make choices for themselves).
Onions done/no onions for you? Toss in the garlic. Be fucking careful. You want it to become fragrant—not burnt. What’s that? But Clemenza says that you should “fry” the garlic? I know that. In practice, he means that the garlic gets brown and fragrant, which only takes about a minute. If it starts to look burnt or very dark, you’ve gone too far. This is why it is important to have those tomato products at the ready. As soon as it looks like you’ve hit that garlic climax, dump in those whole/crushed tomatoes and scoop out the tomato paste. Remember what I said earlier about that wooden spoon?If you’re using whole peeled tomatoes, get to mashing them. HACK ALERT: You can also crush the whole tomatoes with your bare hands while you’re pouring them in. It’s more efficient and effective than the wooden spoon, and it feels pretty cool too. Make sure everyone is sorta watching. Give some stirs over the next five minutes so that everything is consistent. Check on the people watching the movie. Mingle and become one, like the tomatoes and paste.
And now…you wait for bubbles. Get that simmer going and add the meats, stirring to coat them in that velvety sauce you’ve made, you sexy sonofabitch. Now, dump in sugar (do a little less than the quarter cup, it’s not an exact thing) and start glugging in that wine. Again, exactly how much you need is a thing I cannot answer, but just start pouring out of the bottle or your glass from which you’ve been sippin’. Clemenza says a splash, which I translate into about half a glass.
It’s smelling real nice right now, and your guests are noticing. The pasta should be about cooked, but they’re gonna have to wait for that sauce to cook down a bit more (simmer uncovered for 20 more minutes, until everything is smoothed out). I think your guests will be patient though, as they have already committed to watching a lengthy, excellent film—they won’t lack for entertainment.
[One last editor’s note on the pasta: If you want to take this to the next level—and have two pots—don’t even start cooking the pasta until you get to this last 20-minute simmer. Cook it about 3/4 of the way, then scoop out a little of the starchy pasta water into a cup, drain the pasta, and add the pasta and reserved water to the simmering sauce. The pasta finishes cooking in the sauce, and the starchy water helps the sauce stick to the noodles, making this one cohesive unit rather than two different parts forced together by necessity—like on The Americans. Just saying. Okay, I’ll shut up about the pasta.]
THE SAUCE IS DONE. Ladle it over your pasta and start handing out plates to your guests like the chivalrous soul you are so that they don’t have to take their eyes off a very important box of cannoli.