In Castellammare del Golfo, heading west along the coast a little more than sixty kilometers from Palermo, eating a fish couscous by the sea and drinking one of those fruity whites from Alcamo, between old fortifications, it is not easy to become aware of what the town’s name meant in the history of organized crime. But that midday in October of a Sicilian autumn, shrouded in humidity and high temperatures, I couldn’t stop thinking about the Castellammaresa war, one of whose bloodiest episodes ended precisely in a New York restaurant in Coney Island with Joe the Masseria boss shot at the foot of the table, while Luciano relieved the prostate in the bathroom. A few days before, Luciano, in the company of Vito Genovese, had gone to see Salvatore Maranzano, who led the band of Castilian people, to tell him that they were going to offer a farewell meal to the man who was at the top of the underworld of Manhattan and the one they wanted to liquidate in order to seize power. The restaurant chosen to end Masseria was Nuova Villa Tammaro, whose owner Gerardo Scarpato, a friend of the boss, prided himself on filling his customers’ appetites with sardine pasta (bucatini alla sarda) flavored with wild fennel, Lucky’s favorite dish. Luciano. But on that occasion the chosen menu had no pasta or sardines, it consisted of the typical cold and hot appetizers (antipasti), minestrone soup, squid and prawn salad, lobster fra diavola with seafood linguine and spaghetti a la milanesa.
It was April 15, 1931. The diners arrived at the restaurant at noon on a Wednesday. Masseria, who naturally did not imagine what awaited him, was overwhelmed from the first moment by the tribute paid to him by his three most distinguished officers: Genovese, Luciano and Ciro Terranova, known as the king of New York artichokes. for having controlled the entire distribution of this vegetable in the city. They say the food was second to none, the wine kept running. Hours passed. By three thirty in the afternoon, Genovese and Terranova had already been absent for work reasons. Masseria and Luciano discussed the organization’s next moves while playing a game of cards. Luciano, with a montecristo in his mouth, joked about the functioning of his prostate and went to the bathroom. As soon as they left the dining room, four gunmen burst into it with their borsalino bent over their eyes. The boss had fallen into the trap, it was not difficult to notice but a little late: Albert Anastasia, Joe Adonis, Ben Bugsy Siegel and Genovese himself fired at the same time, leaving him like a sieve. In Masseria’s full stomach there was only room for bullets.
Nuova Villa Tammaro, from Coney Island, is part of a New York restaurant tour with mobsters shot before, during and after lunch; corpses served for desserts. Today it houses a smoked fish shop and factory. The Umbertos Clam House site on Mulberry Street, Little Italy, where Joe Gallo was killed while eating some shrimp, is occupied by the Italian restaurant Da Gennaro. On the other hand, I was able to visit Sparks Steakhouse, the famous steakhouse in Midtown, at whose doors Paul Castellano and his bodyguard Thomas Bilotti were shot dead by the gunshots of John Gotti and his pal, Sammy The Bull Gravano.
The kitchen, which is life but also death, has a special relationship that we have dealt with on other occasions, with Italian-American mobsters. Both history and fiction frequently haunt her: in the chronicle of events, the cinema or in literature. Three weeks before his death, Lucky Luciano himself invited the journalist of the weekly Le Ore, Jacques Kermoal, to a meal at his home in Naples, where he offered him pasta alla sarde, one of the most beloved and favorite Sicilian dishes among the preferences of the mythical gangster, father of modern organized crime. Luciano lived “in exile” in Italy and did not want to talk about the past, he was “the new man” who had abandoned large-scale extortion to lead the world drug trade. In the United States, due to the friendship he maintained with Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel himself, both Jews, he became fond of pickles, specifically kosher pickles that are served with pastrami sandwiches or any other type of meat. But back in Italy he was able to find himself again, within a greater familiarity and in an appropriate environment, with the dishes of his childhood. It was, let’s say, another change in “the new man.”
To make bucatini with sardines, first boil the fennel bulbs in plenty of water, drain them once they are cooked and mash them. Brown some very chopped onions and mix them immediately with chopped fillets of anchovies. Add the pitted and chopped sardines to the mixture, add the fennels with the salt and pepper and cook over low heat for five minutes. Then add the same amount of pine nuts as raisins and saffron. The bucatini are cooked in the fennel water and when they are ready they are mixed energetically in the casserole with the sauce. They should rest for at least ten minutes. It is a paste that is usually eaten warm. At a different temperature than gangster crime.