Only in Naples: Lessons in Food and Famiglia from My Italian Mother-In-Law. Katherine Wilson. Random House Publishing Group. April 2016. 304 pp. ISBN#: 9780812998160.
Katherine Wilson travels to Italy but has no idea what to expect. She’s financially comfortable, over-weight, very sensitive, and hoping her jaunt overseas will give her a new vision for the future. It’s the family tradition to spend a year abroad after college and Katherine has no idea how privileged she is. Her knowledge of the language is thin but she manages to communicate and get set up with the help of a very special family. She will be doing post-graduate work at the American Consulate thanks to family connections. What that entails she has no idea but she hopes it will be interesting. Yes, she will get what she wants and it will change her life forever.
Her introduction to Naples, Italy comes through her introduction to the Avallone family. They are loud, warm, boisterous and absolutely obsessed with food. Katherine confesses she’s had a binge eating problem but doesn’t realize the Avallone family is the cure for her distorted view of eating. As a result, she begins hanging out with Salvatore Avallone and eventually falls in love with him. But this story is more about Salvatore’s mother, Raffaella, who cooks with passionate love and doesn’t really understand how Americans can eat food out of cans and find their best meals eaten in a restaurant rather than a home.
Raffaella is a miracle in disguise! She dresses and makes up her face with perfection and yet cooks like an older Italian grandmother, spewing out questions and advice a mile a minute while cooking. So we read delightful, savory descriptions of homemade pizza. Ragu, a casserole with pasta, béchamel and four kinds of cheeses, seafood pasta (never with Parmesan cheese according to Mamma Raffaella!) and many more dishes leaving the reader drooling and starving for a portion of each dish!
Plenty of advice makes absolute sense, especially to this reviewer who shares some of the Italian heritage. Raffaella can’t understand how one would want to eat alone, knowing the company is part of the necessary atmosphere for a scrumptious meal. The story is replete with funny advice and stories, like preparing one’s children for a world that is not only good but also full of lying, cheating people. One doesn’t want one’s children to be “baccala” or “dumb as a piece of cod.”
Read this memoir! It will fill the hours with laughter, great food and so much precious love; you may even want to read it more than once! What a delight! Highly recommended!