By Joseph Myers
Growing up in Abruzzi as the fourth of six children, Maria di Marco adored time with her family, especially when she and her kin came together to eat. Particularly fond of her father Vincenzo’s culinary creations, the doting daughter sought to emulate the patriarch’s proficiency by preparing many Italian staples, notably polenta. On Wednesday, June 20, she will honor his example and show off her admiration for the cornmeal-based delight by making it the main dish at Mamma Maria Ristorante Italiano, 1637 E. Passyunk Ave.
“I want polenta to be the star for one night,” the proprietor said from the eatery that she has helmed for 26 years. At the $35-per-person event, di Marco will recall her days coming of age in the Old Country by making a version akin to her parent’s thin polenta. The gathering, slated to begin at 6 p.m., will mark the only time she will serve polenta this season. A vegetable antipasto and a salad will bookend the meal. The BYOB restaurant is happy to serve wine and offers complementary homemade limoncello to patrons. The lemony liqueur will also be the featured ingredient in an eponymous cake.
“I feel excited to be doing this because polenta means so much to me thanks to my childhood and my father.” di Marco credits her father for inspiring her career path, “He helped me to see I belong in the kitchen, and the time I spent learning that is something that I will never forget.” She recalls her family’s meals as unifying events. “We bonded so much when we ate, the eight of us,” di Marco said, “so I want others to enjoy the polenta and feel the same kind of warmth.”
Though customers who desire to dine at the restaurant that night need not order the polenta, di Marco, whose local clout includes having recently served as a judge for the East Passyunk Crossing Red Gravy Cook-off, hopes they’ll request the option, especially if they have never tried it. Regardless of the guests’ familiarity with the oh-so-tasty creation, di Marco will find herself in a festive mood as she fraternizes with the attendees, and her father will not be far from her mind.
“He was a very good man, and I’m grateful for all that he did for me,” she said, flashing a wide smile. She dubbed her father’s polenta “the best thing in the family,” and she looks forward to sharing this treat with patrons.