Mamma mia!

Italian grandmothers share the secrets of making delicious handmade pasta

Created date

November 29th, 2019
Sara samples her homemade passatelli noodles in stock. The noodles are made from cheese and bread crumbs.

Sara samples her homemade passatelli noodles in stock. The noodles are made from cheese and bread crumbs.

For generations, Italian grandmothers, or nonne, have passed their recipes and cooking techniques along to their daughters and granddaughters. Younger generations willingly accepted those heirloom recipes—committing each step and ingredient to memory because the recipes were rarely written down.   

While the nonne continue to rise with the sun to begin their day’s work—preparing family meals and tending to the home—the younger generation is far more worldly. These days, more Italian women work outside the home, and those who do choose to be stay-at-home mothers are more likely to be driving their children to soccer practice or piano lessons than rolling out fresh pasta for lunch. As a result, recipes that have been in families for hundreds of years are being lost. 

About five years ago, Englishwoman Vicky Bennison was in Italy to research a book about Italian food. She talked with many older women about the foods they prepared for their families and quickly recognized that the nonne are an integral part of Italy’s culinary heritage. The idea that many of their traditional home recipes would be lost troubled Bennison, and she felt compelled to do something.

Pasta Grannies on YouTube

She came up with a plan that married traditional cooking with modern communications. Bennison established a YouTube channel called Pasta Grannies (youtube.com/user/pastagrannies), where Italian grandmothers could share recipes and demonstrate how to make delicious fresh pasta on video.

Bennison then set out to find her stars. She was looking for women over the age of 65 who were cooks, not chefs. Most of the grandmothers were found through word of mouth. 

For the past five years, Bennison and her production team have traveled throughout Italy to capture a full range of regional dishes on video. Since it started, Pasta Grannies has attracted more than 400,000 subscribers who have enjoyed over 200 short videos. 

Pasta Grannies the book 

Given the channel’s popularity, Bennison took the next logical step—she compiled a collection of recipes into a book, Pasta Grannies: The Secrets of Italy’s Best Home Cooks (Hardie Grant Publishing, 2019). The book showcases 75 nonne who invite readers into their home kitchens, where they share the secrets of making delicious, time-tested and authentic Italian food. 

One of the best things about the book is that you won’t need anything more than a rolling pin, a sharp knife, and a smooth board or tabletop to make most of these recipes. As for ingredients, you’ll need “00” flour, such as Cento Anna Napoletana Tipo “00 Flour,” which can be found in many grocery stores or on Amazon.com. Beyond that, the ingredients are ordinary foods you can find just about anywhere. 

What separates Pasta Grannies from other cookbooks is how personal each recipe is. With each dish, you’ll learn a little about the region from which it originates and, most importantly, the grandmother sharing a piece of her family heritage.

Cesaria

Shortly after the Feast of Saint Sophia in mid-October, women from the village of Morgongiori in Sardinia begin making lorighittas—a unique braided pasta traditionally eaten on All Saints' Day (Nov. 1). 

This small village is the only place in all of Italy that makes lorighittas, so the women, especially the older women, take their annual responsibility seriously. During lorighitta season, they gather in each other’s kitchens to share stories and enjoy each other’s company as they carefully roll pasta dough into round woven wreaths. 

Cesaria, who is 95, shares her family recipe for lorighittas with chicken in Pasta Grannies. She has been making lorighittas all her life and notes today’s flour is not as good as it used to be.  

Maria

Maria, 85, grew up on a farm in her hometown, Faenza, in the Emilia-Romagna region. Like most children from her town, Maria was expected to pitch in as much as possible. She remembers plowing her family’s field before school, and she started making pasta when she was just five years old. Her family was poor, so a small chicken would be mixed with pasta, onions, and beans to make enough to feed all eight people in her family. 

In Pasta Grannies, Maria shares her recipe for cappelletti in meat stock. Cappelletti, which means “little hats,” is a filled pasta that was traditionally reserved for Christmas but is now enjoyed year-round. It is a popular dish in the Emilia-Romagna region, and fillings vary from town to town. In Faenza, cooks like Maria fill their cappelletti with a mixture of cheeses, including milk ricotta and Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Pasta Grannies is a wonderful celebration of grandmothers, pasta, and Italian life. It would be a wonderful gift for a grandmother, granddaughter, or anyone who enjoys cooking and eating authentic Italian pasta.

Comments