Food in Detective Stories. What do the bad guys eat???

When you think of the Bad Guys, The Villains, often it’s about the Mafia.

mafia foodBefore I look at what they eat, here’s a little bit of history about this famous organization. Food playing a large part in it’s criminal activities.

In 1874 in the outskirts of Palermo, Gaspare Galati, a respectable doctor, was admiring his 4 hectare orchard of lemons and mandarines, which he had inherited 2 years earlier.Because of it’s citrus production, Sicilian orchards were, since the middle of the 19th century the most profitable land holdings in Europe. Lemons were sold to the British Navy, who relied on it to overcome Scurvy. Bergamot essence was a very successful product, being used since 1840 to perfume Earl Grey tea taken by the British Bourgeoisie. So Doctor Galati had inherited a real goldmine.

Under the pretext of protecting these precious citrus orchards in a country overrun by on going troubles, criminal clans organised a prosperous racket.Dr Galati fell victim to this racketeering. His manager was killed, and he received death threats, to pressure him into employing a “man of honour” and give up part of the profits.The police offered him no protection and in 1875 after escaping several attempts on his life and those of his family, he abandoned all he had in Sicily and fled to Rome to start his life again.Dr Galati who found himself powerless against this organization, wrote to the Interior Minisiter. He wrote of the existence of a band of criminals, and wrote of  police and administrative involvement with these groups. He told of a criminal heirarchy, initation rituals and a code of violence, corruption and extortion.The first written description of the “Mafia”.

Lemon papers from Sicily.

fruit paperconstat

A very easy and lemony dessert is this no churn Lemon Gelato. Although if you have a machine you can use that too.

Lemon Gelato

Mix together

200gms of castor sugar, juice of 2 lemons and their zest finely grated. Mix in 600mls of cream. Chill then Freeze.


The Mafia have a great food tradition, coming from Sicily and Naples. The movies about the Mafia, The Godfather and Goodfellas for example have many scenes of eating in restaurants or at home with big family meals.In Goodfellas, there are scenes of them cooking in prison and having a B.B.Q. behind the taxi stand, where the guys are eating sausages and peppers. This is my version.

sausages and peppersingredientsRecipe for Stewed Peppers to go with B.B.Q’d Sausages.

for 4 servings

Sweat off 4 large Shallots, and 2 cloves of garlic both finely chopped in 4 tablespoons of olive oil. I like to use shallots as they have more sugar in them than onions and cook quite quickly. Add 4 red peppers, deseeded and chopped roughly. Season with black pepper and salt.I used long peppers called cornes de taureau, bull’s horns. Very sweet and flavoursome.Cook over low heat until softened, stirring from time to time.The mixture should be soft and unctuous. Use the best Italian sausges you can find, preferably spicy.

Sausages and peppersA scene in Prizzi’s Honour has Jack Nicholson cooking Pasta for his father.It looks like a simple spaghetti with Tomato Sauce.

prizz"s honor

pasta with simple tomato sauce

tin tomatoesA Simple Tomato Sauce from Marcella Hazan.

1 medium onion, peeled

550gms of good quality peeled, canned tomatoes. Don’t use crushed ones, they are usually made from damaged tomatoes.

pinch of salt

60gms of unsalted butter.

Put the onion, tomatoes,butter and pinch of salt in heavy based pan.Bring slowly to a simmer and cook simmering until reduced, about 45 minutes.Mash any big pieces with the back of a wooden spoon. Adjust seasoning, discard the onion. The butter in the sauce gives a rich and almost meaty taste to the sauce.

james cagney's grapefruitgrapefruit for james cagney

3 thoughts on “Food in Detective Stories. What do the bad guys eat???

  1. Food in Literature is a brilliant idea for a Blog. I just read your history of the value of citrus production in the nineteenth century which was extremely interesting. A great subject for a thesis!!!
    If G. Packard knew about this idea he would be in heaven! It’s be so right up his alley. As it is, we’ re not sure where he is!
    Keep up the great and interesting work.

  2. Thanks Susie, the tomato sauce recipe is at exactly the right level of simplicity for my basic cooking skills, and I hadn’t thought of discarding the onions!
    And I wonder if Mae West appreciated that grapefruit face mask?
    Ciao, Peter

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