MAY IT PLEASE THE PALATE: Godfather Sunday Sauce

Every year around the holidays, my friends Kevin and Pam host “Movie Night.” This is a misnomer, since it typically begins at midday to accommodate three full length films, connected by a theme. One year it was film noir; another it was zombies. Thankfully I missed that one.
This year it was the Godfather trilogy, which I had suggested as an incentive for me to attend. I had forgotten that the restored director’s cut had us gazing at the screen for over nine hours, with a meal break. (Italian, naturally.)

There is a lot of food in the Godfather. Sometimes it foreshadows a death (everytime oranges show up, watch out - somebody is going to end up “sleeping with da fishes”).  Sometimes it is a vehicle for poison. After Don Altobello betrays Michael Corleone (Al Pacino), Michael’s sister Connie (Talia Shire) kills him at the opera with poisoned cannoli. Even the Pope is assassinated with poisoned tea.

Once in a while a good meal gets spattered with body parts. This happens when Michael extracts revenge against a dirty cop and a rival crime boss in Louis’ Italian Restaurant in the Bronx. McCluskey, the cop, had broken Michael’s jaw. Sollozzo had offed Luca Brasi in a famous scene involving piano wire, and ordered the unsuccessful hit on Michael’s father, Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando). Michael shoots them in the head just as they are digging into their veal, which Sollozzo had promised was “the best in the city.”
At that point Michael was just returned from World War II and was still a virgin mobster. He had to be coached through the process of the hit by family friend “Fat Pete” Clemenza (Richard S. Castellano), and still managed to nearly screw it up. 

That wasn’t the only thing Clemenza tried to teach Michael. In an earlier scene, he showed him how to make a “Sunday sauce.” He beckons Michael over to the stove, saying, “Come over here, kid, learn something. You never know, you might have to cook for 20 guys some day. You see, you start out with a little bit of oil. Then you fry some garlic. Then you throw in some tomatoes, tomato paste, you fry it; you make sure it doesn't stick. You get it to a boil; you shove in all your sausage and your meatballs. And a little bit of wine. And a little bit of sugar, and that's my trick.”
In the original dialogue, as director Francis Ford Coppola tells it, he had Clemenza saying, “’First you brown some sausage and then you blah blah blah.’ And the note from [Godfather novelist Mario Puzo] on the script said, ‘Francis. Gangsters don't brown. Gangsters fry.’” 

Food and Wine offers this take on Clemenza’s “Sunday Sauce.” Though they left out his sugar, true to Clemenza’s promise, there’s enough here for 20 hungry gangsters.

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 
3 pounds trimmed boneless pork shoulder, cut into 3-inch pieces 
Salt and freshly ground black pepper 
1 pound sweet Italian sausages 
3 ounces pancetta, sliced 1/4 inch thick and cut into 1/4-inch dice 
1 large onion, coarsely chopped 
8 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped 
2 medium carrots, cut into 1/2-inch pieces 
1 cup dry red wine 
28-ounce can whole tomatoes, chopped, juices reserved 
28-ounce can tomato puree 
2 thyme sprigs 1
1 rosemary sprig 
1/2 cup water 
2 pounds spaghetti 
Freshly grated pecorino cheese, for serving

1. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Season the pork with salt and pepper and cook over moderately high heat until richly browned all over. Transfer the pork to the slow cooker, cover and turn it on to high. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the skillet. Add the sausages and cook over moderate heat until browned all over, about 10 minutes. Transfer the sausages to the slow cooker.

2. Add the pancetta to the skillet and cook over moderate heat, stirring a few times until the fat has rendered, about 7 minutes. Add the onion, garlic and carrots and cook, stirring a few times, until softened, about 8 minutes. Add the red wine and stir to release any browned bits on the bottom of the skillet. Boil the wine over high heat until reduced by half, about 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes and their juices and the tomato puree and bring to a boil. Transfer the mixture to the slow cooker and add the thyme, rosemary and water.

3. Cover the slow cooker and cook on high for 2 hours. Transfer the sausages to a bowl and cover. Cook the sauce for about 2 hours longer, until the pork is very tender.

4. Transfer the pork to a bowl and shred coarsely with 2 forks. Coarsely break up the sausage. Return the meats to the cooker and simmer the sauce for 30 minutes longer. Discard the thyme and rosemary sprigs and season the sauce with salt and pepper.

5. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain the spaghetti and return it to the pot. Stir in half of the sauce. Transfer the spaghetti to a platter and top with the remaining sauce. Serve right away, passing cheese at the table. Serve with a rich red wine. 

Trust Clemenza on this; he also famously advised, after a hit on a remote road through a cornfield, “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.” Even gangsters gotta eat.

Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht & Roumel, PC, a firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment and civil right litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and wrote a food/restaurant column for “Current” magazine in Ann Arbor. Follow him at @nickroumel