Beyond The Pasta: Recipes, Language & Life with an Italian Family by Mark Leslie is a memoir-style book of Mark’s travels to Italy during a one-month full-immersion cooking and language program. Written in journal fashion, readers follow along with Mark on each day of his Italian adventure. The day typically starts with an outing with Nonna, the book’s own Italian grandmother. Trips to the grocery store, along with hilarious social blunders, are a daily occurrence and we experience the planning and cooking as Nonna guides Mark through the preparation for that day’s lunch and dinner. Language lessons follow with Alessandra, Nonna’s daughter and imminently patient language teacher. During meal times, we get to know and understand the nuances of the host family and sometimes venture outside the house into the local village or surrounding cities. Each chapter is rounded out with a highlighted recipe.
The most important aspect of Beyond The Pasta is how openly the story is told. Because the host family welcomes visitors regularly through this full-immersion program, they are very comfortable sharing their daily lives with Mark though it takes some time for Mark to open up in the same way. This gives the reader an intimate look into their lives and leaves you feeling like a good friend experiencing the same emotions and feelings as the author. His month-long stay also allows more detail and understanding of events and characters than someone who stopped by for only a week. During that time, Mark pushes past general social niceties and delves into a more personal, solid relationship with the family. We even get to experience some of Mark’s own personal insecurities as he decides how much of his own personal life to share and how much to keep hidden.
I did find the journal style of writing to get a bit taxing about halfway through Beyond The Pasta. While it was a good way to keep the writing within a certain set of organized parameters, at times it felt repetitive even with the introduction of new food and people along the way. With that being said, I put the book down for a few days and ended up craving more after the short break. I whizzed through the rest of the book with boredom left in the dust. I realize now it would be the perfect bedtime book. One chapter a night to send you off to bed with Italian wishes and carbohydrate dreams.
I was feeling a little cabin-feverish when I picked up Beyond The Pasta and it really whisked me away on a breezy European adventure without having to leave my home in Atlanta. It was also very inspiring in the culinary sense and made me want to focus on fresh ingredients and making the most of leftovers so each meal is new, fresh, and interesting. It also encouraged me to explore my Italian heritage and learn more about the foods and recipes from the different regions of Italy. I think you’ll find it will inspire similar feelings in you and I highly encourage you to read it.
In addition to the book, author Mark has some video snippets up on his Youtube channel to give you a different take on his adventures. It’s really neat to see that he is continuing to build his relationship with Nonna and the rest of the family many years after his adventure. You really get a sense of the care that Mark has for Nonna and how much Nonna loves to share her traditions with him. The video below offers some insight into how Nonna makes her lasagna and how it differs from the typical American-style lasagna.
I hope by now I have convinced you to pick up Beyond The Pasta and sail away to Italy for adventure, good food, and one of a kind recipes. I would love to hear your thoughts about the book. Do you like the culinary memoir genre? Do you have a favorite food-centered book you want to share with me?
If you’re an Amazon Prime member, you can borrow this book for free. If you aren’t yet a prime member, I really encourage you to sign up for a free 30-day trial. One of my favorite features of a Prime membership is that you can borrow one book, like this one, for free every month. Not all books are eligible for this option, but three of my favorite books I’ve read so far this year were so I assure you there are plenty to choose from. Click below to sign up for a free trial.
Beyond The Pasta: Recipes, Language & Life with an Italian Family. 2010/2014. Gemelli Press. 352 pages.
Want to check out other culinary memoirs? Check out this bestsellers list in the culinary memoir genre.
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