Famularo’s (Viva La Cucina Italiana, 2012, etc.) debut memoir uses family recipes as a paean to the culture—and kitchens—that shaped his childhood.
The life of a first-generation Italian immigrant in New York City emerges slowly from this series of loosely connected vignettes, each providing another insight into the author. Sometimes the subject matter is light—the malapropisms of Famularo’s mother, the way she rolls and cuts her own pasta, or his brother’s choice of girlfriends. But this is no soppy memoir. It begins in the gap between the two world wars, following a loose chronology until Famularo and a friend trek to postwar Italy to visit his mother’s home village of Accettura, bearing gifts of chocolate, cigarettes and coffee. “I feel we forget about the food that grounds us,” Famularo writes. But it’s obvious that it’s not just the food that binds his family together, stretched as they are across both the East Coast and the ocean. It’s the process of making the meals—the love, the caring, the competition and the gossip that goes into it. Famularo’s sketches have no unifying plot or tension, but each stands on its own as a full chapter, punctuated by recipes—pleasant rambles through kitchens strewn with drying sausages, basements filled with jars of homemade tomato sauce and the iconic ethnic businesses found down the street. Through it all, eating is the family’s conduit to understanding and participating in the world around them. As Famularo writes of his father’s aunt, “As you entered her kitchen door, she would go to the ice-a-box, open the door slowly, dramatically, with a smile and say, ‘C’e tutta cosa—tutta’ (There is everything here—everything).” By sharing not only his family’s recipes, but the stories behind them, he invites readers into the fold.
Short, true accounts set largely in the kitchen and populated by rich, opinionated characters with formidable cooking skills.