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Seeing Beyond The Pasta….

Posted in book reviews, cucina, cucina povere, Culinary Art, La Dolce Vita, Pasta, and Uncategorized

Guest Blogger: Chris Manganaro

What is Italy? It differs for everyone just like anything else in the world. Every place you go has different sides to it. We can’t see everything in one visit. The tourist only gets one impression. In order to learn about a place, you must embrace it more fully.

Mark Leslie tries to do just that. In his book Beyond the Pasta: Recipes, Language & Life with an Italian Family, Mark embraces Italy through the eyes of one family living in Viterbo. By signing up to take a class in cooking with the families’ Nonna, or grandmother, and learning Italian in the same house from the wife, Alessandra, Mark has a unique experience that differs quite significantly from other people’s views of Italy.

The book is split up into each day of Mark’s month long trip. Each day ends with a recipe that he cooked that day (in most cases anyway). This structure is fun due to the fact that it literally breaks the trip down so it is easy to follow. The flow of stories, recipes, and language lessons comes naturally this way. The only thing that doesn’t work that well is the fact that there is only one recipe a day. This is more because his descriptions leave you wanting every recipe rather than just one a day. He categorizes the recipes in courses at the end of the book, making it a very accessible cookbook. By making them into a menu, one is only tempted all the more to try the tantalizing tidbits.

The way the book is written does a wonderful job of bringing the reader in. While it does focus at times on describing the scenery and history, it never feels too dense or uninteresting because Mark always makes sure to bring in character interactions and makes it his own perspective rather than just straight facts. Of course, the book does hinge on whether or not you find Mark charming or not. Honestly, it seems hard not to find him so. He reflects just how many might act or feel in the situation he is in. We can feel his embarrassment and frustrations because they would likely be similar to our own. He tries to teach the reader a little about the Italian language along with him in order to help us understand what he is struggling with. In this way, the reader both learns and understands all the more. Italians often speak with their hands as well as their mouths and his writing style mimics this.

Mark brings cooking, traveling, and learning a language together into one book and makes them mesh perfectly. Somehow he is able to do all this while exhibiting many qualities about the people around them. The people he has met are near and dear to him and he makes the reader feel very endeared to them with little effort. Whether you have a Nonna of your own or not, you will still likely be reminded of a grandmother in your life. Through inside jokes and a constant inner monologue, the reader feels like a part of something bigger, just like Mark himself.

You can read it for the food, the traveling, the language, or the memoir. Really, though, it is a book with many layers which anyone can enjoy. Ciao.

copyright 2012 Art of LIving, PrimaMedia,Inc


For more pasta..get your copy of The Basic Art of Pasta at

the basic art of pasta (2)

*July 27-29 See you at The Gourmet Food and Wine Show at Bally’s Atlantic City, NJ for The Basic Art of Italian Cooking by Maria Liberati tm –demos and book signing. For more info email:


  1. I am so happy to find another reader/lover of Mark’s fantastic book. I also did a review and agree whole-heartedly with yours. Mark is charming and easy to like. The family is so friendly and easy to connect with through Mark’s stories. Thanks for giving his book a great review.

    July 7, 2012
  2. Thank you so much for the kind words! We agree, it is a book to be enjoyed on a multiple of layers. What is so wonderful about Mark is that he is the same person in his book as in real life…a treasure and authentic.
    For more information about the book:

    Kari Hock, Managing Editor, Seattle Office

    July 8, 2012
  3. Chris

    @Michelle – I’m glad you enjoyed the review and agree with it. Thank you for your own kind words.

    @Kari Hock – It is my pleasure to write such a review for such a wonderful read. I’m happy to hear from you.

    July 9, 2012

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