Apparently in the 18th century, the word “macaroni” referred to the hairstyle of a young English aristocrat. Who knew? On a more serious pasta-related note, I also read that the average Italian eats 27.5kg of pasta a year, and that there are over 600 pasta shapes in existence worldwide. But despite pasta’s popularity, the Italian family tradition of pasta making is fast dying out.
Secret recipes that have been in families for years are at risk of disappearing as grandmothers struggle to pass their traditions on to time-strapped grandchildren. For these women, some almost too old to share their secrets, their incredible skills are at risk of being lost to history.
Fortunately, Australian food writer Vicky Bennison, is on a mission to preserve these family traditions and secret recipes. For five years, she’s been travelling around Italy in search of these one-of-a-kind women, to tell the stories of their amazing Italian family cooking traditions on her YouTube channel, Pasta Grannies.
“Our grannies are full of character, very proud of the pastas they are making,” says Vicky. “Their recipes have been in their families for many years and it’s important they pass on traditions to their children and grandchildren.”
Since the channel started with just 63 subscribers, it’s grown quicker than you could fill a ravioli, to inspire over eight million people around the world. It’s also now a best-selling cookbook. Here are some of my favourite Pasta Grannies in action:
Romana from Calabria
“Romana shares her recipe for gnocchi with a chilli-spiked, fresh tomato sauce from Calabria. This is a dish which reminds her of home, as she lived in the UK for the past 60 years. If you would like to experience Romana’s cooking, then check out her granddaughter Georgina’s supper club www.noidining.com”
Biggina from the island of Ischia
“Meet characterful Biggina from the island of Ischia, near Naples. Wild rabbits are plentiful on the island, and this sauce is called ‘coniglio all’ischitana’ – swap rabbit with pheasant (or similar game bird) if you cannot find the former. The dish will cease to be Italian, but will taste very similar.
Giggina from the island of Ischia
“I want Giggina’s kitchen! Also I want to be able to have Sunday lunch with her on a regular basis. Find out why in this video where she makes gnocchi with meatballs and beef (veal) rolls cooked slowly in a tomato sauce.”
Taglia and her daughter from Sardinia
“Bread is an art form in Sardinia, mostly made by women. In this episode, Taglia and her daughter Vincenzina show us an every day focaccia or ‘covazza’ bread, and a one they make for Easter, instead of chocolate eggs.”
Giovanna Bellia La Marca from New York via Sicily
“Giovanna Bellia La Marca spent her childhood in Ragusa, Sicily before moving with her parents to New York. Here she shares the recipe for ‘ravioli ragusani’ – which is in fact a mixture of ricotta filled ravioli (with added sugar and orange zest) and cavatelli pasta, served with a pork ragu. It is from an time when sugar was treated like a spice and could pop up in any course, not just dessert.”
Letizia from Sicily
“Letizia lives near Trapani in Sicily and she’s 100 years old, although she doesn’t look or act like it. She makes tagliarini pasta served with dried fava bean puree flavoured with onion and wild fennel. This is a simple pasta dish which will appeal to people of all ages.”
Rina from Piemonte
“Rina’s recipe for tajarin (or tagliolini) is simple, easy to make, but delicious. If you don’t have porcini, use a mixture of ordinary mushrooms and dried porcini. This is a classic pasta dish from the Asti region of Piemonte where Rina’s family have milled flour for over 50 years.”
Vanna from Sardinia
“We think of pasta as a mid week supper meal; but traditionally country folk made fresh pasta for celebrations. Here Vanna and her friends are making a little gnocchi type pasta called ciccioneddus to accompany a rich, aromatic lamb ragu which is served at weddings in Ittiri, north west Sardinia.”