New Book: Beyond The Pasta

Author, Mark Leslie
Author, Mark Leslie

Beyond The Pasta:
Recipes, Language & Life with an Italian Family

By Mark Leslie
$32.95 • Hardcover

MONTGOMERY, AL - After a trip to Italy in 2001, author Mark Leslie reluctantly returned to his home in Alabama. But he couldn't get the splendor of the country out of his head. In 2005 he returned to Viterbo, Italy--only this time, he immersed himself in a cooking and intensive language course where he would live and study with his teachers. Each day, "Nonna" a charming Italian grandmother taught him to cook authentic Italian recipes while her daughter, Alessandra, taught Mark colloquial Italian.

In Beyond the Pasta: Recipes, Language & Life with an Italian Family, Mark shares his experience in a day-to-day journal format and offers his charming story in English with enough translated Italian woven throughout that, by the end, even non-Italian speakers will feel as if they have learned the language.  (It is also perfect for those looking to refresh their Italian.)

Readers get to know and love this kind-hearted, generous, and often dramatic Italian family and with Mark's artful description of every meal, conversation and experience, they feel as though they are actually there, eating and laughing along with Nonna and the entire family.

In the tradition of Under the Tuscan Sun, Pig in Provence and Eat Pray Love, Mark's book takes the reader through his journey and shares how he developed a new, more enjoyable and uniquely Italian way of looking at the world.

Each day begins with a special experience Mark had with Nonna, Alessandra, or their colorful family and friends, and ends with a recipe. The book is peppered with Italian idioms and translations to make the reader feel that they are right along on Mark's day-to-day adventure.

The book includes photographs of the sights, food, and people he encountered, along with 29 authentic, delicious family recipes Nonna shared with him.

About the Author

Mark Leslie, a self-proclaimed "foodie" who loves to cook for anyone with an appetite, works across the country in professional theatre as a stage manager.  Every year he vacations in Italy and lives to eat his way through every plate of pasta and cone of gelato placed before him.  He shares those Italian experiences on his popular blog at  A Chicago-area native and "Yankee" by birth, Mark has lived in Alabama for over 23 years, and celebrates the fact that he started life eating farina, progressed to grits, and finally arrived at polenta. Buonissima!

Sample Recipes:

Pollo al Pomodoro e Olive
Chicken with Tomato and Olives

I could eat this dish once a week for the rest of my life and never tire of it. Sadly, Nonna only made this once while I was in Viterbo. This is a simple, country dish and reminds me of Tuscany. Nonna cuts her chicken into small pieces—it is only 10 but in her pan it looks more like 14 since they are so small. You may cut yours to any size you desire.

1 (4 pound) chicken, cut into 8 or 10 pieces (cut into 10 by dividing the breast into quarters)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to season the chicken.
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup dry white wine
2 large cloves garlic, minced
¾ cup strained tomatoes, such as Pomi brand *
1½ cups (5 ounces) whole green olives, pitted
¼ teaspoon salt, or more to taste
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more to taste

Dry the chicken pieces with paper towels to remove any excess moisture and liberally season with salt and pepper on both sides.

Heat the oil in a large skillet on medium heat, and when the oil is hot, add the chicken pieces, skin side down and fry until nicely browned, turning to brown both sides, 3 to 5 minutes on each side.

When the chicken has browned, transfer to a plate and set aside.  Add the white wine and garlic to the pan, scraping the brown bits off the bottom of the pan. After the wine has reduced by half, about 3 minutes, add the strained tomatoes, olives, salt and pepper. Stir until combined. Return the chicken to the skillet with its juices. Cover, turn the heat down to low and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove the cover and cook another 10 minutes, until the chicken is done and the sauce has thickened slightly.

Remove the chicken to a warmed platter. Adjust the seasoning of the sauce with salt and pepper, and pour the sauce and olives over the chicken. Serve hot.

Serves 6.

