By Gary Buiso
This thing of ours…sure tastes good. From dishes like “Goon Squids” to “Pasta Paranoia,” the flavor of the Cosa Nostra is alive and well in “The Mafia Cookbook: Killer Recipes from Gangland Kitchens.” Author Barbara La Rocco said that aside from good food, her book is about “heritage and the tradition of family.” Bronx-born La Rocco grew up in Westchester and has lived in Carroll Gardens for the past 20 years. Each recipe comes complete with a mob-related anecdote, and a unique guide to its preparation. Take “Bull’s Slip of the Tongue,” for example, a reference to mob turncoat Salvatore “Sammy the Bull” Gravano. “Simmer da tongue wid everyting. Add half a cuppa water and simmer for one hour, until tongue stops wagging. When da tip of da tongue is tender, clip it off, and skin it,” La Rocco writes. It’s enough to make television’s Pauly Walnuts proud. “We are not pretending to be Mario Batali,” she said, referring to the popular chef. “This is really about family and a sense of humor.” She said the book is no more of a glorification of mobsters than Martin Scorcese’s acclaimed morality tale “Goodfellas.” “Take it easy on yourselves and have a sense of humor,” she said to potential critics. “It’s like putting ‘fuggetaboutit’ on a sign in Brooklyn.” There is a serious side to the cookbook, La Rocco said. Sales of the book will help cover the medical expenses of La Rocco’s brother Anthony, 50, who was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia in September. At the time of his diagnosis, Anthony was about to open a restaurant in Florida. “Everything got pushed back,” she said. But the bills have kept coming. La Rocco said she has managed to raise $100,000 so far, and will continue her efforts. This month, her brother was scheduled to undergo a stem cell transplant; La Rocco’s sister Jean is the donor. It was while reading the “Valachi Papers,” a book about Joseph ‘Joe Cargo’ Valachi, a soldier in the Genovese crime family who was the first to publicly acknowledge the existence of the Mafia, when La Rocca got the idea for the book. “They were talking about the ingredients for making meatballs in prison,” she said. “Everything was about smuggling food and salamis into prison,” she marveled. Her own ‘family’ had a lot to do with the inspiration that led her to pen the book. “A lot of this started with my grandfather, Anthony” she said. “When he came to this country, he had to pretend to be Irish to get a job, she said. He found work in a restaurant, she said. Her father, Tony, was a detective for the NYPD. He worked out of the 41st Precinct, known as Ft. Apache the Bronx, investigating organized crime. Thanks to her dad, La Rocco now owns a gambling wheel that once sat in Valachi’s gambling parlor, she said. After retiring, her father owned restaurants in Westchester. She also learned her way around a sauce pot from her mother, Anne. Anne, who is Irish, “learned how to prepare Italian food to woo my father,” La Rocco said. Her mother’s side of the family owns a Yonkers and Bronx-based foods supply company. While not a trained chef, La Rocco worked for cable television’s Food Network as their director for sponsorship for a traveling chef tour, and her brother is a chef and restaurant developer. When she’s not testing recipes, La Rocco is busy working to raise awareness about the vitality and richness of urban waterfronts through the not-for-profit organization she founded called Going Coastal Inc. She is also the author of the “Going Coastal New York City,” a waterfront guidebook. La Rocco said she initially put together the cookbook just for friends and family. “I just gave it out to relatives,” she said. Canada-based Altitude Publishing contacted her with interest, and the book was published in November. The book costs $12.95 and is available widely, including from the website Amazon.com. All sales through La Rocco’s website www.goingcoastal.org help cover her brother’s medical costs.