Skip to content

Straight out of 'Goodfellas', the recipe for pasta sauce with Little Italy roots

It's the pasta sauce the guys were making in prison in Martin Scorsese's classic film
Pasta Sauce Stock
Stock image

One of our city librarians, Ann Gordanier, thought that this pasta sauce recipe was an ideal one to share. It is her son Brett’s version of the classic pasta sauce featured in Martin Scorsese’s film, Goodfellas.

In introducing his recipe, Brett writes, “Remember that scene from Goodfellas where the guys were making sauce in prison? They cut the garlic with a razor blade so thin it melted in the olive oil and they warned never to put too many onions in the sauce.

"You can scour the web and find many versions of Martin Scorsese’s prison sauce… but this recipe is true to Scorcese’s New York City Little Italy roots.”

On the MensHealth site back in 2016, writer John Gilpatrick explained that the recipe actually came from Scorsese’s mother, Catherine, who early in the film played the role of mother to Joe Pesci’s character, Tommy Devito. Scorsese’s father, Charles, also appears in the movie as one of the inmates, Vinnie.

Here is the recipe as Brett presents it.


Remember the number Three

  • 3 small red onions – keyword, Small
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 3 cans of San Marzano style tomatoes (absolutely no substitutions!)
  • 3/4 of a cup of beef stock, heated
  • 3 hot Italian sausages
  • 3 medium Italian sausages
  • 3 stems of basil – If you leave the stems whole, they are easy to remove before serving. If you want to tear the leaves off, expect them to remain in the sauce.
  • 1/2 cup of red wine
  • 1 tablespoon of tomato paste
  • 1 medium carrot, cleaned, peeled, and cut into 3 pieces

Good Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese to grate on the pasta

Good olive oil


A large stockpot, a sharp razor, a wooden spoon, a measuring cup, a good chopping knife, and a cutting board.

(As for the razor blade, which certainly makes the sauce authentic to the movie, John Gilpatrick made this observation: “Momma Scorseses recipe does not call for razor-thin garlic—Martin may have taken that idea from her recipe for lemon chicken. Though I quickly found out why razor blades arent kept in most kitchen drawers. Unless you want to nick your fingertips a half dozen times, just use a chef’s knife.”

If you want paper-thin garlic slices, grab the razor blade and go for it… very, very carefully. They are your fingers, after all, and so it’s up to you!)

Brett explains that “for this recipe, you will need a minimum of 4 hours of simmer time. The sauce must be stirred every 15 minutes or so. Don’t even think of attempting this recipe unless you can simmer for at least four hours.


Brown the sausages in about a tablespoon of olive oil. Remove from the pot and set aside.

In the same stockpot, add another tablespoon olive oil, then soften the onions.

Add garlic and tomato paste, then add the wine and deglaze the pan until the wine is fully absorbed.

Add three cans of San Marzano tomatoes, and then return the sausages, add the hot beef stock, the basil, and the carrot.

Bring to a low boil, then simmer for at least four hours, stirring every fifteen minutes or so.

(If you are going to freeze the sauce, Brett suggests removing the sausages and freezing them separately. He leaves the sausages whole, which would certainly make freezing easier. You could consider cutting them into sections when you serve.)

Brett suggests using penne or rigatoni for the pasta. When ready to serve, add a few spoonfuls of the sauce to the pasta, and then top each serving with the sauce. Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano to taste, and enjoy!

And now the wine. Brett likes to use a Wolf Blass Cabernet Sauvignon from Australia. While you couldn’t go wrong with that, my tendency would be to use a good Italian red with decent acidity.. Here are some suggestions that you should be able to find in the Vintages section of the LCBO.

As I wrote the last column, the Michele Chiarlo Le Orme 16 Months Barbera d’Asti 2017, $15.95, from the Piedmont, a wine I really enjoy. The Wine Enthusiast suggests that “this juicy red opens with aromas of ripe dark-skinned berry, star anise and a whiff of forest floor. Rounded, chewy and fresh, the savoury palate doles out mature Marasca cherry, cranberry, licorice and a hint of truffle alongside smooth tannins.” – 90.

Podere Don Cataldo Negroamaro 2017, $15.95, from Puglia took gold in Berlin in 2018, and is characterized as presenting red fruits and blackberry notes with hints of tobacco and forest floor all on a silky entry, finishing with bright acidity which would be great with the Goodfellas pasta.

La Torre Guinzano San Gimignano Rosso 2016, $16.95, hails from the hill town to the east of Chianti, famous for its towers. The 2015 Vintage was described by as filling “the palate with an ample, mellow stream of dry cherry and blackberry flavour with a layer of savoury herb and saline note emerging on the medium-long, delicious finish.” – 92. I trust the 2016 to present just as well.

On the regular list, you will find the excellent Carpineto Dogajolo Rosso Toscano IGT, $17, generally a blend of 70% Sangiovese and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and perhaps Merlot. It has poise and structure with good complexity and will suggest cherry, cedar, and leathery spice. If you haven’t tried it yet, don’t hesitate.

There are some other interesting wines on the Sept. 5 Vintages release for you to consider.


South Africa’s Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé 2019, $13.95, is made from grapes specifically grown for making a Rosé. It has ample depth, with good red cherry fruit and a crunchy minerality on the finish. It is always very good, and always a bargain.


Mater Soli Grillo 2018, $14.95, is another wine with a Luca Maroni ‘superscore’ - 97. The grapes are grown in western Sicily, where the influence of the sea on the vines has an uplifting effect. Vintages tells us this wine is “aromatic and fresh, with well-defined peach and mineral alongside complex lanolin and chalk” That ‘lanolin’ reference suggest a lush silkiness. This should be a terrific white for sipping or to accompany seafood.

Decelle Côtes du Rhône-Villages blanc 2018, $15.95, made by the reliable Lavau firm is a blend of Marsanne and Viognier offering impressions of apricot and apple-like acidity. Vintages tells us, too, that it has a “characterful minerality and an earthy component.”

Glenelly Estate Reserve Chardonnay 2018, $18.95, comes from the estate established by May de Lencquesaing, former owner of the outstanding Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande in Bordeaux. With her, anything but top quality is not an option. In his South Africa Special Report, Tim Atkin explains “this is textured, ripe and well-balanced with some tropical fruit undertones, subtle wood and flavours of pear and nectarine. -92.


Portugal continues to blow us away with its quality and value dry red wines. Rede Reserva 2014, $14.95, was given a 91 by the Wine Enthusiasts Roger Voss who said “this wine has a finely chiselled texture with tannins and black fruits in fine proportions. It is dense wine, likely to remain structured and richly powerful.”

Spain’s El Escocés Volante Manga Del Brujo 2017 $16.95, can boast a “Parker” 90 for its red fruit, Mediterranean herbs, finesse, integrated acidity and freshness.

For $14.95, Old Road Wine The Anvil Shiraz 2018 from South Africa is tempting. Vintages proposes that it “offers richly layered blackberry, cocoa and oak spice in a robust, structured frame, with a balance that allows it to retain an elegant character.” COVID-19 has had a very grave impact on the South African wine industry, which has been brought to a virtual standstill by government restrictions hampering production and forbidding sales, even for export. Who knows how our ability to purchase and enjoy these wines will be affected in the next while.

The Sartori Ripasso Valpolicella Superiore 2015, $29.95 celebrates the winery’s 120th anniversary. The wine displays a finesse not typically found in many Ripassos. It is incredibly smooth with velvet-like tannins and a lingering aftertaste, making it a wine to enjoy certainly with beef, and even with roasted salmon.