New Year’s Greetings from Viterbo, Italy~

Dinner in Viterbo, Sunday Jan 2 - Beyond the Pasta - Mark Leslie

Start off the New Year reducing your waist ~ Italian-Style

As an American I think we sometimes have the false idea that every Italian meal involves large volumes of food – nothing could be farther from the truth. Yes, Italians do eat multiple courses, but the portion size of each of those courses is rather small.

It is the New Year and I am in Viterbo, Italy with the Stefani family – the family I wrote about in my book Beyond the Pasta: Recipes, Language & Life with an Italian Family. And since it is the New Year, I know that the American airwaves are crammed full of diets and resolutions to lose weight.

For the Stefanis in Italy, meals are about freshly cooked real food and attention to portion size. I thought I would share with you what I had for dinner tonight so you can see what I am talking about – here in this Italian home.

The first course was soup. Stracciatella – little rags – what I like to think of as the Italian version of egg drop soup. Beaten eggs mixed with a little grated cheese and lemon zest are cooked in a light broth. Because the egg mixture is added to almost boiling broth, it cooks quickly forming tiny pieces, which resemble rags – hence the name.

That simple soup was followed by the food in the photo above (going clockwise): pieces of sliced mortadella and speck (smoked prosciutto); a potato salad prepared with tuna, pickles, olives, and a little mayonnaise; gorgonzola cheese, cherry tomatoes, bread, and red and yellow peppers cooked simply with a little extra virgin olive oil and garlic.

What you see in the photo fed four people – quite happily fed four people. And we didn’t eat all of the potato salad, peppers, or meat – there were leftovers. Tonight’s meal was all about eating a little of this and a little of that.

“So, dinner lasted 30 minutes, right?”

Nope, dinner took two hours. As we sat and started with our soup, there was a lot of conversation before we ever moved on to the little buffet featured in the photo. There was no rushing through the meal. We took our time to enjoy the food and the company. You’d be surprised how full you can get when you actually take your time eating a meal. I can hear my grandmother yelling at us kids, “Slow down, chew your food, and don’t rush!” There was method to her madness back then, though I never realized it.

Before reaching for the next frozen diet dinner with the hopes of regaining your waistline once again, might I suggest that you take a moment to prepare a couple of simple dishes with real food, serve yourself some small portions, and eat it seated around a table with people you enjoy – taking your time to enjoy the company, conversation, and the food. I think you’ll be surprised at the positive results – in your waistline and the new discoveries made by sharing time with loved ones.

Happy New Year and Buon Appetito!


About the Author

Mark LeslieMark Leslie, seen cooking on NBC’s "The Today Show" and Hallmark Channel's "Home & Family," loves to cook for anyone with an appetite, vacations in Italy every year, and lives to eat his way through every plate of pasta and cone of gelato placed before him. His first book, “Beyond the Pasta: Recipes, Language & Life with an Italian Family,” tells of his life in Italy while cooking with an Italian grandmother. He shares his food experiences on his blog at and has taught cooking classes in California, Georgia, Minnesota, Texas, and across Alabama. While judging for high school culinary events, he was chosen by the US Department of Education to judge for their "National Education Startup Challenge." Mark can be regularly seen cooking on NBC-affiliate, WSFA-TV 12's "Alabama Live! each Friday, bringing easy, locally sourced recipes to central Alabama. His iTunes app “Beyond the Pasta” features helpful videos and more of Nonna’s family-style recipes that she shared with him, plus, upon its release, it was named “New & Noteworthy” by Apple. DaVinci Wines chose Mark as their "2012 Storyteller" in Language Arts—where they sent him to Vinci, Italy, to write about wine, food and life. Mark, his home and book have been featured in such national publications and blogs as House Beautiful, Paula Deen, Food Republic, The Kitchn, Apartment Therapy, Field & Stream, and The Daily Meal. A Chicago-area native and “Yankee” by birth, Mark has lived in Alabama for over 24 years, and celebrates the fact that he started life eating farina, progressed to grits, and finally arrived at polenta. Buonissimo!View all posts by Mark Leslie →

  1. Sounds like you’re enjoying your time in Italy, Mark! Buon anno a tutti voi!

    • Mark LeslieMark Leslie01-03-2011

      Si Michelle, il tempo fa freddo a Viterbo, ma e’ un buon viaggio. Auguri e buon anno, anche a te!!

