She’s bold and full of character, dedicated and diligent. She's a master of her pasta-making craft... the queen of the kitchen!
We introduce to you a “nonna”, or an Italian grandmother. Their hearty meals are a true labor of love, born out of an undying passion for serving their families, a craftsman-like approach to preparing their dishes, and a commitment to maintaining long-standing traditions. This past September, our team had the pleasure of visiting some of these wonderful women on an island called Ischia, which is an hour ferry ride from Naples.
Our journey to this world of pasta heaven began when we learned about a YouTube channel called “Pasta Grannies,” which aims to showcase nonne and their culinary customs. Through short videos, the channel shares highlights of the meal preparation process and talks about what makes each granny and their recipe unique. Take, for instance, 95-year-old Giuseppa and her special “macarones de ungia.” She has been preparing this dish for over 80 years, and still cooks daily for herself and her brother.
Behind the camera for the Pasta Grannies channel is writer and food anthropologist Vicky Bennison. Growing up in South Africa, Vicky says she learned at an early age to value food and the origins of its ingredients. A career in international development then led to her immersion in a wide variety of food cultures. While spending time in Italy, Vicky noticed that the recipes prepared by older Italian women - which many learned first-hand from their mothers - are no longer being passed down to younger generations. Women today have taken a greater interest in careers and activities outside of the home, which has led many to buying pre-made packaged food rather than making the dishes from scratch that they were raised on.
Determined to celebrate these women and make sure these traditions don’t fade, Vicky began filming the nonne in their element: their kitchens! Because the process is so visual, YouTube was the perfect platform to share these stories with the world. As the channel gained momentum, it was clear that people were interested, our team included.
We were intrigued by the mission of Pasta Grannies, and wanted to share the story even further. So, we contacted Vicky to hear more about her journey and find out if we could have our film crew tag along with hers! YouTube loved the idea and Vicky was onboard, so we began planning our Italian Pasta Grannies adventure.
After arriving in Naples, Pasta Grannies’ small team of three - Vicky, an additional camera operator and a “granny finder” (who finds these amazing women!) - met us at the ferry port. We packed our vans full of gear and the whole team onto a ferry, which brought us to an island called Ischia. We then ventured up the island’s steep hills and narrow, dirt roads to find the grannies’ homes. The views along the way of lush landscape and the crystal blue Mediterranean water were nothing short of exquisite.
Visiting each home was such a treat, as the women had their ingredients prepped, full family surrounding, and big, enthusiastic smiles. A funny part of all of this is that while these ladies are the stars of the show, they most often have no idea even what YouTube is. Their grandchildren, however, are thrilled when they learn that their Nonna is going to be featured on YouTube!
The grannies we had the pleasure of meeting are Giggina, Gioconda, Giovanna, and Biggina. We walked alongside them as they picked tomatoes from their countryside gardens, pulled chicken eggs from a nearby coup, cracked eggs into flour, and knead dough until it was perfectly prepped. We were fascinated by the energy, strength, generosity, and humor.
One of the most rewarding parts of the shoot was taking a little bit of time to relax after each meal was completed. The nonne were intent on our film team indulging in what they’d made, and getting to do so surrounded by their families was a true delight. They treated us to fresh, homemade bread, gnocchi with meatballs, caprese pizza, and the best rabbit ragu you can imagine.
We came back with full hearts and full bellies, and equipped with so much beautiful footage of moments shared with the nonne - experiences and traditions worth memorializing.
Click below to see the video we created in partnership with YouTube and check out Vicky's Pasta Grannies YouTube channel here.