Cuisine is one of the most important differentials amongst Italian people. Specific dishes or styles of cooking become an identity to a town, a region and even a family. Italians take pride in passing along their nonna’s cooking skills from one generation to the next. But, as technology progresses, new machines become available and people’s lives take them out of the kitchen. Traditions become memories and stories of generations past and culinary skills, inadvertently, become lost. But, do they have to?
The art of pasta making is just that; an art form. Hand-sifted, hand-kneaded, hand-rolled, hand-cut; true homemade pasta is made from the hands…and the heart. Vicky Bennison who divides her time between her homes in London and Le Marche in central Italy, is on a culinary mission to bring the art of homemade pasta into the homes of everyone, everywhere. She has combined current technology with the traditions of yesterday and given us “Pasta Grannies.”
Past Grannies is a YouTube channel featuring short videos celebrating the pasta-making skills of Italian nonnas from all over Italy. As pasta-making becomes an increasingly commercial activity, Vicky shares incredible stories of nonnas who may otherwise go unnoticed.
Viewers meet 93-year-old Cesaria, an expert at making very fine Lorighittas pasta. In a 3-minute video, Cesaria rolls the dough into twisted, hoop earing shapes on her wooden table in the sun beside her home. Lorighittas come from a town in Sardinia called Morgongiori and have been made for centuries. In another episode, Giuseppa, a 95-year-old pasta granny who has been making pasta for 80 years, shows us how to make another Sardinian specialty called maccarones de ungia – mini, knobby versions of malloreddus. The maccarones come from a town named Ozieri where Giuseppa has lived her entire life. Caterina and Lucia, hailing from the Salento region of Puglia, share their recipe for sagne torte con sugo di pomodoro e poppettini, a twisted ribbon pasta with tomato sauce and mini meatballs. And while secret tricks and family recipes are revealed, it’s the endearing quality of each and every granny that consumes the viewer.
“Most of our nonnas were nominated for Pasta Grannies by a family member, friend or even a local official like the mayor of their town,” Vicky Bennison says. Pasta Grannies’ crew consists of Vicky, a second cameraperson and Livia de Giovanni, whom she’s dubbed the Granny Finder. Livia’s job is especially important as “it takes an Italian to persuade elderly ladies they should share their experiences on YouTube.”
Arriving at a granny’s home, the crew typically gets permission to move tables, open curtains or turn on more lights as Italian kitchens are rather small and dark. Filming is conducted in real-time; little to no rehearsals and very few takes which adds to the charming nature of each granny. “The nonnas cooks for us, not the imagined audience and we get to eat the meals they have prepared, which is great, but tough on the waistline! Sometimes the women share stories about their lives, sometimes they are more reserved, but they are all welcoming and generous.” Vicky and the crew present the true personality of each nonna. “After each session, we come away with a snapshot of the nonna’s life, which I love. I always feel it’s a great honor and a privilege to meet them.” An integral part of Italian history, Pasta Grannies is certainly keeping the art of handmade pasta-making alive.
All photos courtesy of www.pastagrannies.com