To document the dying art of making pasta from scratch, British journalist Vicky Bennison has filmed 250 Italian grandmas in their kitchens. The result, she says, is a “Noah’s Ark” of knowledge and skills that might otherwise have been lost.
In the past, such recipes were transmitted informally, from mother to daughter to granddaughter, but that has changed. For the most part, “Italian women (and men) these days are far too busy to spend time in the kitchen,” according to Bennison.
Bennison’s roster of grandmas includes Domenica, who makes gnocchi with the legendary potatoes of her village, Montese; Porzia, who uses a serrated knife to fashion the rough-textured orecchiette that are unique to her city, Bari; and Letizia, who makes tagliarini with Sicilian vegetables and herbs and who, at 100, is the oldest of the Pasta Grannies. (All are over 65.)
Each grandma makes her pasta dough on a large rectangular wooden board—sometimes it’s a family heirloom—and rolls it with a long, slender pin called a mattarello. The grandmas measure their ingredients by eye and feel, although Bennison provides exact quantities in both the book and the videos.
Unlike many chefs, the grannies aren’t looking to get famous, and for Bennison, that’s part of the appeal. But she sometimes has a hard time convincing women to participate. “A lot of women say no; some say yes and then change their mind.” Still others “start by being anxious and then enjoy the attention.”
Bennison is proud to be celebrating older women, who she thinks are “too often invisible in the food media.”
Many of the Pasta Grannies videos have been watched tens of thousands of times, and they’re a particularly big hit with young adults in their late twenties and early thirties. From the comments Bennison has received on the project, “[w]hat is clear is people love pasta, but they love the grandmothers even more,” she writes. “It reminds them of their own grandmothers.”
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