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The grandmothers who have viralized the art of making Italian pasta

2022-11-27T11:22:46.271Z

This is a trip to the gastronomic legacy of Italy in the company of the older women who continue to make the pasta by hand with the raw materials of a lifetime and with traditional utensils that they handle with mastery. A heritage that they defend tooth and nail and that went viral on YouTube thanks to the Pasta Grannies project



The

mattarello,

the wooden rolling pin with which the dough is rolled out until it becomes a thin oval sheet that will be used to make the pasta by hand, is like that samurai sword forged in Okinawa that is passed down from generation to generation carrying the secret of an ancient art.

It is almost always made of cherry wood, because it is more resistant and absorbs less moisture.

And the older, the more filmed and worked, the greater the guarantee of success.

That is why it should not be washed under the tap or put detergents on it either.

The

mattarello

is one of the links in the chain of transmission of a cultural history and bears imprinted in water and flour, like a Trajan's column, the grooves of Italy's gastronomic legacy.

each

sfoglina

, the women who still make pasta by hand, have their own.

Maria's is the same one that her mother used;

Leondina's is barely 30 years old, she emigrated from the Abruzzo region with her family and so many things were lost along the way.

And Luisa's, a 1.20-meter wooden cylinder with a red diamond at one end, is the fundamental instrument for creating those enormous

sfoglie

that distinguishes her technique, making her the champion of any contest she has entered.

presents.

They are all grandmothers.

But, above all, they are custodians of a tradition that is also lost with them.

Pasta, like rice in Spain, was always a dish built on the foundations of proximity.

Each configuration, shape and recipe speaks of the region and the economic possibilities of the chef and his environment.

Of the family and its customs.

But there is a democratic and ancestral process that joins a dotted line made of water, flour and egg and that goes back two millennia, to the Etruscan civilization, to still explain the life of each place.

A way of gastronomic survival that is born at dawn each day and that fewer and fewer grandmothers keep in Italy.

This is where Pasta Grannies arose, which was started by the British Vicky Bennison nine years ago through a YouTube channel, which already has 900,000 subscribers, and other social networks that in total are close to 2.5 million followers.

The project is on its second book —the first has just been translated into Spanish in Salamandra— and its author is negotiating with various platforms to start a series.

The formula is unbeatable.

The combination of food, social networks and grandmothers is an audience hurricane capable of unhinging any algorithm in Palo Alto.

“During the pandemic we grew a lot.

People told me that it comforted them, that when they are stressed or anxious they look for the videos and they feel much better, ”explains Bennison on the phone after returning from a US tour.

“During the pandemic we grew a lot.

People told me that it comforted them, that when they are stressed or anxious they look for the videos and they feel much better, ”explains Bennison on the phone after returning from a US tour.

“During the pandemic we grew a lot.

People told me that it comforted them, that when they are stressed or anxious they look for the videos and they feel much better, ”explains Bennison on the phone after returning from a US tour.

The hands of Imperia Fiorelli.Caterina Barjau

The Pasta Grannies project is a mix of historiography and cultural restoration through social media.

The first time Bennison made a video and posted it on YouTube, he chose the grandmother of the supermarket manager in a town in the Marche region where she has a house.

The gestures, the preparation of the process when it has not even dawned, its history, the food.

It turned out magnetic.

Then it all grew into a company that she and several full-time employees live off.

“I noticed that there were only older women making the pasta by hand on a daily basis.

And I thought someone had to record them.

The domestic tradition was changing, becoming extinct.

And it was a vital practice for that generation.

So at the beginning it was an attempt to collect as many types of pasta as possible.

But the project evolved because people came to us for the dough, but stayed for the old ladies,” says Bennison.

Interestingly, most of his channel's audience comes from people between the ages of 25 and 35, and he constitutes the body of a system of culinary anthropology that has one of its very clear geographic centers of gravity.

The Emilia-Romagna region was for a long time the breadbasket of the country.

