Only In Naples:
Lessons In Food and Famiglia From My Italian Mother-In-Law
Are you one of those people who likes to read cookbooks like a novel? When you travel, do you like eating the food that locals eat? Then I have a book for you: Only In Naples by Katherine Wilson. The book is an ode to good eating. Every chapter will make you hungry and you’ll stop worrying about excessive calories—even while eating them. Let me share the basic outline of this book:
Katherine Wilson, an American, had just graduated from college and was ready for her traditional “year abroad.” She could only find a three-month internship at the American Consulate in Naples. She took it, loved Naples, and expanded her trip into a year-long stay. What prompted Katherine to stay was being immediately cocooned into the famiglia of the Avallones. Specifically, it was Salvatore, her future husband, but another strong pull was Raffaella, her future mother-in-law, and the amazing Neapolitan food she makes.
Although the book is considered a memoir, that is completely woven around the story of traditional food. Some of the chapters are titled with one of the food dishes that are lovingly prepared and enjoyed. That food then highlights events within Katherine Wilson’s experience. Examples are O Ragu, Pasta e Fagioli, Eggplant Parmesan and Rococo Cookies and Eggnog.
I want to give you a flavor for how much fun this book is to read. Here is the beginning of the directions for making “rushed” ragu. (“Rushed” only takes three hours vers the normal ten hours.) Please not this ragu dish bears no resemblance to that little jar by the same name.
“First put an apron on, and don’t think of removing it until you’ve turned off the stove. When the ragu starts to spit, it rakes no prisoners. Get a pot that is not only wide but tall. (The height is important when the sauce spatters—Raffaella is worried about your kitchen as well as your clothes.) Dice thwe onion and pur ir in the pot with olive oil.
Non ti detto di accendere ancora. She hasn’t told you to turn on the flame yet, so keep your pants on.”
See what I mean? It’s like sitting with your grandmother at the kitchen table as she explains all the secrets to her favorite dishes. Yes, she might think you’re dense enough not to know to put on an apron. The entire book is very conversational. I definitely feel as if Katherine Wilson is one of my friends.
The single over-arching principle I took from reading Only In Naples is that food is something to completely immerse yourself into. We should enjoy preparing it and smelling it and looking at it and carefully tasting it, then talking about it. In other words, we should completely immerse ourselves into the food we consume. Isn’t that what we “foodies” do?
Highly recommended. You won’t want to miss this one.
P.S. I listened to the audiobook version which was read by the author who has a background in theater. Very well done.