Goodfellas Prison Pasta Sauce

(Theresa Greco)

If I had to pick a movie that reminds me of where I grew up it would be Martin Scorsese‘s Goodfellas; a film which chronicles mobster life in New York City. Though I’m not connected to the mob and I’m not from New York City, I did grow up in an Italian-American neighborhood in Philadelphia similar to the one depicted in the film. Family was important, as was food and of course, being Italian.

Related: 27 Traditional Italian Recipes By Region

As Goodfellas marks its 31th anniversary this September, I decided it was time to watch the movie again. In planning movie night I came up with the idea of “A Dinner In A Movie,” which is basically an excuse to have friends over and recreate a classic food scene from a favorite film. I decided to recreate the prison dinner scene in Goodfellas…right down to the translucent garlic cut with a razor blade and that Prison Pasta Sauce recipe.

What is Prison Sauce?

For those that aren’t familiar with this movie, the prison meal is a classic Italian-American feast that the mob boys cooked up while doing time behind bars. Besides pasta there is bread, peppers, onions, salami, prosciutto, cheese, Scotch and wine (obviously).

Food Hunter's Guide to Cuisine

Even if you haven’t seen the movie—although I highly suggest you do—this pasta is perfect for feeding a crowd. This recipe may not be the exact recipe used in the movie, but it certainly reminded me of countless meals I ate growing up.

Prison Sauce pairs well with an an Italian red wine, like Chiano Conti from Faro.

Related: Robert De Niro’s Top 10 Iconic Movie Roles

How to Cook Prison Pasta

  • Always, always salt the pasta water!
  • Avoid food waste and measure your portions. If you’re cooking for four people, you’ll need 1 lb of pasta.
  • Give your pasta plenty of room to cook—use a large pot.
  • Cover your pot with a lid to help bring the water up to the boil more quickly, then remove the lid once the water is boiling or reduce the temperature slightly to stop it bubbling over.
  • Add the pasta to the water once it’s boiling, never before, and cook without the lid.
  • Remove pasta from pot with as little water as possible…straining and shaking as necessary.

Prison Pasta Sauce


  • 2-3 onions, peeled and finely diced
  • olive oil
  • ½ lb ground beef
  • 1 lb ground pork shoulder
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 5 cloves garlic peeled
  • ½ cup white wine
  • 1 (28-oz) can tomato puree
  • 1 (28-oz) can chopped tomatoes
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • 1 lb pasta
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  1. In a large frying pan, over high heat add oil and fry both the ground beef and pork in separate batches, ensure your pan is really hot to get a good color on all of your meat. Drain each batch of meat into a colander, over a bowl to catch any juices.

  2. Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium heat, add diced onion and a teaspoon of salt. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and turn down to a medium low heat, stirring it every three to five minutes. Keep cooking this until the onions are completely soft and translucent. This will take around 25 – 30 minutes.

  3. Once you have fried your last batch of meat, place it all back into a pan over medium heat and add your finely sliced garlic. Cook this for 1 to 2 minutes, until the garlic starts to break down. Now add the white wine, boil and reduce to almost nothing, then add the stock. Turn your heat up high and continue cooking until the liquid is reduced by half.

  4. Add your canned tomatoes stir and place the lid back onto the pan and cook on a really low slow heat for 2-3 hours. Finally add a pinch of salt and the ground black pepper. Taste and add more seasoning to your liking.

  5. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and salt generously. Add the pasta to the boiling water, stir to separate the noodles, and cover the pot. Drain the pasta in a colander set in the sink.

  6. Pour the pasta into a large bowl and spoon about two-thirds of the sauce over it. Gently toss the pasta and sauce to coat evenly. Add more sauce as needed. Serve immediately.

Kitchen Counter

Serves 4.

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