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Cooking on the Lam
Here I go again, another cookbook. I have more stories to go with the recipes, also. The last time I talked to you, I was in Memphis, Tennessee. I was in the Witness Protection Program. The marshal responsible for me was Steve Popernick. I cooked for Steve a couple of times and we got along pretty good. I saw him once a month, when he came over to give me my monthly payment for my living expenses. My cost of living was as follows: Rent $650; gas and electric, about $120; telephone, $50; and then there was food, about $500 a month and gas for my car, maybe another $100. That amount came to $1,420 a month. The marshall gave me $1,252 a month.
I had to get the rest of the money somewhere, but where? I had mentioned this to Steve, and he said get a job and then we'll adjust your allotment. We'll give you a little less until you can make enough to live on your own. I looked at him. "Get a job! Whaddya nuts! I ain't woiked in fifteen years and youse want me to go to woik now! Are you crazy! After what I did for youse guys you think I'm gonna start woiking now? Ya better figure something else out, because I ain't doin nothing. Capito, patrone."
"Well, Joe Dogs, if you run out of money, you'll have to go to work if you want to eat. Your allotment is based on a single person per month. Get yourself a less expensive place to live and do a lot of walking, so you won't burn the gas in your car. There's a lot of ways you can cut down on expenses. Capito? I know what that word means, but I don't quite understand what the other meant," the agent remarked.
"It means like captain or like you're the boss, you know, like you're in charge." I answered.
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I felt lost. I mean this guy is treating me like I was still with the mob. Even when he interviewed me he said a bunch of things like "Don't get in any fights. You can't call anyone in your family. Don't let anyone know who you are. Don't tell anyone where you are." And every time he mentioned something, a threat came after the phrase. "If you do that, you'll be kicked out of the program. Do you understand, Joe?" He must have said that last phrase a dozen times.
"Hey, Steve, were you ever a cop? You act just like one."
"Yes. I was in the police force for twelve years. Why?"
"Because you act just like one, that's why!" I said. "Listen, Steve, when I was interviewed, the lady told me that if I wanted my dog to be with me, to inform the marshal that I reported to and that he, meaning you, would have the authority to have my pet delivered to me. So Steven, I'm making a request for you to help me get him as soon as possible. Okay?"
"No. It's not okay. I can't do anything about your dog," Steve said. "But what I will do is take all the information down and pass it on to headquarters, and if they okay your request, then so be it," he continued.
I felt like I was in a concentration camp. This guy was tough on the federal witnesses. "All right, Steve," I said to the marshal, "but please go to headquarters as soon as possible. I miss my dog terribly and I need him with me."
I had been in Tennessee now for about three months. Steve and I were playing golf. He had brought me my allotment for my monthly bills, which cost me almost fifteen hundred a month. Steve was an avid golfer, and he was good. We played for lunch, with automatic presses. He beat me even though he gave me strokes. It was a plush country club golf course. I wondered how he could afford a membership and a beautiful home like he has on a marshal's salary.
"Well, Joe Dogs," Steve said, laughing. "You lost three ways. You owe me breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but I'll make a deal with you."
"What?" I asked disgustedly.
"If you cook one of your Italian dishes for me, I'll call it even." Naturally I agreed, so we cleaned up at the country club and went to the supermarket. Whenever I cook a dinner, I like to do my own shopping for the groceries that I need. I got the type of veal that I wanted and the rest of the groceries. As I was about to pay for them, Steve gave his credit card to the cashier, saying to me, "We aren't allowed to accept anything from the witnesses, so although you lost the match, you're cooking. I'll have a drink and relax, while you're doing all the work. It'll be a treat to eat your cooking, so let's go to your place."
4 tablespoons (1¿2 stick) butter
1¿2 cup flour
1¿2 cup cornmeal
1 pound veal scaloppini, pounded thin and cut into 2-inch squares
1 egg beaten with a little milk
1 shallot, chopped fine
1 clove garlic, minced
Juice of 1¿2 lemon
1¿3 cup dry white wine
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a sauté pan melt the butter over moderate heat. Mix the flour and cornmeal. Flour the veal, shaking off the excess. Soak the veal in the egg mixture one piece at a time and put into pan with melted butter. Lower heat and sauté veal one minute on each side. (You'll have to do this in batches.) Remove from pan and set aside. Turn flame up to medium and add the shallot, garlic, lemon juice, and wine. Ignite the sauce to burn off the alcohol, then place the veal back in the pan and cook for another two minutes turning the veal over and basting it with the sauce. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.
note: Pasta marinara or Fettuccine Alfredo would go well with this dish.
Tennessee wasn't a bad state to live in. I resided in a small town called Bartlett. Bartlett is a suburb of Memphis. For me it was a new place, new stories, and more new lies. The landlord wanted me to fill out an application with my references. The rent was $650 a month plus $650 security. It was a duplex, and it was plush. It had three bedrooms and two baths. On my side of the duplex, the backyard was enclosed with a fence. I was thinking of my pet's safety. "I won't have to worry about him getting hurt by a car or other animals," I thought to myself. I wanted it, but I figured what references I could lie about to this guy. He looks like he'd check them all anyway, so why bother. I didn't have any identification yet. We all know how swiftly the government moves. I figured I'd take a shot. Andrew was the landlord's name. "I'm a stranger to this part of the country here, sir, and to my chagrin, I lost my billfold. I went to the D.M.V. today and I'll have identification in two or three weeks. I like the place, Andrew, so I'm going to make you an offer you can't refuse," I said smiling, using one of the clichés from the Godfather movie.
