A culinary declaration of love
Italy’s grandmothers – the nuns – are the stars here.
They show how to make a proper pasta,
with which to make the whole family and yourself happy.
Recommended and worth imitating.
You can find them all over Italy: grandmothers who, even in old age, stand in their often very simple, modest kitchen and prepare divine pasta for the traditional Sunday meal for the whole family.
Children and grandchildren are so busy with their everyday lives that they hardly have time to make their own pasta. Luckily, there are the grandmothers who, mostly early in the morning, knead and roll their homemade pasta with practiced movements, which they serve with their tried-and-tested sauce that everyone loves.
Lucky to have Englishwoman Vicky Bennison who, after many years working in development aid in countries like South Africa, Siberia and Turkmenistan, has moved to Italy and started documenting the pasta skills of Italian grandmothers.
Pasta Grannies is the name of the YouTube channel, the Instagram account and the book in which Vicky Bennison has been documenting the decades of experience of the Italian grandmothers in videos, pictures and recipes for five years.
The book and the social media channels show grandmothers from many regions of Italy: We can look into the kitchen of Doriana, who cooks a soup with beans, pancetta and (of course) homemade taglioli in Abruzzo and uses it to warm her loved ones wonderfully on cool winter days and we meet Beatrice, who (of course) serves homemade maccheroni with fish and seafood in southern Italy.
The Pasta Grannies book contains many of the well-known pasta dishes that we love to eat in osterias, trattorias and restaurants in Italy or at our favorite Italian restaurant: the classic lasagne with bolognese, papardelle with wild boar ragout or pansotti with walnut pesto. But there are also many lesser known types of pasta to be discovered, which are often only known regionally, such as Maccarones de Ungia, which is only known in Sardinia.
The recipes explain how to make pasta with nuts and herbs, vegetables, legumes, seafood and meat. Pasta in broth is also described and a special chapter is dedicated to the preparation of ravioli and tortelli. No pasta wish remains unfulfilled.
Only a few, but the best ingredients
Every cookbook lover knows them: complex recipes from star chefs that often contain a long list of ingredients, some of which require considerable logistical effort: there are seaweed harvested at dawn on the rocky coast, fresh mushrooms collected in the pine forest or yuzu flown in from Kyoto.
None of that with the grandmothers from Italy. In most of the recipes for the pasta sauces, the list of ingredients is pleasingly short. Butter or oil, depending on the region, as well as Parmigiano Reggiano and/or a locally produced cheese are almost always included.
The passata, strained tomato sauce, can be found in many recipes and there is also what your own garden has in store depending on the season: wild fennel, marjoram, beans or potatoes. Depending on the region, some sauce recipes use seafood or meat. The home-made noodles are always the focus of enjoyment.
Lucia (85) says “If you cook with good ingredients, then you don’t have to worry. The ingredients do the work for you.” Here too, less is more. The olive oil used by grandmothers is cold-pressed and there is sea salt in the cooking water for the pasta.
With experience and feeling – finding out quantities is difficult
What we also know from our own grandmothers: quantities are only approximate. Grandmas in Italy and in all other countries have been cooking their dishes for many years. You have the right amount of flour, eggs and water in your head and vary the amount depending on the size of the eggs and the day’s ability to mix the ingredients together.
Many of the Italian ladies also have the luxury of having a local mill where they get their flour with the texture they prefer for their pasta.
In her book, Vicky Bennison tries to give pasta beginners the most important quantities and rightly says: “The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Feel free to approach the quantities by standing at the pasta board yourself and gathering your own experiences.”
On the GloriousMe wish list for Christmas
With a few exceptions, all Italian grandmothers work with a pasta board and the Mattarello. The Mattarello is a long wooden stick used to roll out the paste. If you are not working on a special wooden table, a pasta board is used, which is usually made of beech wood, oak wood or
ss wood consists. It should not be a type of wood that still contains essential oils or is very porous.
The pasta board is only used to make the pasta. No other taste should interfere with the production of the pasta.
You can safely leave your pasta machine, which you bought many years ago after your last visit to Italy with the intention of conjuring up these delicious pasta dishes yourself in your own kitchen, with confidence in the basement. Vicky Bennison’s book makes the idea of making your own pasta on a wooden board seem realistic with a little practice.
It doesn’t have to start with the most complex types of pasta, which the Pasta Grannies in the videos roll, press and twist with incredible skill. And you don’t necessarily have to start with wafer-thin spaghetti. The simpler forms allow more beginner mistakes and can be easily understood with the help of the recipes if you enjoy and love good food.
GloriousMe is still waiting for the Christmas tree to see whether there is a pasta board with Matterello underneath and will then transform the kitchen into a small beginner’s pasta factory.
Far more convincing than the Kardashians
The real stars of the YouTube videos, Instagram posts and book are the grandmothers themselves. The book contains the amazing biographies of some of the grandmothers.
Most of them have gone through very difficult times and it is no coincidence that none of them uses the “large pot with plenty of water” recommended by TV chefs to cook the pasta, because energy was and is a luxury that you don’t want to waste . It obviously also works great in a small pot.
To be included in the book, the women had to be over 65 and make the pasta primarily for their families and not as a professional chef in a restaurant.
The wrinkled facial features of the Italian nun radiate joie de vivre and elegance. No doubt there was no plastic surgeon at work here, just the local barber, which some of the ladies visited on the day of shooting before Vicky arrived with the camera.
The often mischievous smiles of the ladies, some of whom are already over 90 years old, their modest appearance, their radiance in the photographs in front of the pasta board in their kitchens make every member of the Kardashian clan look old.
Pasta Grannies inspires far more than any cookbook, no matter how beautiful
The Pasta Grannies is a book with pictures and texts that you like to delve into and that you don’t just pull off the shelf to inspire for the next Sunday meal.
When the work isn’t going so well, one immediately thinks of the portrait of 89-year-old Lucia, who had her photograph taken for the book in her family’s bakery the day after she was discharged from the hospital and when asked , whether one should really go ahead with the filming, or whether she didn’t want to take a little rest first, replied: “This is my life. I’ve been working in the bakery for 60 years. What should I do at home.”
Spoke and started making raschiatelli with a sauce of fennel salami, tomatoes and garlic. Not only does she grate plenty of Pecorino over it, but also fresh horseradish. If you now feel a longing for Italy in your heart and on your palate? How about Palermo? You can still feel the magic of a unique, once glamorous city. There is no shortage of excellent pasta dishes, art and culture.
And for those times when traveling is difficult if not impossible: Take a look at our list of our favorite Italian films and enjoy an Italian film night at home after the pasta.
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Photography © GloriousMe