3 Italian Grandmother-Approved Pasta Dishes Perfect For Work Lunches

Given the stuff you're liable to stumble over on social media, you'd be forgiven for thinking there wasn't a wholesome corner of the internet left. But you'd be wrong, because Pasta Grannies exists.

The hugely popular YouTube channel is the brainchild of Vicky Bennison, a food writer who spends her time driving around her adopted home of Italy, meeting the country's nonne (grandmothers) and hearing about the tried and tested recipes that they've been cooking for their extended families for years upon years.


Now, the Pasta Grannies have a book. Each recipe comes from a different nonna and is a testament to the kind of cooking skills that come from a long life, well lived. One of the nonne, Giuseppa, is still making pasta at the ripe old age of 97.

Because the nonne are used to cooking for their large Italian families, their recipe portions are huge, and that makes these dishes perfect for batch-cooking at the beginning of the week. Click through to see three recipes for pasta dishes you'll enjoy as much on the last day of the week as you did on the first.

Pasta Grannies: The Secrets Of Italy's Best Home Cooks by Vicky Bennison is out now, published by Hardie Grant.

Image Courtesy of Hardie Grant.

Domenica's Raviole Di Valle Varaita

Serves 4

Raviole are not ravioli but cigar-shaped gnocchi made in the Varaita valley, close to the French border in Piemonte. The potato
is mixed with a local cow's milk cheese called tomino di Melle. It's a fresh cheese, which only needs to be matured for five days before it's ready to be used. Robiola cheese also from Piemonte is a good substitute, and if you cannot find that in your deli, any soft fresh cheese will do. Even a chèvre goat's cheese would be nice. Domenica advises to use the best possible alpine butter you can find for the dressing. This is a special occasion dish, traditionally served at baptisms and engagement parties. Thus the liberal use of butter is a treat!

For Raviole
2 lbs 4-oz old floury potatoes, unpeeled
7 oz tomino di Melle or other fresh cheese (see introduction)
2 cups 0 flour or plain (all-purpose) flour

To serve
2 1/2 oz unsalted butter (actually, Domenica uses considerably more than this!)
Scant 1/2 cup single (light) cream Grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Boil the potatoes in salted water. When they are cooked, drain and peel them. While still hot, put them through a potato ricer or vegetable mill and then spread the mash over a well-floured wooden board. Crumble or mash the tomino di Melle cheese and scatter it over the potatoes along with the flour. The hot mash will melt the cheese. Mix everything and knead it until the ingredients have blended together. Check for seasoning.

Chop up the dough into fist-size pieces, then roll each one out so it looks like a thick bread stick. Slice these into 1 1/4 inches long pillows, then take each one and roll it along the board to create a short spindle shape, around 2 1/2 inches long. Have a platter ready in a warming oven. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil, add some salt and then return it to the boil. You will probably have to cook the ravioles in batches, as you don’t want to overcrowd the pan. When they bob to the surface, scoop them out with a sieve or slotted spoon and place them on the warm platter.

In a small sauté pan, fry the butter until it is golden and smells nutty. Domenica goes further and aims for flecks of black at the bottom of the pan, but there is no need to do this. In another saucepan, warm through the cream.

Pour the melted butter, warmed cream and a handful of grated Parmigiano Reggiano over the cooked raviole. Some folk like to grill this briefly (make sure your platter is oven-proof if you want to do this step).
Image Courtesy of Hardie Grant.

Rosetta's Trofie With Basil Sauce

Serves 4

Basil pesto or pesto alla Genovese is the world’s second-most popular pasta condimento, or dressing. Pesto has now come to mean any herb-and-nut combination you can think of pairing. Rosetta and her friends add an un-classic fresh cheese called prescinsêua to their pesto. This has a tangy, yogurt-like flavor with a consistency similar to ricotta. Of course, they like the taste, but it’s also a way of making expensive ingredients go further. Because of this, I have called Rosetta's recipe a basil sauce rather than a strict pesto, as it is creamier than usual.

Pesto alla Genovese is usually served with trofie pasta, and it is only fairly recently that manufacturers found a way to extrude this shape through their bronze dies. Prior to this, the local pasta business in the little town of Sori commissioned ladies in the area to make it, and Rosetta is one of them. After she married, she wanted to earn some money while bringing up her children, and so learned how to make it. She says it took several days of practice to get the twirl tight and the pasta all the same size; now it’s second nature and her skills are such that she appears on Italian TV and YouTube (Pasta Grannies, thank goodness).