I reached in my pocket and came out with a big roll of bills in my hand. I counted out $2,000 in front of him and his wife and handed it to him saying, "I'll give you the $650 plus $650 for the security, and I'll even pay you $650 for the last month's rent. You don't have to tell me now, Andrew. Talk it over with your wife and I'll call you in a couple of days and you can let me know what you decide. Give me a receipt for $1,950 and $50 change from the two grand I just gave you, and I'll be on my way. Here's my phone and room number where I'm staying, in the event you want to reach me."
As I said good night and turned to walk out Andrew caught me by the car and told me that he and his wife wanted me to be their tenant, and I could move in by the first of the month. I thanked them and left. "Money talks," I said to myself.
I went out and bought new furniture. I purchased for only three rooms. The other two bedrooms I left empty. I liked it here. I'm the type of guy who minds his own business. I'm not a nosy person. But people are inquisitive. Especially if you're living in their neighborhood. They'll ask you all kinds of questions. Where you from? What made you move here? What is your occupation? And so on. I lied, naturally. The only thing is, since I got that brain damage from the mob, I kind of forget some of the lies so I had to write them down.
I went to the supermarket one day to do a little shopping for myself, when I noticed a lot of bundles of rapini. My mouth started to water. I bought a couple of bunches with a pound box of penne pasta. I gathered up some other groceries and went to the check-out line.
There was a man in front of me that was arguing with the cashier about the weight and price of a pound of grapes he was trying to purchase.
"Y'all owe me a dollar seventy-nine, sir," the pretty African American said to the man.
"Listen lady, I weighed the grapes myself and the scale over there said one pound. And the sign above the grapes says $1.59 a pound. What, you trying to cheat me?"
While all this is going on, I'm saying to myself, "I had to get in this ____in' line. Couldn't I pick some other one? I mean like come on now, twenty cents, fuhgedaboudit!"
The man was getting real loud and insulting the poor girl and you could see she was about to cry. I said "Here honey, here's the twenty cents. Give the big mouth his grapes, so we all can get the hell out of here."
I didn't like the guy, especially the way he talked to the poor kid, using a couple of racial slurs. He turned to me and said, "Mind your own business. I'll pay for my own grapes," and slams me on my chest. I fell backward into the person behind me, knocking that person down. Well, before this happened I was eyeing this guy. He was about my age, I thought, about my height, and a little broader than me. My basket, with the groceries I was carrying, had fallen to the floor along with the man behind me. I helped that guy up and asked him if he was hurt. And then wheeled around and hit the loudmouth on the mouth and nose with a sucker punch. He went flying on his ass and he hit the paved floor. The manager must have called the police during the commotion because it wasn't two minutes before they arrived. A woman was screaming that I tried to kill her poor old father, who was seven years younger than me. (That, I found out later.) The cops were trying to restore order, by keeping everyone calm. The guy's daughter, whom I hadn't noticed, probably because she was nondescript, was screaming to the police "Lock him up, and beat the crap out of him." The cop in the meantime is looking over in my direction and I'm just standing there nice and quiet thinking to myself, "Now you've done it. You jerk. You were told not to get in any fights, or trouble, and look what you've done to that guy. It makes no difference that he hit you first. You antagonized him. Who's going to believe you, anyway? A mobster from New York!"
The cop came over to me, breaking me from my reverie. "Step over here, sir, please. What is your name?" After I answered all his questions he went over to the cashier who was shaken up from the ordeal, and was telling the police officer what she saw and heard. The cop came back to me and said, "The cashier backs your story to the hilt. Where you from, Joe? You're not from here, not with that accent. You sound like my dad. We're from Jersey."
"A break," I thought. "I'm from New York," I said.
"What brings you to these parts of the country? Are you with the program?"
"Smart," I guessed. I should have told him no, but he seemed like a regular guy, so I said "You clocked it, Bill, and if the marshal finds out about this my head is on the block. In fact if he finds out that I told you about me being in the program, it'll be the same result."
"I'm not taking you in, don't worry -- if anything I'll lock that guy up. Where's his bigmouth daughter? I'm going to tell her to bring her old man in as soon as he gets out of the hospital, and that you're pressing charges against him because he hit you first and you have witnesses. You know what you should do, Joe, take your groceries home, then come to the station and file a complaint to cover yourself. I'll talk to my sarge; we'll take care of everything, Joseph!" Bill said with a smile.
I did what Bill had requested and then I went home and made the dish I was yearning for.
Tuscan Bean Crostini
1 (14-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
Extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Mediterranean sea salt
Small bunch of fresh basil leaves, torn into pieces
6 to 8 fresh oregano leaves, torn into small pieces
1 crusty baguette
3 cloves garlic, crushed
Place the drained, rinsed beans in a small bowl and pour in a small amount of the olive oil (approximately 1¿4 cup). Season with the pepper and sea salt. Add the basil and oregano and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours allowing the beans to marinate in the olive oil.
Slice the baguette thinly on an angle. Place the crostini on a baking sheet. Blend together the fresh crushed garlic with 1¿2 cup of olive oil in a small bowl. Brush the olive oil mixture onto the crostini and bake in a preheated 450-degree oven until nicely browned. Turn bread over, brush again, and bake until toasted.
Cool the crostini and spread the bean mixture onto the bread. If desired, you may drizzle some additional olive oil on the individual appetizers. Serve with a nice bottle of pinot grigio.
Makes about 24 crostini.
Copyright © 2005 by Joseph Iannuzzi
Excerpted from Cooking on the Lam by Joseph Iannuzzi Copyright © 2005 by Joseph Iannuzzi. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted May 27, 2011
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