• Tommy Centola

Three kitchen favorites to try

I am an avid collector of cookbooks. I was very excited when I saw that Kolette Mandina Ditta was publishing a cookbook with the recipes from the family restaurant, Tony Mandina’s, located in Gretna, across the Mississippi River from New Orleans. I have been friends with the Mandina family for some time. It’s the Italian restaurant that I judge others on.

As soon as I saw the cookbook was in the works, I was excited. I ordered my copy knowing it would take a few months before I had it. It was well worth the wait. I had hoped that it would include my favorite dishes that I always ordered when I went to dine there. I was not disappointed. Today, I want to share with you my favorites, Red Gravy, Osso Buco and Shrimp Mandina. Let’s head to the kitchen!

Here is the base recipe on which most Italian restaurants are judged. This recipe is a substitute for their Red Gravy that they sell in grocery stores. Try it next time you have meatballs. It was a two-for-one meatball special that put Tony Mandina’s on the culinary map.

Red Gravy

9 cups crushed, canned tomatoes

11 cups water

4 bay leaves

1 cup yellow onions, chopped

2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 tablespoon black pepper

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

3-inch piece of Parmigiana Reggiano rind

Combine all ingredients in a 10 quart stock pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer. Cook for 2-3 hours or longer, stirring occasionally. When sauce is reduced to a thick, rich texture, remove from heat and cool. The sauce may be kept refrigerated for up to seven days. It may also be frozen successfully.

This dish is usually my first choice when I visit the restaurant. Tony Mandina’s is the first restaurant where I tried Osso Buco. I have tried others since but none are as good as it is here. If you can’t find veal shanks, you can substitute pork with the same results.

Osso Buco

4 veal shanks, 3 inches thick

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic

1 quart Tony Mandina’s Red Gravy

4 tablespoons shredded mozzarella cheese

Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven. Season shanks liberally with salt, pepper, and granulated garlic. Brown on both sides. Cool and cover with Tony Mandina’s Red Gravy. Marinate in refrigerator overnight.


Preheat oven to 375℉.


Cover and bake for 3 hours or until the veal shanks are tender. Halfway through cooking, add more Tony Mandina’s Red Gravy if needed. To serve, melt one tablespoon of shredded Mozzarella cheese on top of each veal shank.

When I’m not in the mood for Osso Buco, this is the dish that I order. Many times I have tried to recreate this dish but I could never get it right. Fortunately, now I have no problems. It has just the right amount of spice to flavor the dish.

Shrimp Mandina

2 cups light beer

1/2 pound salted butter

1 1/2 cups seafood stock

1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce

1/2 teaspoon liquid crab boil

2 teaspoons dried parsley

2 teaspoons dried oregano

2 teaspoons dried rosemary

2 teaspoons dried basil

2 teaspoons dried thyme

2 teaspoons granulated garlic

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

3 tablespoons cornstarch

5 tablespoons water

2 pounds small, peeled shrimp raw

1 1/2 pounds linguine pasta, cooked

In a 4 1/2 quart saucepan, melt butter and all other ingredients except cornstarch, water and shrimp. Bring to a low boil and simmer for approximately 10 minutes. In a separate bowl, mix cornstarch and water until dissolved. Pour slowly into simmering sauce to thicken. Add shrimp and simmer for an additional 3 minutes until shrimp turn pink and firm. Serve with Linguine pasta.

If you’re in New Orleans, take a trip to the Westbank for the best Italian food in the city. The Mandina family will be there to welcome you to their slice of Sicily. It’s worth the trip. You can also order their cookbook on their restaurant website, tonymandinas.com. They make great Christmas presents.

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