One of the greatest legacies left by “The Godfather” was basic instructions on how to prepare dinner

This revelation comes from a mid-term taste check of a marinara sauce made with home-grown tomatoes. It’s important that you know the origins of tomatoes because that explains my surprise to discover that the sauce lacked its typical sweetness, the main reason for growing your own tomatoes in the first place.

Unable to figure out how to correct this problem, my husband asked, “Did you add sugar?” It is supposed to contain sugar. I thought he was joking, but no, he was very serious.

Then he quoted his source: “That’s how Clemenza says to do it in ‘The Godfather’.”

“Did you add sugar? That’s how Clemenza says to do it in ‘The Godfather’.”

Fifty years after “The Godfather” debuted in theaters, it remains a masterpiece of storytelling and cinematic technique and a wealth of career-making performances. Francis Ford Coppola’s retelling of the origin story of Michael Corleone’s mob boss is so influential that the film’s origin story becomes its own series called “The Offer,” premiering in late April on Paramount+. The film contains many lessons to teach the high costs of attaining and retaining power, what a man gains and loses by pledging his loyalty to his family greatness above all else.

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However, as my husband showed me, even a person who doesn’t live and die by Coppola’s masterpiece may have somehow learned how to make sauce from Peter Clemenza .

If you don’t, just watch this scene for some basic instructions.

Peter “Leave the Gun. Take the Cannoli” Clemenza (played by Richard S. Castellano) was a loyal Corleone family killer, but he also won everyone’s love the old-fashioned way: through the stomach. To Michael Corleone, he was a trusted and wise advisor, but perhaps nothing more useful than cooking for a (grumpy, fully armed) crowd.

You’ll notice the man wasn’t precise on the measurements, which is why so many versions of this recipe are floating around. This one alters a classic Sicilian-style version shared with me many years ago by a friend’s lovely mother who took pity on one of my first attempts at making gravy with garden-fresh tomatoes .

“You never know, you might have to cook for 20 guys one day.”

Clemenza’s trick may be the sugar – and even though I’ve been using the same unsweetened marinara recipe for many years, he was right about that boost – but the biggest achievement of this scene is to plant a recipe in the brains of millions of people. people without them knowing. Even if you’re a person like my wife who doesn’t cook often, if you can remember the outline of what he’s saying in that scene, then you know how to make a very basic sauce.


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This scene is useful for everyone, as Clemenza tells Michael, because “You never know, one day you might have to cook for 20 guys.”

Here’s our version, along with a line-by-line breakdown. You can use this sauce on spaghetti or other pasta. Without meatballs, this is a great sauce to use in lasagna. But if you have a great encounter with meatballs, why deprive yourself of this pleasure?

“See, you start with a little oil. Then you fry some garlic.”

Pretty self explanatory except for a few details including how much garlic to use. I love garlic, so I never use less than six cloves. Mince or finely chop the garlic and sauté until golden. Watch it carefully to make sure the garlic doesn’t burn; the difference between an aromatic, crisp golden hue and a pot-ruining charcoal is a matter of breath.

“Then you put in tomatoes, tomato puree, you fry it, you make sure it doesn’t stick. You boil it…”

Clemenza loves to use the word “fry”.

Clemenza loves to use the word “fry”, but we understand what he means. The acid in tomato juice deglazes the pan, which is why I like canned whole tomatoes; it approximates the texture of my garden harvest. In the movie scene, he uses two large cans of tomatoes and two small cans of tomato paste. Depending on how much meat you’re using, how many people you’re feeding, and how moist the sauce you prefer, you may want a third can on hand. (If you have access to fresh, home-grown tomatoes, you can simply remove the skin by dipping them in boiling water until you see them split open, then rubbing them in with your fingers. Slice and remove the seeds if you wish. don’t. )
Leave the lid on, bring to a boil and reduce the sauce to your preferred thickness.

“. . . You put in all your sausages and meatballs.

Clemenza probably doesn’t make his own meatballs – not because he couldn’t, but you know he knows a guy, and who has the time? This recipe aims to keep it easy. As for the sausages and meatballs, cook them separately so you can “shove” them closer to the finish. As an option, vegetarians, you can omit the meat or use the protein substitute of your choice. Just be sure to amp up your seasonings.)

“Add a little wine and a little sugar, and that’s my thing.”

Once you’ve tossed the sausages and meatballs together and allowed all their delicious flavors and fats to incorporate into the sauce, add the wine. Give it a few moments to insinuate its flavor into the mixture, then add your sweetener.

Clemenza uses sugar; I find that a pinch of honey in my sauce both balances the acidity and adds the “oomph” that my tomatoes lack. Preserves will almost certainly need this boost, but if you’re lucky enough to grow your own or have access to some great heirlooms when they’re in season, you might not need it. so much.

Another lesson from this scene: Before you eat this with people you care about, let them know that you love them “with all your heart.” It makes the meal much sweeter.

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