Two weeks ago I received a hand-written note from a woman in Methuen who asked if I would give her a call. She wished to talk with me about a column that I had written back in 2008. She had clipped it from the food page in The Eagle-Tribune, and saved it on her refrigerator for quite a while, but never forgot about it.
I called her and after chatting for a few minutes, we made a date for me to come for tea. She was very interesting to talk with, and her memory was clear and vast.
The column she was speaking of was about Mama Leone’s restaurant in New York. It brought back memories of her living and working in New York City.
Antoinette Gebala, who is called Ann, said her family moved from Methuen to the East Side of New York when she was 2 years old. As young women, she and her sisters went to work in the Knickerbocker Toy Co. on Sixth Street. There were other Italian girls there and soon she had made many friends. “The Italian girls,”, as she called her group, would go to lunch together and one of their favorite places to eat was Mama Leone’s restaurant close by in the Theater District. She spoke of the fun and camaraderie of those lunch times.
One of Ann’s clear memories was when Mrs. Roosevelt came to the toy store to shop. This is only one of so many fascinating tidbits of her “New York City life.”
Ann returned to Methuen in 1947, met her husband and was soon married. She is proud of her Italian heritage, but very much has embraced her husband’s Polish heritage. Ann and a friend love Polish dancing, and when they can find one, like to attend the Polish clubs’ old-fashioned picnics.
By her own admission, she is not a very good cook, but loves Polish food as much as Italian, loves cookbooks and finding good recipes, and is thankful her daughter has become such a good cook.
Here is that April 2008 column highlighting Mama Leone’s restaurant, with a recipe from Mama Leone’s collection:
I am fortunate to have some fascinating cookbooks. One is “Leone’s Italian Cookbook,” published in 1967. I have used many recipes from this book over the years.
The book itself is a treasure trove of fascinating information, such as best wine to complement a dish, cooking equipment you should have on hand, and so much more, such as the foreword in the book written by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1966.
A little bit about her restaurant; Mama Leone opened in 1906 with only 20 seats. Enrico Caruso sang at her opening. It became one of the most legendary Italian restaurants nationwide, with chefs trying to reproduce her recipes. Presidents, visiting dignitaries, actors, visitors to New York, all wanted to eat there. The restaurant grew to 1,500 seats by the 1930s, serving up to 6,000 dinners nightly. Sadly, after Mama Leone’s death, the restaurant was sold in 1959.
According to her book, this spaghetti with sausage and eggplant dish is an old family recipe that Mama Leone had on her menu from the first night her restaurant opened, with her as the only cook.
I hope you enjoy it as much as my family has over the years.
Spaghetti With Italian Sausage & Eggplant Sauce
Makes 6 cups sauce
1 pound Italian sweet sausage
1 eggplant (about 1 1/2 pounds)
2 large garlic cloves, mashed
10 fresh parsley sprigs, leaves only
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup butter
2 ounces salt pork, diced
1/2 cup chopped onions
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
3 green peppers, sliced very thin
One (1 pound can) crushed or chopped plum tomatoes
3 large very ripe tomatoes, chopped very fine
1 pound cooked spaghetti
Remove the casing from the sausage, and break into small pieces.
Cut unpeeled eggplant into 1/2-inch cubes.
Chop garlic and parsley together.
Combine olive oil, butter, and salt pork in a saucepan; heat.
Add onions and cook until lightly browned.
Add sausage, brown for 10 minutes.
Add garlic, parsley, salt and pepper, cook for 10 minutes.
Add green peppers and eggplant, cook for 5 minutes.
Add fresh and canned tomatoes, simmer for 30 minutes, than taste to see if sauce is cooked, add salt if necessary.
Drain cooked spaghetti, toss with a little butter and grated cheese. Pour sausage and eggplant sauce over pasta, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
In the restaurant, this was served with an aged Barolo wine.
Patricia Altomare invites feedback. Email her at email@example.com, or write care of The Eagle-Tribune, 100 Turnpike St., North Andover, MA 01845.