Western New York resident Jenn Balkota was inspired to join Lasagna Love as a chef in December 2021, a decision sparked by a desire to do something kind for members of her community during the holiday season, while also modeling behavior she hopes her daughter will one day replicate. Since then, Jenn’s involvement with Lasagna Love has increased, as she now serves as Lasagna Love’s Regional Leader for Western NY, Erie and Niagara counties, a role that sparked an evolution in Lasagna Love’s ongoing relationship with one of its National Lasagna Day partners, Galbani® Cheese.
In the 1970’s, Buffalo, NY became home to the Italian “Village” festival, which has grown (and moved locations a few times) over the last several decades. Now an anchor event to the region’s summertime entertainment, the Galbani® Italian Heritage Festival, brings with it the sights, sounds, and aromas of Italy and celebrates various elements of Italian culture including its food, pastry, music, and entertainment.
After closely aligning itself with Lasagna Love for National Lasagna Day, Galbani Cheese invited Lasagna Love to collaborate at a series of Italian heritage festivals it supports and sponsors around the country in states including Florida, North Carolina, Utah and Rhode Island, to name a few. For the July festival, Jenn shared the stage with Galbani’s “Chef Marco” for a cooking demonstration and creation of the foundational dish known to every Lasagna Love chef volunteer: lasagna.
Who is “Chef Marco”?
Mark Sciortino, affectionally nicknamed “Chef Marco”, is the owner of Marco’s Italian Restaurant and Marco’s Italian Deli in Western New York. He has been creating and serving traditional, family-style Italian favorites for more than 30 years. Lactalis American Group, a subsidiary of Lactalis – the world’s largest producer of premium cheese– hired Chef Marco in 2008 as their spokesman for Sorrento® Cheese. Chef Marco was a natural talent, finding immense success as a TV personality, sharing creative and fun cooking tips and encouraging everyone to become a home chef! Chef Marco continues to make appearances and performs cooking demos from coast to coast at company-sponsored Italian festivals under the Galbani® Cheese brand.
“Joining Galbani at the festival left a lasting impression on me,” shared Jenn. I joined Lasagna Love to promote kindness and to show my daughter that kindness comes in various forms. What made this collaboration even more special is the fact that I have run into Chef Marco at the local ALDI store, and he still remembers me as the Lasagna Love chef!”
As a symbol of warmth, love, and unity, lasagna has empowered Lasagna Love’s endeavor to nourish and spread kindness to over 1.5 million people. In July 2023, Lasagna Love reported that its volunteers had made and delivered more than 350,000 lasagnas.
Jessica Ruth, Galbani Event Marketing Manager said, “Food and community go hand in hand, and our team has found thoughtful ways to connect with Galban i fans and consumer of our products, which includes the Italian heritage festivals. We’re delighted to share the stage with Lasagna Love volunteers who use our products to feed families in thousands of towns across America.”
Upcoming festival dates and locations include:
Maryland Italian Festival; Bel Air, Maryland, September 29-October 1
Galbani® Feast of Little Italy; Jupiter, Florida, November 3-5
“CHEF MARCO’s” LASAGNA RECIPE
- 32 oz. Galbani® Ricotta
- 8 oz. Galbani® Mozzarella, shredded
- 1.5 oz. Galbani® Parmesan, grated
- 1 box lasagna noodles, cooked al dente*
- 1 lb. ground beef
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
- 1/2 tsp. basil, chopped
- 32 oz. tomato sauce
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Cook pasta as directed, cool, and set aside.
Brown meat and drain.
In a bowl, mix ricotta, parmesan, garlic, parsley, and basil and set aside.
Spread 1 cup of tomato sauce in a 13” x 9″ baking pan.
Lay 4 pasta noodles in the pan, then spread on a layer of the cheese mixture, followed by more sauce, and a layer of meat. Repeat layers to the top, finish with 4 pasta noodles, and cover with remaining tomato sauce.
Cover with tin foil and bake for 1 hour.
Remove foil, top with the mozzarella and bake uncovered for 10 minutes.
Remove from oven and let stand 10 minutes. Cut and serve.