*Note: Strained tomatoes can be readily found in most supermarkets in either the canned tomato or pasta aisles. Sometimes the product may be referred to by its Italian name "passato" and can be found either bottled or cartoned, as is the case with the Pomi brand.

Penne all'Arrabbiata con Panne
"Mad Dog" Penne with Cream

I love it when the Italian language takes the meaning of one word and uses it to explain another. The "spicy heat" in this dish is reflected in the word "arrabbiata," which means "to go mad" when applied to dogs and "to be angry" when applied to people. To increase your "rage" or the "foaming of the dog," add dashes of pepper sauce to your plate at the table until you scream or howl at the moon!

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 ¼-inch-thick slices (approx 5 ounces) pancetta, cut into ¼-inch cubes (smoked pancetta
is preferred)
1 small onion, thinly sliced into half rounds
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled Italian plum tomatoes (preferably San Marzano), placed
in a bowl and crushed by hand, reserving all of the liquid
½ teaspoon salt
1 pound penne rigate
1 cup heavy cream
½ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, Grana Padano or pecorino cheese, for garnish

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the cubed pancetta and cook until browned, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the onion and sauté until soft and translucent, about 3 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once the onions are translucent and starting to turn golden, stir in the red pepper flakes and cook for 1 minute. Add the crushed tomatoes, their juices and salt, stirring until well combined, bringing the tomatoes to a boil. Once at a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer until the sauce thickens, 18 to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the penne pasta in boiling salted water. Remove and drain the pasta just before it is al dente, a minute or two less than the package's recommended cooking time. Add the slightly undercooked pasta to the finished sauce over medium heat, stirring until well mixed. Stir in the cream and cook until the pasta is al dente—firm but tender to the bite—and the cream has cooked into the sauce, 2 to 3 minutes. Serve hot, garnished with the grated cheese.

This makes 8 servings.

Cuppa, Cuppa, Cuppa
Yogurt Cake

In the original play, and later the movie, Steel Magnolias, there is a recipe called "Cuppa, Cuppa, Cuppa", in which Truvy declares that she "serves it with a scoop of ice cream to cut the sweetness." This is NOT that recipe. Here the recipe's Italian name refers to the use of the yogurt container as the measuring cup ("cuppa") for all of the ingredients. I have included both sets of measurements—the use of a standard American measuring cup and the use of the yogurt container "cuppa."

1 teaspoon unsalted butter
3 tablespoons plain dried bread crumbs
1 6-ounce (single serving-sized) container of yogurt, mixed berry flavor or flavor of your
2 large eggs
1½ yogurt containers sugar (or 1 cup sugar)
1 yogurt container sunflower oil (or ¾ cup sunflower oil—vegetable oil may be substituted)
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
4 yogurt containers all-purpose flour (or 2¾ cups flour)
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup peeled, diced tart apple (such as a Granny Smith)
1 cup peeled, diced pear
Powdered sugar for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a nonstick 10-inch springform pan with the butter and plain bread crumbs. Set aside. In a large bowl, mix together the yogurt, eggs, sugar, oil and vanilla until well combined. Set aside. In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and salt.

In batches, add a third of the dry mixture to the wet mixture, mixing until well combined between each addition. Next, stir in the apple and pear until mixed throughout. Pour into the prepared springform pan and bake for 15 minutes at 350 degrees, then reduce the heat to 300 degrees and bake for an additional 40 to 45 minutes, until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.

To serve, remove from the pan, dust with powdered sugar and place on a serving plate.

This serves 8 to 10.

Praise for Beyond the Pasta

"Mark has captured the essence of the Italian people."
      –Biba Caggiano, TV chef, cookbook author, and Sacramento restaurateur.

"Alabama and Italy—what a delightful and delicious combination."
      –Fannie Flagg, Best-selling author and actress.

The above press release was reprinted with permission. Copyright 2010. WSFA 12 News.