Lorenzo Schober remembers the pasta fagioli his nonna used to make when he was growing up in England. His grandmother, a Calabria native, would pick juicy tomatoes out of her own garden to make a spicy sauce for the noodle dish with cannellini beans.
When the Georgia Straight catches him at his office at the Italian Cultural Centre, he says that he can practically still taste it.
“It was so simple, but I could probably eat 10 portions of that,” says Schober, the centre’s director of marketing and communications, and a Red Seal chef himself. “It was also so fresh. Everything was made from scratch.
“My nonna’s cooking is how I really got an interest in the kitchen,” he says, before adding with a laugh, “That’s why they say Italians typically don’t like to go to Italian restaurants: because their grandma cooks better than them.”
True, there probably is nothing quite like a meal freshly prepared by an Italian matriarch, but the next-best thing may be going to a good Italian restaurant.
With June being Italian Heritage Month—the designation having been recognized nationally for the first time this year—Vancouverites have reason to celebrate. Following a successful launch last year, Mangia Vancouver is back.
Throughout the month, several restaurants are offering special menus to showcase their fare and give diners a taste of Italian culinary traditions and techniques.
The Poor Italian Ristorante is one of them. Manager Gabriella Moscone explains that her father, Tony, was raised in the mountains of Abruzzo in a tiny village called Villa Santa Lucia. Facing a bleak economic future in his home country following the Second World War, he came to Canada to find new opportunities. In 1948, he started a landscape construction company; the restaurant (which is owned by the Moscone family, along with managing partners Francesco Marra and Angelo De Meo) was a way of honouring a piece of Vancouver’s history.
“Many of the first Italians in Vancouver—our parents included—settled on the East Side,” Moscone tells the Straight. “We like to think we’re still part of what our parents began long ago. Their legacy lives on through the community and through the children who were raised within that community. Opening the Poor Italian Ristorante was our way of acknowledging a time that has since passed but needs to be remembered. It’s part of Vancouver’s story.
“The name Poor Italian gives a nod to the very roots of the Italian cucina,” she adds. “It was once known as peasant food: the farmers, peasants, people of very few means would work the land, and with a little culinary finesse, they unwittingly—or, perhaps, very deliberately—crafted an epic culinary story.”
For Mangia Vancouver, the Poor Italian is offering a prix fixe menu ($39) with selections including raviolini in brodo (cheese raviolini in chicken stock) and melenzane alla parmigiana, which consists of layers of eggplant baked with mozzarella, Parmigiano Reggiano, and San Marzano tomato-basil sauce.
Nicli Antica Pizzeria is also taking part. It’s presenting Mangia por Duo ($50), the meal including mixed olives, insalata di rucola e finocchio (arugula and fennel salad), two pizzas (Margherita and bianca), and tiramisu. And at Al Porto, caesar or mixed green salad accompanies choices such as linguine vongole (with clams and calamari, $21.95) or grilled halibut (with prawns, vegetables, and saffron risotto, $32.95).
“A huge part of our culture is sharing a meal with family, with friends,” Schober says. “It’s embedded in Italian culture.”
For more information on Mangia Vancouver, visit the Italian Cultural Centre website.