Have a seat at the Famularo table, where food is a family affair. In this memoir, Joe Famularo — journalist, cookbook author, and winner of two James Beard awards — takes readers to the NYC Hell’s Kitchen Italian tenement neighborhood of his youth during the Depression and WWII, providing a delicious portrait of the power of food and love. His lively storytelling reflects a fierce pride in his Italian roots and the colorful immigrant families who preserved their heritage through a strong culinary tradition.
In a building where much of life took place on fire escapes, around clotheslines, via open windows and apartment doors, Famularo teases our olfactory system by describing the perfume of tomato sauce, homemade bread, and sausages wafting through hallways along with the constant talk about food. Readers share the taste of Famularo’s first fig on his grandfather’s knee, memories of the wood-burning stove that produced his mother’s minestrone, and in the making of tomato paste and sausages by the neighborhood women. At the heart of each reminiscence is Famularo’s mother, a confident cook with a “tireless love of cooking for her family.”
Chapters are dedicated to his “crazy foodie papa,” and other family members and conclude with three to four related recipes that are precisely crafted and do-able, from actual meals the family enjoyed. Classic dishes, many with sophisticated twists, are included along with secret ingredients (such as the ginger in Papa’s tomato sauce). There is a useful index listing recipes by course; home cooks will enjoy cooking from this book.
While Famularo writes chronologically, readers may find it challenging to keep the timeline straight, as dates of milestone events are lacking. The storytelling is often interrupted digressions, but like family dinner conversation, they are lively and genuinely entertaining. Famularo’s look back is, in some cases, overly romanticized, but his family table appears to be a place where emotion, especially love, was in abundance. Readers will savor this recounting of Famularo’s memories.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.