My Nonna

Maria DiFabio, Press meteorologist Joe Martucci’s Nonna, has the fresh cut pasta ready for cooking. Martucci’s family has been eating out of her basement since she bought her Roselle Park house with her late husband in the 1960s.

“We’re making music now.”

Those are the words my Nonna (grandma in Italian) Maria DiFabio said at the beginning of the video that would thrust her into YouTube fame.


Chitarra is the Italian word for guitar. The chitarra was created in the Provence of Chieti, in the Region of Abruzzo in Italy. 

You see, my Nonna is now a part of “Pasta Grannies,” the hit YouTube show. Each week, a different Italian grandmother showcases her old-world traditional cooking, learned at a time when slow food was the only way of creating meals.

“I noticed that young women don’t make pasta, only their nonne. Everyone agrees their nonna is the best cook in their family, but what Italian nonne will be cooking in 20 year’s time is going to be very different. So I decided to make a record of these women — the last of those for whom pasta making was an essential domestic skill,” said Vicki Bennison, the producer of “Pasta Grannies.”

Bennison’s series has more than 350,000 subscribers. They are young and old, male and female and from around the globe.

”... From Fiji to Finland,” Bennison said.

Heck, even Robert Buffone, our digital sales manager, is an avid watcher.

Bennison started the series in 2014. It wasn’t a weekly show then, but the videos started going viral. Now, she posts every Friday. It’s her full-time job, and more than just videos are on the way.

“I’m writing the ‘Pasta Grannies’ cookbook,” Bennison said.

Most of her filming has been done in Europe. She splits time between Britain and Italy. However, after seeing what Nonne from across the pond were cooking, she decided to take her talent of finding food talent, to America.

”I wanted to visit New York and discover how Italian food changes crossing the Atlantic. In Maria’s case very little,” Bennison said.

I could attest.

My Nonna, 78, was born and raised in Monteferrante, about 100 mile east of Rome and located in the region of Abruzzo. Despite being next to one of the most famous cities, it is one of the most sparsely populated regions in Italy, known for its national parks, Adriatic Sea coastline and tiny mountain towns.

And a tiny mountain town it is. I had the opportunity to visit in 2017. (Fun fact — I actually interviewed for The Press job while in Italy.) There’s one winding road that takes you to this village of 128 people according to the Italian government. There’s a large drinking fountain, one restaurant and houses that climb up to the top of the castello (castle). There’s no town police, no fire, and the doctor comes once a week.{/span} (tncms-asset)ddadf9a2-20bd-11e9-9d59-00163ec2aa77[3](/tncms-asset)

The views extend for miles into the wilderness. Life is simple here. It has to be. It’s so removed.

As they said, the poor lived at the bottom of the mountain and the wealthier lived at the top. My Nonna’s house was near the top, and my Tatone (dialect for Nonno, or grandfather) was near the bottom (though I will say both are very nice now).

They moved to Rome while my Tatone cooked in the city. In 1966, with my 3-year-old mother and 1-year-old uncle in tow, they sailed to America. It was one of the last in the era of traveling to the “New Land” by boat.

There was plenty of family to support them when they emigrated. They first lived with my Tatone’s parents in Roselle Park, Union County, before moving to a house of their own in town, where she still lives (my Tatone passed away in 2017). And that is where the “Pasta Grannies” story comes back full circle.

The dish for the day? Pasta alla chitarra con pallotte cacio e uova. Or, pasta of the guitar with cheese and egg dumplings. Guitar? Yes. The chitarra is essentially a flat pasta cutter. The guitar part comes from the strings on top of it, which allow the sheets of pasta to be cut.

“My chitarra belonged to my mother-in-law in Monteferrante. She was given it by her father-in-law to his then future wife when she was 14 or 15 years old, 80 to 85 years ago,” my Nonna said. She worked hard to speak English fairly fluently. However, Italian is still her preferred language.

Living on the mountain, many residents back then were farmers. The eggs and cheese were staples of farm life.

”My mom used to make it once a week when I was small. Plus, it was very easy to make if you don’t have time. It was like 1-2-3.” she said.

My sister, Gabriella Martucci, was a “Pasta Grannies” groupie, and when she found out that Bennison was coming to America, looking for the best Nonnas, she didn’t hesitate to drop her a line.

“I’ve been following ‘Pasta Grannies’ for a few months, and she made a post about doing a tour in America. So I emailed her on May 2. I told Vicki Nonna’s story — how she’s close to New York City, she’s been living here for decades and she makes pasta all of the time. We (my family) believed that she’d make pasta for you,” my sister said.

Bennison agreed she was the perfect fit and got the ball rolling.

”I thought they joked,” my Nonna said when she first found out about the news.

But real it was.

In November, my mom, Francesca, Bennison and her stepson, Charlie Williams, who lives in New York, went into the basement. It’s a little weird seeing the place you grew up in (my Nonna would tell you she raised me. My parents did live in the upstairs apartment until I was 2) turn into a movie scene.

Pasta Grannies Nonna's Basement

The Pasta Grannies' crew uses a two camera set-up as my Nonna gets rolling the dough in her basement in Roselle Park, N.J. 

She combined the ingredients, the flour and the eggs. She kneaded the dough for around fifteen minutes.

In the interest of time, she had already made some the day before, so it could be cut while they were filming. She then uses the chitarra to “make the music” and create the pasta with a rolling pin.

Then came time for the sauce. Onion, carrots, oilve oil (extra virgin, of course), dried basil, oregano, nutmeg, salt and frozen parsley from her garden were all combined to make it. The pallotte cacio e uova is made with a mix of bread crumbs, Parmesan, eggs and garlic.

It’s a nice little recipe for those who want to try on a Sunday. Simple and small, yet beautiful, just like Abruzzo.

“I loved how her kitchen is a little bit of Abruzzo in America. It’s common to find Italian homes having a downstairs cantina or workhouse kitchen where all the ‘proper’ cooking happens,” Bennison said.

Growing up, I didn’t know any other way. Both my grandparents ate in the basement as a group.

“It made me proud seeing my Nonna is in the basement,” my sister said.

“This is not just cooking, this is artwork, and it is artwork you can eat. Great find Vicki,” Steve Logan, a YouTube user, said.

I’m just glad to have been a part of the gallery.

Note: You can see my Nonna’s 15 minutes of fame, plus many other Italian grandmothers on the Pasta Grannies YouTube Channel. Just go to (tncms-asset)1a387122-136c-11e9-9ecf-00163ec2aa77[7](/tncms-asset)

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