I first tasted Marcella Giamundo's cooking in New York City. After trying her ravioli alla Sorrentina, I knew I was ruined for life. Stuffed with a delicate mozzarella and Parmesan filling and served with a chunky tomato-meat sauce, it had me, unabashedly, going back for thirds. Marcella, who works in New York as a vice president for Richard Ginori, the Italian china company, told me that cooking was a passion she'd inherited from her mother and grandmother and suggested that, if I was ever in Sorrento, I should visit her parents' home for a meal. So, when I found myself in southern Italy recently, the memory of that spectacular ravioli and the lure of more exceptional home cooking took me to Rafaella and Luigi Giamundo's villa for an unforgettable Sunday lunch.
Sorrento, half an hour by car from Naples and 20 minutes by boat from Capri, overlooks the waters where many believe the ancient Greek hero Odysseus narrowly escaped the Sirens' fatal call. The Giamundo property lies off one of the town's narrow, windy streets. Stone walls, camouflaged by ivy, enclose a restored 18th-century house and a small garden thickly planted with lemon, orange, olive and walnut trees. Roses and camellias perfume the air. Lunch with Rafaella and Luigi—and with Marcella's twin sister, her brother, his wife and their children—was in the garden, where we sat at a wrought-iron table in the shade of a leafy pergola.
"Family meals are a Sunday tradition," Marcella says. Her grandmother, Amelia Pane, presided over many of these lunches. Counting Marcella's seven maternal aunts and an uncle, plus spouses and children—all the relatives live within 15 minutes of each other in and around Sorrento—there were, at times, 80 family members there. "Nonna Amelia was an amazing cook," Marcella recalls. One of her earliest memories is of sitting in a circle of high chairs with her sisters and female cousins, watching Nonna Amelia work at a massive kitchen table. "She'd give us dough and we would practice rolling or kneading it, with toy rolling pins and cutters. Cooking was a game for us—she made it fun."