Pasta Grannies: Italian nonne

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If you are familiar with all that’s trending on YouTube, then  you may know The Pasta Grannies, a channel with more than  400.000 subscribers where each video is  dedicated to Italian nonne and  the  way they  make traditional, delicious pasta dishes. We have nonna Giuseppina and her pici, nonna Giggina and her gnocchi and nonna Rosa with her ravioli,  all over 80,  all with genuine smiles and  all influencers: a breath of fresh air on a platform populated  by bad makeup tutorials and  drama channels.

We  of l’Italo-Americano  had the pleasure to share some thoughts and memories with the creator of the project, Vicky Bennison, with whom we spoke about her love for food, the grannies  and how Italian she feels,  after all this writing  about pasta!

Vicky explains to us the Pasta Grannies’ YouTube channel is only part of a much wider project that wants to keep alive the hand-making pasta tradition of Italy, a tradition incredibly important for the country, but that has been largely neglected by the younger generations. Bennison’s aim is that of keeping this incredible wealth of culinary  knowledge alive by using modern media: YouTube, we said, but also a website and, just a couple of weeks ago, a book, Pasta Grannies: the Secrets of Italy’s Best Home Cooks, published by Hardie Grant Books, a collection of the most popular grannies’ recipes gathered by Bennison through the years.

Time passes, and the risk of seeing all this wealth of knowledge and deliciousness going  lost was becoming real. Bennison took upon herself the duty of keeping hundreds of recipes alive and, with them, also the stories, memories and traditional  elements  they carry within. Hers is an endeavor of love and passion for a country, Italy, she spends half of her time in, but also for the cultural, emotional and affective value of food making and sharing, something she herself knows first hand.

In  fact, when reading about Vicky,  it becomes clear she has a passion for food and the question comes quite naturally: did she have a “nonna” inspiring her, too, or is there  something  different behind it? “The short answer is my parents were both keen cooks and my mother, aged 87, still is,” Vicky tells us, but alas,  her love for  food has a much more exotic story to tell,  one incredibly close to Italy  and to  our  way to conceive food and cooking.

Vicky was born in Kenya where her parents worked, her father as a researcher and a trainer for  local farmers, her mother as an English teacher for the Indian community there. Her  childhood had the scents and colors of  Africa but the flavors  of India,  of  “the Gujarati and  Goan dishes the parents  of my mother’s pupils  taught her to cook.”  In Botswana, during her teens, growing and eating food became a matter of conviviality,  as it is typical for the people of Africa and, of course,  of  the Mediterranean, as  she recalls on Heated Magazine: “ Growing up,  food  for me  wasn’t merely nutrition or fuel, it was family, community,  and everyday adventure.”

Without  a doubt, many  Italians will find themselves in  these words.

As an adult, her job brought her around the world a  lot, so she came into contact with the food of many a country, yet, her ties with Italian food remained somehow deeper, because they came from childhood, as  she tells us: “I first tasted spaghetti with tomato sauce in Venice, aged 5 – my parents were going home on leave from Kenya to  the UK by boat, as flying was too expensive… with the Lloyd Triestino lines.”

And maybe  that’s why she ended up with a home in le Marche, where she noticed how “it  was  only older women who  made pasta by hand on a daily basis. Those over 80 years old are the last generation who would do it to put food  on  the table. For younger generations, making food by hand  became a choice.” That’s when she had “two thoughts: first, I wanted to  make a record of  these women’s skills. Second, doing that would also mean celebrate older  women, who are often invisible in the food media.”

It is evident, from Vicky’s words, that the whole idea behind The  Pasta  Grannies is not only that  of showing  how to  make food, but also that of  entrusting  a true wealth of culinary tradition to the next generation. We ask Vicky how important this aspect of the project is: “It’s very important to inspire people to cook from scratch. It’s the details which get lost if you reply on a book or a memory. Traditions survive because you create new memories and pasta works well because it’s a team or a family activity.”

And of course, the nonne, these valiant, strong octogenarians who have memories  of the war and of times when making pasta from scratch was the norm, are the gold and the diamonds of Bennison’s work. We had to ask her  how working with them is and  if she has some interesting stories to share about them with us: “The nonne, especially those over  90 — and we have a few! — remember times when the world was a very different place. We have the story of 97  years  old nonna Giuseppa, which is fascinating and could appeal to  those among the  younger generation who are into recycling  and  reducing  waste. She is from Sardinia and she worked all her  life  as a tailor specialized in traditional costumes. She adored her work so much, she never really thought about getting married. When she eventually did she was in her  30s, which was very unusual. She  made her own  wedding dress and  a coat to go with it. The coat, she refashioned twice and she still wears it today as a jacket, over 60 years later.”

Indeed,  there is  so much we could learn from our nonne.

As mentioned, The Pasta Grannies project now works on three different platforms: a website, a YouTube channel, and  a recipe book, which came out in the US on the 29th of October. The book is a beautiful volume, enriched by photos of the dishes and, of course, of the nonne who made them, but putting  it together wasn’t a simple task, especially  when it came to selecting the  recipes to  include: “We wanted variety from all over Italy, and a range of difficulty,  but we tried to include  more easy than  difficult ones!”

Before concluding our lovely chat, we must  ask Vicky about her  relationship with Italy. She’s been dividing her life between le Marche and the UK  for years now an  she works with Italians: did she pick up any peculiar Italian habit? “My husband would say parking the car boldly! Aside from that, going direct to the producer for cheese, wine  and all  the  products. Provenance is important for Italians and for me, too.”

Source: L’Italo-Americano