Sort-of Secret: Porzia’s Lasagne, a weekly takeout pasta operation working out of a west-end restaurant
A series that shines a spotlight on the city’s hidden edible gems
The sort-of secret: Porzia’s Lasagne, a weekly lasagna operation by Basilio Pesce, executive chef of Osteria Rialto
You may have heard of it if: You were a fan of Porzia, a now-closed Italian restaurant in Parkdale
But you probably haven’t tried it because: Pesce only makes two dozen lasagnas a week
A thick, bubbly, deep-brown crust is the first sign that this isn’t just any lasagna. Then, you pick it up: weighing in at almost four pounds, a single tray feels heavy, even for its substantial size. Porzia’s Lasagne—a once-a-week, pre-order only operation by Osteria Rialto’s executive chef, Basilio Pesce—gives lasagna its due. From fresh pasta prepared the day you pick it up to perfect pomodoro made with San Marzano tomatoes, this is the sort of food that helps you remember why a classic is a classic.
Pesce used to be chef-owner at the now-closed Porzia, a popular Italian restaurant in Parkdale that became notorious for its lasagna, offered only on Sundays. After the restaurant closed in 2015, Pesce’s lasagna popped up here and there at special events—at Sugo, Chantecler and even at a lasagna battle at the Drake’s 86’d Mondays. Bringing the dish back into regular rotation is a lockdown development; it runs out of Osteria Rialto’s kitchen, but it’s more or less a one-man show. And a wildly successful one, given that the trays sell out in about five minutes every single week.
Like any dish with relatively few components, ingredients are everything. The pasta is a mix of semolina and 00 flour, bound with golden-yolked Conestoga eggs. “If there’s a secret here, it’s rolling the sheets as thin as you can get them,” says Pesce. “I do a double pass on the electric sheeter’s thinnest settings—which is when things can go sideways if you’re not careful. And I get as many layers into the lasagna as I can.” That’s about a dozen, on average.
Porzia’s offers a classic and a meat lasagna, each with its corresponding sauce: pomodoro or bolognese. San Marzanos—the gold standard of canned tomatoes, thanks to their unrivalled intensity—are the foundation of both. Each is made with a considerable amount of garlic, bay leaves, onions and dried chili (bolognese gets ground beef, too, of course). It’s all layered up with a three-cheese mix of mozzarella, parmesan and pecorino.
The lasagna is made the same day they’re picked up and served warm. Every order comes with some extra sauce on the side, which is best spooned underneath your lasagna square before reheating to keep the top crispy. And since even one tray is a serious amount of food, there will likely be leftovers. Cut a leftover square into vertical slices and pan-fry or just eat it cold. It only gets better the next day.
Pesce also makes a mean focaccia. It’s airy, crunchy—and of course, heavy on the olive oil. A sprinkling of Maldon salt takes it from very good to addiction-grade, especially when used as a vessel for pomodoro. There are also pistachio- or chocolate hazelnut–filled bomboloni, available individually or by the dozen. Bomboloni are essentially Italian doughnuts, dusted with icing sugar and stuffed with a silky smooth filling. As with the lasagna sheets, good eggs give the dough its yellow hue.
Pre-orders open at 11 a.m. every Monday, for pickup on Fridays at Osteria Rialto’s bottle shop. Note that production currently caps out at around 24 per week, so it’s a good idea to set a reminder alarm. “I wish I could make more but I’m limited by space, equipment and time,” says Pesce. “I don’t want to ignore the momentum, though, so scaling up is a possibility. I keep getting these cartoony images of a lasagna assembly line in my mind.”