Thursday, May 23, 2013

“Mafia Meals”

c. 2013 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

“Books constitute capital. A library book lasts as long as a house, for hundreds of years. It is not, then, an article of mere consumption but fairly of capital, and often in the case of professional men, setting out in life, it is their only capital.” – Thomas Jefferson

For this writer, since the beginning of my own career, there has been no greater gift than an interesting book. Each square of printed matter has yielded the opportunity not only for entertainment or enlightenment, but also for a good journalistic review.
Being in the habit of scribbling useful prose has attracted many such printed volumes from friends, family members and devoted readers. They also have appeared while visiting flea markets, yard sales and thrift stores. Frequently, these off-the-wall collections land on a shelf in my office library, waiting to be revisited. But a few demand instant attention.
Some, like the obscure and cryptic “Proceedings of the Rabble” by Mark Mirsky, appeared at a discount price through the kindness of a local retailer. As did “The Game Show King” by Chuck Barris, a thrill-ride through the world of broadcast television.
But one recent offering seemed to nearly burst from its postal mailer with a fanciful title, printed in gold: “The Mafia Cookbook.”
This venerable work was written by Joseph “Joe Dogs” Iannuzzi.
According to text on the dust cover, the author was once a member of the Gambino crime family, but changed his loyalty in becoming an informant for the FBI. Before I even opened the book, a taste of surreal prose dripped from the cover with the promise of much more to follow:

“I met my first marshal in Daytona Beach, Florida, that morning, and he handed me $500 and said it was ‘walking around money.’ He put me on a plane to somewhere near the end of the world... after bouncing around... I finally settled down in Memphis, Tennessee. When I got off the plane, the marshal who picked me up said ‘Joe Dogs! It’s good to meet you! I hear you’re a very good cook! After you’re settled, how about cooking something up and we’ll chow down.’ Naturally, I complied.”

There was something quite ironic about a federal agent seeking good cuisine from a former criminal in protective custody. It was an indication that this dietary voyage would be unlike any other in my personal collection.
Reading with anticipation, I discovered that Iannuzzi had created a literary-culinary adventure by grouping his recipes with vignettes of mob activity. Each chapter provided a tale of intrigue, and fine dining.
One particular dish caught my attention while reading:

Orecchietti with Peas and Prosciutto


½ pound thick cut prosciutto, diced
½ cup olive oil (extra virgin or virgin preferred)
1 tablespoon chopped onion
1 ½ cups fresh or frozen peas
1 pound orecchietti
2 tablespoons butter
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese


Brown diced prosciutto in olive oil in a frying pan until crisp. Remove prosciutto with slotted spoon and set aside. Add onion to oil and cook until translucent. Add peas and cooked prosciutto and allow to simmer over extremely low heat while preparing pasta. Boil orecchietti until al dente. Drain pasta and place in large bowl. Add butter and cheese, a little at a time, while tossing pasta. Add peas and prosciutto mixture. Toss and serve.

Iannuzzi paired this rich meal with a colorful story of violence and hunger:

“Later that night, I picked up Dominick, he handed me an address in the Keys and we drove south. I was packing two snub-nosed .38s and a little .22. Dom took one .38 and the .22 and stuffed them in his waistband... I dropped him off and... once he got inside I began to pull up the car. I heard about twelve shots. Dominick came walking out and hopped into the passenger seat. ‘Let’s go,’ he said. ‘Take me to that safe apartment my famiglia keeps in Lake Worth and make me something good to eat. That prosciutto thing you made last time sounds good.’ Who was I to argue?”

An underlying theme in Iannuzzi’s book was the way in which European cultures mix food and life in equal measures. He demonstrated how cooking was more than simply providing nourishment. It was an indispensable part of the life experience.
After reading through his unique cookbook, I felt sure that it was a culinary resource I would visit again and again.

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