For the pasta
3 1/3 cups 00 flour or plain (all-purpose) flour
3/4 cup boiling water, or enough liquid to bring the dough together

For the basil sauce
2 tbsp pine nuts, preferably Italian
1 plump garlic clove, one that has not developed its 'anima' or green shoot
5 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, preferably Ligurian or other grassy-tasting oil
5 oz fresh basil leaves
4 tbsp prescinsêua cheese, or live Greek-style yoghurt
3 oz Grano Padano or Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
3/4 oz Pecorino Sardo, grated
1/2 tsp fine salt

To serve
5 oz green beans, halved (optional)

Place the flour in a mixing bowl then gradually add the water. Use a fork to make a dough that feels soft but not sticky. Turn it out onto a floured pasta board and knead it until it is smooth and silky. This will take around 10 minutes.

Cover the dough with the bowl so it doesn't dry out and leave it to rest for 30 minutes. Pinch off a pea-sized piece and roll it outwards over the board with the palm of your hand to create a spindle shape. Pull your hand back diagonally across your body, pressing down gently but firmly on the pasta with the edge of your hand. You should create a twisted piece of pasta, which looks like a corkscrew. You can also try it with a bench scraper if you cannot get the hang of it with your hands.

Make the basil sauce by blitzing everything together in a blender until smooth. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and cook the trofie for about 2 minutes. The length of time will depend on how big your trofie are, so test one for doneness. Use a sieve or slotted spoon to scoop out the pasta once it's cooked and place in a large serving bowl. Add the green beans, if using, to the hot water; blanch for 3 minutes and add to the pasta. Stir through the basil sauce. No extra cheese is needed.
Image Courtesy of Hardie Grant.

Eugenia's Fregula And Bean Soup

Serves 4

Eugenia lives in Montresta, a tiny village in north-west Sardinia. Her house has mountain views. You approach her home through a happy mix of flowers and herbs, and it takes a moment to notice she has a second kitchen to the side of one terrace. It looks like a garden shed, but inside it has a special kind of pasta beater only found in Sardinia, a freezer and all sorts of bottling equipment. It’s a secret cave for keen cooks.

Fregula is Sardinian for fregola – the name used to describe little balls of pasta, which can be toasted. Eugenia says, "Fregula was invented to give texture and interest to pulses and vegetables." While most people these days buy their fregula, Eugenia magics hers into existence in less than an hour. The method is the same process as for making couscous and you will need the more coarsely ground, sandy-textured semolina.

One of the many other things Eugenia makes herself are intensely savoury sun-dried tomatoes. She slices plum-shaped tomatoes in half, sprinkles the cut surfaces with a little coarse salt, and leaves them in a huge, flat, reed basket to dry in the sun. She then covers each half with a basil leaf and freezes them until needed. Her tomatoes are sweet, not too salty and an instant pick-me-up for all kinds of dishes.

For the pasta
1 tsp salt
1 cup tepid water
Scant 2 1/2 cups

For the soup
9 oz dried chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
1 onion, sliced
A handful of wild fennel fronds, chopped
4 good-quality sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
Extra-virgin olive oil, to drizzle

Place the chickpeas in a bowl and cover with enough water to submerge them by several centimetres. Soak them for 8 hours, or ideally overnight. Then drain them.

To make the pasta, dissolve the salt in the water in a small bowl. Splash a bit into a large mixing bowl (Eugenia uses a flat-bottomed earthenware dish with a diameter of about 15 3/4 inch), followed by a couple of tablespoons of the semolina.

Using the tips of your fingers, stir the flour into the water using a circular motion. Little balls of dough will begin to form. Alternate adding more water and flour, making sure there is never too much of either. You will start to create fregula of varying sizes, but ideally they should be about the same size as a small chickpea. Remove them as you go along and spread them on a tray to dry out. Keep going until you have used all the flour. Divide your pasta into large and small fregula, by shaking your tray – the large ones will rise to the surface.

Put the chickpeas, onion, fennel fronds and sun-dried tomatoes in a large saucepan. Cover with enough water to submerge the contents by about 4 inches. Simmer until the chickpeas are soft, which will take about 1 hour. Once they are cooked, add all except the very smallest fregula (which can be used as the starter for your next batch) and simmer for a couple of minutes to cook through.

Ladle into bowls, and serve with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. Heaven.
Load more...