Last night I took my first stab at ‘ndunderi — Italian for ricotta gnocchi, a specialty of Minori on the Amalfi Coast. The creamy-rich tomato sauce was a cinch, and the dumpling dough came together just as quickly. I rolled each walnut-sized ball over the floured tines of a fork to make ridges as directed, dumped them in a pot of boiling water and watched as they bobbed to the surface. I tossed the steaming gnocchi into the sauce, poured the mixture into a baking dish, covered it with more cheese, and popped it in the oven until bubbly.
The sauce was sublime. The gnocchi were a little heavy, but not bad for a novice. I’m motivated now to get good at this.
This is the first recipe I’ve tried from British food writer Vicky Bennison’s “Pasta Grannies: The Secrets of Italy’s Best Home Cooks” (Hardie Grant, $29.99), the companion cookbook to the YouTube channel and Instagram account that have become viral sensations. Bennison has spent years traveling in Italy, taking viewers into the kitchens of the Italian grandmothers, or nonne, who keep the pasta-making techniques indigenous to each community alive. Many are well into their 80s and 90s. Rarely do they write their recipes down. Bennison sees it as her mission to collect and translate them for future generations.
Through Bennison’s vivid writing and interviewing skills, we pick up tips for bringing these methods into our own kitchens while learning the grandmothers’ fascinating life stories of resilience and resourcefulness told with humor and grace. The photographs of pasta heaped on cheerfully patterned antique china make me hungry, but it’s the ones of the weathered hands and smiling faces of women rolling and shaping the dough that pull me in deeper.
Maybe in time I’ll work up the confidence to try the double-hooped, twisted strands of thin spaghetti called lorighittas served with a chicken sauce in the Sardinian village of Morgongiori. The instructions seem clear, but I take extra comfort in knowing that if I get tripped up, I can watch 95-year-old Cesaria’s YouTube video for more details.
Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at susanpuckett.com.
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