  2. mary janemary jane01-05-2011

    Glad to know you are in Viterbo… waiting for your book to arrive from USA. Check out the only website in English about the area.

    • Mark LeslieMark Leslie01-05-2011

      I wish I had known that you were here and that you wanted a book. I happen to have an extra book with me while I am in Viterbo now…I could have saved you shipping charges form the US to Viterbo. Thanks for the link to the website, I will check it out!

  3. LindyLouMacLindyLouMac01-12-2011

    I am ashamed to say that I have only just discovered your blog and book (thanks to Michelle) and I live in Viterbo! Any chance you are still here and that I can purchase that spare copy?
    I certainly look forward to following the blog in 2011.

    • Mark LeslieMark Leslie01-12-2011

      Sadly, I left Viterbo Sunday after lunch. I am now back in the states (awaiting a connecting flight home). I believe I am going to be back in Viterbo in April and I would truly enjoy meeting you then. The spare book ended up at the Rome Center, an architecture studio which hosts students from Auburn University, University or Arkansas and Philadelphia University. I need to contact the bookstore that is just off of the Piazza Republica in Viterbo and see if they’ll carry the book. Any ideas how many Americans or English speaking people live in the Viterbo region?
      I look forward to continuing our discussion about food, Italy and especially Viterbo. A presto~ M

  4. LindyLouMacLindyLouMac01-14-2011

    What a shame! I have no idea of numbers but a good few in the Viterbo region as a whole I gather. Mary Jane Cryan (comment above) is very knowledgeable about the area I suggest you ask her.

    Meanwhile good to ‘meet’ you and I hope you will find my blog ‘News From Italy’ of some interest. I will certainly be reviewing your book when I can obtain a copy!

    Please let me know when and where I can buy, thanks.

  5. RitaRita01-17-2011

    I just finished reading your book and I absolutely LOVED IT and NONNA TOO!!! My husband and I are italian-canadian (myself Calabria and my husband Toscano and Abbruzzi). I absolutely felt every emotion you brought through in the pages of your book. This family became real to me through your writing and I remembered my trips to Italy and my family there. I think your idea of writing another book about all of nonna’s recipes would be great and I am sure an honor for her! I would definitely buy it! Buona fortuna Marco e vi auguro tanti ritorni alla bella Italia!

    • Mark LeslieMark Leslie01-17-2011

      Salute Rita,
      Grazie tanto per le sue parole – lei e’ molto gentile! Eeek! I hope I said that correctly. My Italian is still very basic, though having just returned from a week in Viterbo with the family I am understanding more Italian when I hear it. I hope that will soon translate into me being able to speak more of it – and correctly, too!
      It is so much fun for me to hear from people who are not Italian and how they connect to the book AND it is even more fun – an honor, even – to hear from Italians and how the book takes them back to their homeland and resonates so deeply with them.
      I hope that you will share your joy of the book on to others. As this book slowly tries to make its way to a larger audience, it is only through the impassioned word-of-mouth of those who have read the book that it will have a life of its own. Please tell your friends, family, favorite newspapers, blogs, television shows about Beyond the Pasta!
      Buon Anno e Tanti Auguri anche~
      *Last week when I was cooking with Nonna in Viterbo, I told her about how many people around the world knew her now. Her reply was “Non lo credo, Marco!” She truly can’t wrap her head around the idea that people are finding her interesting. I would tell her, “Si, si, si, e’ vero!” She only shook her head and laughed.

"Beyond the Pasta" is owned and operated by Mark Leslie. Unless otherwise specified all content, writing, recipes and photography is original and held in copyright through the Library of Congress. It may not be used without the express written consent of Mark Leslie.