The third per capita income (35,300 euros) is still the main agricultural producer in Italy: Parma ham or

Parmigiano Reggiano come from here,

perhaps the most symbolic and valuable national product abroad and a unique gastronomic tradition.

But its flavor, as is always the case in Italy, is radically different as one moves and sees the spiky bell towers typical of the region go by through the car window.

'Tagliatelle' of hay and straw, base for a meat ragù, prepared by Luisa Peduli.

Caterina Barjau

The Via Emilia, the road built in 189 BC that still connects Piacenza and Rimini's Adriatic coast, leads to the Romagna part, where Faenza (58,700 inhabitants) is located.

Nothing is the same on either side of the region.

Neither the accent, nor the dialect nor the culinary tradition.

Only one thing remains: the history of pasta, like that of so many human stories that kept families alive in Italy, has a woman's name.

The family tree of Maria Argnani, 88, has deep roots here and allows us to decipher the great differences that the handmade pasta from this area has compared to others in the same region.

It's 9:30 am and the romagnola

chicken broth has been simmering

over a very low heat on the old stove in his kitchen for five hours.

Maria, like all the grandmothers who continue to work in this way, got up at dawn to start preparing her

cappelletti in brodo:

a cheese-filled pasta that is cooked in a delicious broth (there is no better way to appreciate a delicate filling).

The chicken, owned by one of her best friends before ending up in the pot, was told a few hours ago.

Between the two grandmothers they managed to lower her from the tree where she fled upon sensing her fate.

Then they killed her and skinned her for the occasion.

For the pasta, Maria chose the

cappelletti

(little hats in Italian), which in the Romagna area are almost always filled with cheese

(batù

in

romagnolo).

Its preparation seems easy, but well done they are gastronomic goldsmithing.

She shapes them in two and a half seconds using just three fingers, bringing the ends together naturally by pressing gently with her fingertips.

“It's essential that the paste doesn't dry out as you start to shape it, otherwise you wouldn't be able to join it together anymore,” she explains.

Maria, raised in a farming family, masters the art of

sfoglia

since the age of five.

“My mother had severe hip pain and I had to start cooking for the family.

Well, that and many other things.

Before school we would feed the cows, then the pigs.

And at the end of it all we were walking to school: five kilometers in wooden clogs.

How do you think we got to class?

Her house then had some vineyards, also a couple of chickens.

But most of those goods were used to exchange them for other products or earn some money.

World War II, the looting by the Germans and the bombings by the Allies, she recalls, made everything worse.

At home she was hungry, and her mother always had garlic on the stove.

“It is a caloric meal.

Humble families did it to survive ”, she recalls.

the

cappelletti

that he is preparing today were made, of course.

But only on big holidays like Christmas.

And something similar to that begins to smell throughout the house.

Everything prepared at Leondina's kitchen table for the preparation of her 'tortelli': flour, eggs, nettles and the necessary traditional instruments.Caterina Barjau

Maria carefully places the hats on the tray, creating a kind of yellow border on the white background.

A captivating geometric and chromatic splendor for anyone.

Even more for the journalist, who attends the event in Maria's kitchen paralyzed by so much beauty.

Then the

cappelletti

they must be submerged in the broth of that elusive hen and, as soon as they float back to the surface of the pot, they will be ready to eat.

Thus, without a solution of continuity, the dish appears on a ceramic tableware from Faenza accompanied by a bottle of Sangiovese that will end up almost empty.

It's barely 11 in the morning.

But the life of the reporter, who today does not have to lead, is often hard and one must sacrifice in the name of journalism.

And there are people who make it much easier.

Livia De Giovanni is one of them.

She is an extraordinary cook and also the person who has helped the author of Pasta Grannies to find, convince and document the living treasure of grannies.

An unprecedented and highly valuable gastronomic anthropology work.

“For me it is very important to give relevance to many people who perhaps did not have it or were not recognized in the family.

The grandmother or the mother always gave everything managing the house and almost never had the specific weight that she would have deserved.

