Comfort Cooking with Pasta Grannies
In Episode 60 of the Kitchen Confidante Podcast, Liren Baker talks with Vicky Bennison about her latest cookbook, Pasta Grannies: Comfort Cooking, the nonnas and the traditional regional dishes they share, their secrets to staying young and active, and what the next generation of pasta makers in Italy will look like.
The Pasta Grannies and the History and Future of Italian Pasta Making — with Vicky Bennison
On the podcast, I recently spoke with Vicky Bennison, the creator of the immensely popular and endearing Pasta Grannies. What began in 2014 as a channel on YouTube filming grandmothers making pasta by hand in their Italian kitchens has since grown to a following of over 2 million on social media and her first book, Pasta Grannies: The Official Cookbook, which was the recipient of a James Beard Award. Now, she is back with a second book, Pasta Grannies: Comfort Cooking: Traditional Family Recipes from Italy’s Best Home Cooks.
In this episode, we chat about the nonnas and the traditional regional dishes they share, their secrets to staying young and active, and what the next generation of pasta makers in Italy will look like.
Listen to the full episode here or keep reading for some of my favorite moments with Vicky.
How did Pasta Grannies come to be?
I grew up in Kenya, where my dad did agricultural research and development in the African Bush. There, our food came from the markets and wasn’t always guaranteed. This experience taught me resilience and gave me an interest in cultures around food.
My husband and I bought a house in Italy, and I started researching local food traditions. I found that only older women made pasta by hand. There was a huge cultural shift happening and younger people weren’t making pasta anymore, so I wanted to make a record of that.
Tell us more about the second book, Pasta Grannies: Comfort Cooking
The second book expands on the first one and is a response to the pandemic. During lockdown, many people found comfort in the grandmas. People wrote to me to let me know the videos kept them going during tough times.
So, the recipes are a collection of crowd-pleasing, comforting things lovingly made from scratch. While they’re made from scratch, not all of the recipes require much skill—just enthusiasm! To enjoy this type of cooking, I say that you need to enjoy the process. And you don’t need to feel like you need to cook this way every day.
What are the grannies’ secrets for staying young?
People often equate their health and longevity to the Mediterranean diet, but it is really the Mediterranean lifestyle. I’ve found three secrets to staying young and healthy from the nonnas:
- Stay active and on your feet every day. Limit sitting still.
- Live frugally: You don’t need to exclude any food group in your diet, but don’t overeat or overindulge.
- Remain connected with your family and community. Stay social throughout your life.
What does the next generation of pasta makers in Italy look like?
Italian pasta making is no longer a domestic thing that women are expected to do, but it won’t go away. It will just look very different going forward.
The daughters and granddaughters of the grannies we’ve filmed were not in the kitchen because they were focused on their careers. But those women’s children have discovered you can do both. For them, pasta making is a choice or a hobby that can happen on the weekend.
The level of mastery of the grannies has become less common, but those who gain that level of mastery will do so professionally in restaurants.
Pasta Grannies: Comfort Cooking, by Vicky Bennison (Hardie Grant Books, 2022).