The Godfather Feast, part one

It was a busy day of errands and crowded stores, and I just wanted to nap when I got home at six o’clock. That’s when my first guests arrived—Minnesota Slim and Illinois Fats. I immediately went to work prepping all of the sauces and cooked ingredients I would need to get me started. Slim lent an able hand in the kitchen, deftly chopping garlic and shallots.


I spent about two hours prepping and cooking while the guests arrived and everyone warmed up to glasses of a humble Cabernet Sauvignon. In the meantime, I caramelized onions and made a wine reduction with fresh rosemary; made a lush piccata sauce with mushrooms, basil, shallots, white wine, lemon juice, and extra capers; browned onions, garlic, and red peppers in a skillet; gently heated Slim’s lovely pizziola sauce; breaded pork chops and flounder filets; I even whipped together a last-minute frozen cappuccino and almond pie. All this prep meant I could quickly prepare each course during the movie with a minimum of work and noise.


By the time we were ready to watch the movie, there had already been healthy debate about how much could be discussed without diminishing the experience for the newbie. We argued earnestly but warmly, the way I’ve heard the families of Italian friends over the years. All the while, the amazing aromas flowing from the kitchen sharpened our appetites.


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I served a plate of olive oil seasoned with salt, pepper, fresh rosemary, garlic, and oregano flakes, with strips of red bell pepper, grated parmesan, and toasted ciabatta. Guests were also kept busy with Cacciatore Brothers' excellent marinated vegetable salad.


The feasting and film began an hour later than I’d planned, at eight. By then, all of us were hungry and a little restless. My second course was meant to give us a substantial beginning while leaving room for plenty more. Illinois Fats prepared spring green salads with a light red wine vinaigrette with garlic and oregano. To top these salads, I used caramelized onions with a red wine reduction, garlic, and fresh rosemary. Then I browned small breaded pork chops in a skillet, sliced and dressed them, then served over the salads. I paid special attention to avoid overcooking the petite chops, and they came out perfectly tender and moist. A little parmesan cheese further enlivened this improvised dish, which could serve as a wonderful entrée as well. While I finished eating my salad, I admired the extended wedding scene at the beginning of the movie.


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About a third of the way through the Corleone family’s ordeal, I browned lightly breaded flounder filets and sautéed spinach leaves with garlic for the fish course. I carefully slipped the largest and most attractive filet over a generous bed of the spinach. The picatta sauce had been reduced and was warm, thick and fragrant. I spooned some of it over the fish. That beautifully presented plate was set aside to be the portion to photograph for this article. I then realized I was a little short of the fish, so I portioned the remaining filets, breaking them into smaller servings.


That’s when my flounder got knocked off. With the suddenness of a drive-by shooting, one of my guests, Peterton Crackers, came in from the backyard and dug into the immaculate fish with a vicious fork. That’s when Steebo wanted to know which portion she should photograph.


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Crackers is a straight shooter and has been in my crew for years. He’d been on the lam, disconnecting his phone and going underground. Had another family got to him? Is that why he laughed when he discovered he was gorging on the only decent portion of flounder I had? I threw together another portion for the camera, but I knew the best fillet had already been torn apart like Sonny was on that lonely causeway, riddled with fork tines instead of bullets.


As I portioned out the plates, they got progressively smaller as I ran out of fish. Then came the last plate, a pathetic portion of perhaps three or four bites. I apologized to my brother, who I thought was last in line for fish. He turned around with a full plate in his hands. That pathetic last portion was mine. I called Crackers to a summit and sued for peace. The feast went on smoothly while violence escalated in the movie: beatings, gunplay, stabbings, and strangulation.


I considered a request for meatballs earlier that day, but I couldn’t pass up the veal and pork sausage at Cacciatore Brothers. My brother made a fine pizziola, a coarse tomato sauce that I brightened with fresh basil. Served with fried onions and red peppers over bowtie pasta, the sausage ensemble would serve as the meat course, which I served toward the end of the film. On the screen, Michael Corleone’s enemies met ugly fates as he became the Godfather. The feast and the movie were about to end.


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I had no plan for dessert that day besides a family size box of Crunch ‘n’ Munch toffee popcorn with peanuts. But it just so happened that I had an Oreo pie crust and a can of sweetened condensed milk on hand. All I needed was the flavor: orange juice, lime juice, or… coffee. I mixed a cup of espresso with the canned milk and poured them into the pie crust. I topped it with roasted almonds and slipped it into the freezer. When I served dessert at 12:30 or so, the pie had just set, and it was exquisitely delicious, robust with coffee flavor, smooth and sweet, with the nutty almond crunch.


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After dessert, my crew fell around me, casualties in an evening that was something like the movie. Minnesota Slim was a victim of Scotch, clumsily dropping his half-full plate of sausage and pasta on the floor, leaving it for the dog. Illinois Fats dragged Slim out at the feast’s finish. Peterton Crackers faded into the night not long after he assassinated my prized portion of flounder.


And what of Steebo, the Godfather newbie? She fell victim to extreme drowsiness and napped intermittently during the movie. Once again I was appalled. I’m even considering a second screening to be sure she’s really seen the movie. That seems a worthy enough cause for another feast. Next time, I’ll hire protection for the fish course.

She had never seen the Godfather. So I made her a meal she couldn’t refuse.

When Steebo told me that she had never seen the Godfather, I felt a dinner coming on. I had always liked the first two Godfather films, but I found a new appreciation for them upon reading a fascinating article in Vanity Fair. The article recounts the turbulent making of the film in the face of opposition from the mob. The classic’s stormy creation is a saga in itself.

A screening of the Godfather is a great excuse to make an indulgent Italian feast that seems to go on forever. I write not to analyze the movie, but to recount my own effort to cook a meal that could somehow measure up to its greatness.

I initially figured on a couple courses during the film. As it turns out, life imitated art, and the meal soon took on a tumultuous life of its own. As I shopped that afternoon with a vague menu in my mind, my ambition and attitude grew. I invited a few friends over and cobbled a menu together. By the end of the evening, I felt downright Italian, more hotheaded Sonny than steely Michael or the wise Godfather.

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