And they are things that are being lost.

In this way, we look for women as old as possible because the secrets are there.

Look, what we do now is what I would have wanted to do with my grandmother, since she is no longer here.

And the video, which has an encyclopedic point, is essential for this because each person does it in a different way.

In Italy people take it for granted that they eat their mother's or grandmother's pasta.

But they are things that, if you don't take care of them, they will disappear”.

Many of these women, like all of their generation, gave up their lives to care for their families.

And when their husbands died or their children left home, they could only hold on to that tradition that they cultivated.

The freezer chest that Leondina Micolucci (80 years old) has in the entrance of her house is still full of bags of handmade pasta.

For years she dedicated herself to producing her specialties for restaurants in the Zattaglia area, a town about 30 kilometers from Faenza, on one of the steep Romagna hills where the Apennines begin.

She came to produce more than 50 kilos a day and earn an income that supplemented her meager pension.

Imperia Fiorelli (86 years old) prepares the 'impasto' in the kitchen of Il Monticello, the family inn in Monte Porzio Catone, 30 kilometers from Rome.

To do this, she gets up at three in the morning. Caterina Barjau

Leondina's dining room table is an improvised gastronomic worktop where she begins to knead the pasta she is making today to the sound of one of her favorite television shows.

Her roller is barely 30 years old.

She is not one of the oldest, she justifies herself, because her family moved here from another region and many of the utensils that were part of her grandmother's legacy were lost, and they bought new ones.

She was born in Abruzzo (further south) and moved at the age of 14 when her family, fleeing poverty, bought a piece of land in this place that must have been more fertile.

“I learned to cook by slapping.

At the age of six she already knew how to make the

sfoglia

.

My family were farmers”, he explains as the dough turns green from the nettles that he has collected this morning in the fields and that he uses to give color and aroma to the cheese

tortelli

that he prepares.

"We use it because it is cheaper than spinach and it has a special perfume."

The nettle, in case you do it at home, you have to leave it to soak and cook it well to remove the thorns.

The mass, after 20 minutes of work, begins to compact.

First, form a circle with the water and flour, and then add the eggs one by one.

Eight, one for each serving.

Leondina

's

tortelli take shape as she cuts the

sfoglia

into strips and fills the squares with the mortar.

She takes the stuffed ball with her right hand and with two fingers on her left she places it on each of the little squares that she will then close and turn into each

tortello .

green.

It is a slow and laborious job that in solitude manages to enliven the talk of her sister-in-law, who lives in the house next door.

But her story, like that of so many others, will be lost with her.

Her 55-year-old daughter works in a factory in the area and doesn't have time for this.

“Sometimes she even buys pasta at the supermarket!

She makes me very angry ”.

Leondina Micolucci's (80 years old) specialty is cheese tortelli garnished with field nettles, which she uses because they are cheaper than spinach.Caterina Barjau

Sfogline ,

as

the women who still make the sheet of dough to make pasta by hand are known, are becoming rarer.

Some have come into this world a little further behind, or by other paths, but with enormous fervor.

Like Luisa Peduli (57 years old), also a resident of Faenza.

She perfected her technique through various courses and works at two restaurants in the area.

He did not inherit the rolling pin from her mother —hers is a huge 1.20-meter mallet capable of ironing the largest

sfoglie

in the region—, but many memories and ways of making pasta.

Like overcooking the dough and staining it with the remains of meat or tomato to make what was known as

sfoglia lorda

(the

sfoglia

dirty).

A dish that allowed more heads to be fed for less money, a synthesis of the eternal puzzle of grandmothers.

Today, however, Luisa prepares hay and straw

tagliatelle

, a two-color modality that will serve as the base for a meat ragù (the Bolognese elsewhere).

Simple, but amazing.

The

sfoglia

can be used for many types of fresh pasta.

The key to the sheet that will later be transformed into different formats when it is passed to the knife is the thickness and mastery of the roller.

