It was one of the most memorable and magical dining experiences my parents treated me to. I still have Mamma Leone's menu where the Spaghetti and Meatlballs cost $14.95...the year was 1963.
Mamma Leone's was founded in 1906 by Mamma Louisa Leone. Mamma loved a party and was always ready to celebrate every traditional festival and holiday in her special style.
"Carnevale" is the highlight...the period before Lent where Mamma served an authentic five-course Italian dinner...complete with singers, dancers, clowns and brass bands...all around were colorful decorations, lights, masks, balloons and garlands. This would bring joy to Mamma's heart.
About 30 years ago, the Leone family sold the restaurant to Restaurant Associates.
Mamma Leone's, an 82-year-old institution that grossed about $12 million last year, closed up shop in October at its longtime home on West 48th Street off Eighth Avenue to make way for a real-estate project. The reopening at 261 W. 44th St., next door to the historic Majestic Theater, is scheduled for mid-March.
Nick Valenti said the new Mamma Leone's will seat about 600 guests in seven dining rooms. The main one, on the first floor, will have 36-foot ceilings and will contain marble statues, oil paintings, and artifacts from the old restaurant.
The restaurant will continue to serve huge portions of traditional Italian food in a festive atmosphere, Valenti promised. Most of the restaurant's longtime employees and its entire management staff headed by director general Joseph Montalbano will return.
"We are changing our address, not our style," Montalbano said. "Mamma Leone's new location will offer the same comfort and heartfelt enjoyment of coming home, as it has for so many years."
Spaghetti and Meatballs
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, smashed
2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh parsley leaves
1 cup milk
4 thick slices firm white bread, crust removed
1 1/2 pounds ground beef
1 1/2 pounds ground pork
1 large egg
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for serving
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 cups heated Pomodoro Sauce, recipe follows, or good quality jarred tomato sauce
1/2 pound mozzarella cheese, cut into chunks
Leaves from 3 sprigs fresh basil
1 pound spaghetti
Bring a big pot of salted water to a boil for the spaghetti. Heat 3 tablespoons oil in an ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and parsley and cook until the vegetables are soft but still translucent, about 10 minutes. Take the pan off the heat and let cool.
Pour enough milk over the bread in a bowl to moisten and let it soak while the onions are cooling. Combine the meats in a large bowl. Add the egg and Parmigiano and season generously with salt and pepper. Use your hands to squeeze the excess milk out of the bread and add that to the bowl along with the cooled onion mixture. (Hang onto the pan - you'll need it to cook the meatballs.) Gently combine all the ingredients with your hands or with a spoon until just mixed together. Don't overwork or the meatballs will be tough. Divide into 10 equal pieces and shape them into 10 nice looking meatballs.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Heat a 3-count of oil in the frying pan over medium heat and brown the meatballs on all sides, about 10 minutes. Put them into a baking dish and spoon about half of the tomato sauce over. Shower with the mozzarella and drizzle with olive oil. Put the meatballs in the oven and bake until the meatballs are cooked through, about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti in the boiling water until al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain and put it onto a large serving platter. Pour on the rest of the sauce and mix well. Spoon the meatballs on top of the spaghetti and garnish with basil leaves. Serve immediately along with extra cheese.
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 (28-ounce) cans whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes, drained and crushed by hand, liquid reserved
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, torn into pieces
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until the vegetables are soft, 4 to 5 minutes. Carefully add the tomatoes (nothing splashes like tomatoes) and about 1/2 cup of the reserved liquid and season with salt and pepper. Cook until the sauce is thick, about 15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, stirring for a few minutes with a wooden spoon to further break up the tomatoes. Reduce the heat and let simmer for 20 to 25 minutes. Stir in the fresh basil and season again.
Estelle's Favorite Tiramisu
6 ounces container mascarpone cheese
2/3 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup sugar
Chocolate Zabaglione, recipe follows
2 1/2 cups espresso coffee, warmed
24 crisp ladyfinger cookies (recommended: Savoiardi)
Unsweetened cocoa powder, for garnish
Dark chocolate shavings, for garnish
Place the mascarpone cheese in a large bowl and set aside. With an electric mixer, beat the cream and 1/4 cup of the sugar in a medium bowl until soft peaks form. Fold the whipped cream into the mascarpone. Then fold in the chilled Chocolate Zabaglione. Cover and refrigerate.
Whisk the warmed espresso and the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar in another medium bowl until blended. Line a 9 1/4 by 5 by 2 3/4-inch metal loaf pan with plastic wrap, allowing the plastic to extend over the sides. Working with 1 cookie at a time, dip 8 cookies into the espresso, and arrange in a single layer side by side over the bottom of the prepared pan.
Spoon 1/3 of the mascarpone mixture over the cookies to cover. Repeat dipping 8 of the cookies in the espresso and begin layering the cookies and remaining mascarpone mixture 2 more times. Dip the remaining 8 cookies in the espresso and arrange side by side atop the tiramisu. Press lightly to compact slightly (the last layer will extend above the pan sides). Cover the tiramisu with plastic and refrigerate at least 6 hours.
Unwrap the plastic from atop the tiramisu. Invert the tiramisu onto a platter. Remove the plastic. Sift the cocoa over the tiramisu, and with a vegetable peeler or sharp knife, make dark chocolate shavings and sprinkle over top.
2 tablespoons whipping cream, or heavy cream
1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
4 large egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup dry Marsala
Add cream and chocolate to a heavy small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the chocolate chips are melted and smooth. Set aside and keep warm.
Whisk the egg yolks, sugar, Marsala, and salt in a large glass bowl until blended. Set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, but do not allow the bottom of the bowl to touch the water. Whisk the egg mixture over the simmering water until it is thick and creamy, about 4 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Using a large rubber spatula, fold the melted chocolate mixture into the egg mixture. Cover and refrigerate to chill completely.