Massimo's. A Great Way To Feed The Kids.
Q&A WITH RENATA BERLINGO, Italian Centre Shop's Prepared Foods Manager
Q1. Tell me a little about yourself and your family.
I'm a second-generation Italian, food fanatic, sort of a homebody but more career mom who was raised by first-generation Italian, food obsessed, homebody workaholics.
Music lover, writer want-to-be, and passionate about my heritage. I am the mother to a kind-hearted and beautiful 10-year-old girl named Sofia who plays drums in a rock band, takes Taekwondo, and is addicted to watching YouTube makeup vloggers and Food Network.
And my husband, and best friend Sal, is a good, second-generation Italian boy.
In the early years of my daughter’s life, I was working myself up the corporate ladder of a finance company. I was blindly miserable.
What made it worse is that I felt like Sofia was missing out on so many of the cultural experiences my parents shared with me... and it was my fault. It became mission critical that I got back in touch with it all.
So, I did what was most natural to me, I joined the Italian Centre Shop where I found a much healthier work-life balance than I was used to. I am so blessed to be part of the Italian Centre Shop family...to be surrounded by people with the same passions I have and to report to a career mom, (Teresa) who gets it.
As the Food Services Manager, I oversee our catering department, our store kitchens and our private label of heat and eat meals: Massimo’s Cucina Italiana (Massimo’s). Named after Teresa Spinelli’s son, Massimo’s is a growing product line developed for every Teresa out there. A career mom who is strapped for time but wants nothing more than to feed her growing child a good Italian meal for dinner each night.
Q2. What kind of challenges do you encounter when it comes to feeding your family?
Lack of time with a pinch of guilt sautéed with a few limitations.
For every career-parent I know, time is a luxury and the struggle is real. I decided it was time to get creative. I trained myself to wake up early each morning so that I could make time to do mom things like organize my household (I’m a professional bill payer) and prep meals. This completely changed my perception of time and helped immensely with getting wholesome dinners on the table on most evenings. However, some mornings, I’m in front of a computer screen and I don’t have time to prep a meal. (Up until recently and for the last two years, I was also a part-time business consultant and did a lot of my work in the early mornings before heading to the Italian Centre).
|I accepted that despite how much I love to cook, I couldn’t cook dinner all the time. It just couldn’t happen. Then, it became difficult finding suitable options for take-out and ready-meals. I found the options limited; usually fried items with lower quality ingredients that are not fresh. Anything that I could find that was wholesome was often too expensive to rely on regularly (did I mention I’m a professional bill payer?).|
Q3. Tell me about some of your favourite go-to’s when it comes to weeknight meals.
On some early mornings during the week, I do up a Messinger Meats Porchetta in the slow-cooker or I chop up a bunch of fresh vegetables and grate some Grana Padano cheese for a pasta primavera that I can do up quickly when I get home from work.
Band rehearsal night is a favorite because on that night, cooking is not an option and I bring home dinner from the Italian Centre Shop. It doesn’t matter which store I’m working at that day, I can grab a pizza, Massimo’s Meatballs or a Lasagna with a fresh Bella Salad and a Pagnotta and we’re rocking! It’s food I trust - good ingredients, prepared properly and made simply with love.
One weekend per month, my kitchen becomes a “mama only zone”. The La Pavoncella cans are piled up high, my phone case smells like garlic (Instagramin’), I’m singing Adele tunes like I taught her the songs, and I’m rocking a Led Zepplin t-shirt with wing tip eyeliner. Me time. I batch cook freezer meals of traditional recipes my mother taught me like arancini (rice balls), brodo di pollo (chicken soup) or fagioli Aranise (From my parent’s city, slow cooked white cannellini beans that later get tossed in with pasta.) These are dishes that freeze very well but they do take quite a bit of time to make. You would think that this was “mom work”, but no. This kind of cooking is therapeutic – it’s my yoga.
Q4. What kinds of things are you looking for when choosing what your family will eat?
We have a little saying in our family, “Don’t be a food snob.” Not every dinner can be a Food Network special or perfectly calculated for the maximum health benefits. I’m not the mom who scrutinizes every package’s label and I don’t confirm the grower of every vegetable in my refrigerator. No. I’m not that mom. I’m the mom that raises my child just as my immigrant parents raised me. We make the healthiest choices we can with the resources we have and always, always, we enjoy what we consume. If you must force it down, then why are you eating it?
Good food is simple and made with love. I naturally gravitate to the Italian simplicity of fewer, great ingredients that are properly prepared. That’s not to say that a more complex, smoky Cajun brisket doesn’t come out of my slow cooker every now and again, but more often than not, if a meal is simple in its composition, I trust that meal for my family. It’s honest, pure food and 99 per cent of the time, it’s this kind of food that’s the most delicious. That 1 per cent is liver and onions. Nothing makes liver taste good.
Fast. Fast. Fast. I’m always thinking, “How quickly I can get it to the table, and how quickly I can clean it up?” On Taekwondo night, I have 45 minutes to cook, eat and clean up. I use as few dishes and pots as possible so that it can cram it all into the dishwasher before we head out. An inspiration for Massimo’s meals and something I appreciate about our Massimo’s nights. Our package goes from the shopping bag to the oven for heating, to the table for serving and then into the recycle bin. Italian ingenuity.