It must be perfectly even.

Round or oval, depending on the area of ​​Italy.

Also fine, but that does not break or perforate when handled.

Have a certain stickiness, but soft to the touch.

And elastic, something that can only be achieved thanks to that contemporary demon called gluten and a final humidity that does not exceed 30%.

And Luisa is a specialist and an absolute spectacle with the roller.

Maria Argnani in the garden and in full preparation of her 'capelletti in brodo', a pasta stuffed with cheese cooked in 'romagnola' chicken broth.Caterina Barjau

Legacy, and that's part of the problem with these matters, is often intangible and quite relative.

Almost every region has its type of pasta and its recipe for cooking it.

And each grandmother keeps a combination of three or four formats and as many sauces that could make up a map of Italy.

Pizzoccheri

(Valtellina),

spatzle

(Trento),

bigoli

(Venice),

maltagliati

(Emilia-Romagna),

fescheirol

or

tajarin

(Piedmont),

trofie

(Liguria),

pisarei

(Piacenza),

passatelli

(Romagna),

pici

and

pappardelle

(Tuscany) ,

testaroli

(Tuscany and Liguria),

tonnarelli

(Lazio),

cavatelli

(Apulia) and

orecchiette

(Apulia and Basilicata)... Some, like Campania, began to use more dry pasta, which is baked.

It happened mainly for economic and conservation reasons.

But they achieved milestones such as pasta with

provola

and potato or the

Genovese

(a meat and onion ragù).

Others, like Lazio (where Rome is the capital), alternate both methods.

Monte Porzio Catone, the town where Imperia Fiorelli lives (named after the legendary little machines for rolling out pasta dough), is located in Castelli Romani, a set of hills 30 kilometers from Rome.

She is 86 years old and, like most women dedicated to this world, she gets up every day at three in the morning.

She turns on the lights in the family home in silence and goes down to the kitchen of the small

osteria

they run (Il Monticello) to begin the preparation process, the

impasto.

Eggs, flour, water.

A lot of force concentrated in the palms of the hands and the wrists until the mortar turns into a yellow and elastic material.

She is almost always there alone for several hours, until the sun begins to rise and her children arrive.

But some Saturdays, around four in the morning, she appears through the small door that leads to the patio of her grandson Edoardo.

“Sometimes he records me doing this.

He takes something and goes to sleep.

And she continues.

Because she already has her daughter, that she has begun to wake up and start the business.

The area marks the type of recipes on fire.

And vegetables are another of the keys to the Roman environment, one of the places where it rains the most in Europe.

Many dishes, like the one prepared by Imperia, are based on seasonal agriculture.

So she goes out into the garden and selects Romanesco broccoli from her fabulous garden.

Then grab a bottle of white wine from the Frascati area and a piece of

guanciale,

the cornerstone on which a large part of Roman gastronomy inevitably rests (don't go around comparing it to bacon: it's not the same).

Guanciale is a part of the cheek or cheek of the pig cured for three weeks with salt, pepper and sometimes paprika.

And it is practically the only element that is repeated in most of the Roman classics —gricia, carbonara, matriciana— and the way of frying it is fundamental, sometimes turning the fire on and off so that it does not burn.

Imperia cuts the tacos, toasts them, and then joins them with broccoli braised in wine.

There it goes.

The pasta that he has kneaded and precisely cut with the knife is

fettuccine,

the Roman version of

tagliatelle.

A flat and wide noodle that he has managed to make in two different colors: the classic one and the green one, dyed with nettle juice.

Her mother passed it on to her and she taught it to her daughter Angela, who today manages the restaurant.

But her granddaughter, who is 23 years old and is passing behind her to give her a kiss, has not yet taken the baton.

She "she asks Me to teach her... It's easy: the day she gets up at four in the morning with me, she'll learn it quickly", she jokes.

For her granddaughter it will be a choice, not the kind of imposition of history that violently shapes traditions.

