Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Beyond the Pasta by Mark Leslie

The subtitle of Beyond the Pasta is:  Recipes, Language & Life with an Italian Family.  Beyond the Pasta is the cookbook/memoirs of an American man in his 40s, who took time out from his life in Alabama to live in Italy for a month with an Italian family to study Italian cooking and the Italian language, which he describes in this way:  "...the beautiful tones of the Italian language, full of passion and emotion".

Beyond the Pasta is an engaging, inspiring, fun, and at times very moving, account of a month that changed not only the author's life, but also touched his host family's life.  In fact, the book is dedicated to his host family in Viterbo, near Rome, who opened not just their home to the author, but their warm hearts.  Mr. Leslie comes across as a respectful, serious, warm-hearted, funny, kind and sweet man, so it is no wonder that the family embraced him.

From the book's description:
His teachers were beyond his wildest dreams-he learned to cook from the grandmother, or Nonna, of the family, who prepared every meal in a bustling, busy household, as women in her family have done for generations.  Her daughter, Alessandra, taught him the language with patience and precision.  Besides culinary secrets and prepositions, they opened their lives to him, and made him a real part of their extensive family.
Beyond the Pasta is created from Mr. Leslie's journal, which he kept while in Italy.  The book is divided by day, and includes events from that day with the family and other Italians, and his advances and setbacks in acquiring the Italian language.  The author is a theatrical stage manager, so he has a keen eye for the inherent drama of Italy:  the stage-set-like quality of the art and architecture, and the emotional directness of the Italian nature.  So his accounts of life in Italy are very entertaining!

His gentle humor adds to the book, as I am sure it added pleasure to his host family's month with this American in their home.  Here is an example, mentioning his joy in gelato:
I spent the next couple of hours either walking around with a gelato in my hand or on my knees in church asking to be forgiven for the sin of gluttony.
I would suggest the book be read in sections, a few "days" at a time.  Then take a few days to try out those "day's" recipes.  Then move on to reading a few more "days".  If you have ever lived in Italy, as I have, you will feel great nostalgia when reading of Mr. Leslie's experiences.  As he learns of Italy's idiosyncrasies, he shares them with us.  And his romantic nature is perfect for Italy, where there is history around every corner, stimulating the romantic's imagination.  As the author says:  "Everything in Italy seems romantic".

The recipes are for Italian home-cooking specialties, and they are very clearly explained in the recipe sections at the end of each "day", and at the end of the book, where 10 extra recipes have been included in the new paperback edition, of which I read a review-copy.  These extra recipes were learned during later visits by Mr. Leslie to his host family, for they have remained in touch over the years since his study-stay, including nearly yearly visits together with his partner.

Mr. Leslie has a crisis of conscience at one point of his stay in Italy.  He refrains from telling his host family that he is gay and in a loving and long-term relationship with another man.  I had to smile at that point, because his crisis was unnecessary.  He was unknowingly following the accepted Italian way in these things, at least as I experienced them when living in Italy for 5 years.

I had several Italian friends who were in gay relationships.  None had ever told their family they were gay.  Italian families are generally so close that their families had always known, and had always accepted their sexuality, without need for any discussion. 

And when they arrived home with their partner, the partner was accepted as the newest member of the family and treated with love and respect, because they gave love to their loved one.  The two were usually given a room with two single beds to stay in, but they were always allowed to share the room in privacy.

And in fact, later, when the author visits the family together with his partner, the family accepts the two men with equal love and acceptance, without any need for explanations.

Here is the trailer for the new paperback edition of the book:

Beyond the Pasta is published by Gemelli Press, a publishing house that specializes in Italy-themed titles.  The book is scrupulously edited and artistically presented, with many photographs taken by the author.  Beyond the Pasta is available in hardback (2010), paperback (2014) and as an e-book. 

Here are the editions of Beyond the Pasta available from

Mark Leslie has many videos on YouTube for you to enjoy, which you can find by searching for "Beyond the Pasta".  In some videos he is cooking on his own, and in some videos he is with his host family, especially Nonna, his cooking instructor and friend, and in some videos he is in sight-seeing Italy.  Here is one video with Nonna:

Please visit the author's website.

This review is by Candida Martinelli, of Candida Martinelli's Italophile Site, and the author of the cozy-murder-mystery novel AN EXTRA VIRGIN PRESSING MURDER, and the young-adult/adult mystery novel series THE VIOLET STRANGE MYSTERIES the first book of which is VIOLET'S PROBLEM.

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