And Imperia's choice today, after having been awake since three in the morning, cooking several recipes and putting up with a clumsy editor and a perfectionist photographer, is to put the rolling pin aside, sit in the garden and read

Il Fatto Quotidiano

, his favorite newspaper.

What the rest of us do with tradition is no longer up to him.

Imperia cooks the green 'fettuccine' with nettle juice and the white ones with 'guanciale', broccoli and white wine.

Above her, in her private garden, and to the left, with her granddaughter in the kitchen. Caterina Barjau

Imperia Fiorelli

Fettuccine with broccoli and 'guanciale'

The pasta that Imperia Fiorelli prepares has all the elements of Roman recipes, but is somewhat lighter than classics such as

cacio e pepe

or carbonara.

The handmade pasta mixes flavors with broccoli from his garden and with guanciale, the cornerstone on which most Roman recipes rest.

The proportions, as almost all grandmothers do, are measured by eye by Imperia.

Ingredients:

→ For the pasta:

400 grams of flour, 4 eggs.

→ For the sauce:

1 broccoli, 100 g of

guanciale,

broccoli leaves to make the cream with water to be mixed in the dish, 30 g of

peccorino,

white wine (to cook the garlic and broccoli).

At 88 years old, Maria Argnani gets up at dawn in her house in Faenza to prepare her dishes.Caterina Barjau

Maria Argnani

'Cappelletti in brodo'

This type of pasta is linked to holidays and Christmas.

The time it takes to prepare makes it difficult to make in a typical day.

The broth also takes time, because it must simmer for about four hours over low heat.

Cappelletti are the Romagnola variant

of

tortellini

.

They are larger (tortellini have to fit at least three on a large spoon) and are often filled with cheese instead of meat.

Ingredients:

→ For the pasta:

3 eggs, 300 grams of flour (70% 00 flour and 30% durum semolina).

→ For the filling:

150 g of

beef

ricotta

, 150 g of grated

Parmigiano Reggiano , 150 g of

bucciatello

(local fresh cheese), 1 egg, nutmeg.

Leondina Micolucci was born in Abruzzo.

Her family moved when she was 14 years old to the Faenza region, fleeing poverty.

For years, she has been preparing her specialties (up to 50 kilos) for restaurants.

Here, with one of her 'Romagnola' chickens. Caterina Barjau

Leondina Micolucci

'Tortelli' with nettle, butter and sage

Nettle tortelli

are

a delicate dish.

The filling that Leondina Micolucci prepares with cheese and nettles has an intense flavor, so it is advisable to eat them only with butter and fresh sage.

The intense green color, which is obtained thanks to the juice of the nettles, also advises not to mix it with tomato or other sauces.

Ingredients:

→ For the pasta:

120 grams of boiled and cleaned nettles, 3 eggs, 400 g of type 00 flour, a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil.

→ For the filling:

500 grams of beef and sheep

ricotta

, 150 g of clean and boiled nettles, 150 g of grated

Parmigiano Reggiano

, nutmeg and salt.

Luisa Peduli, 57, lives in Faenza and works for two restaurants in the area.Caterina Barjau

Luisa Peduli

'Tagliatelle' of straw and hay with meat ragù

The meat ragù is a classic of Emilia-Romagna cuisine.

In Bologna and the rest of the world it would be known as the Bolognese sauce.

But in the region the word ragú is simply used.

It is a dish that, unlike certain stuffed pastas, is eaten daily.

But its elaboration, at least to reach the level of Luisa Peduli, is not so simple.

Ingredients:

→ For the pasta:

500 grams of flour and 3 eggs.

→ For the sauce:

Make a celery and carrot sauce;

sausage paste and minced beef are added.

As soon as the meat turns gray, half a glass of red wine (in this case, Sangiovese) is poured into it.

When the alcohol evaporates, a

passata

(a very mild sauce) of tomato, salt and nutmeg is added.

It should boil a couple of hours over low heat.

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Source: elparis

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