FOR NONNY

One Year, 12 Pastas

My nonny (my mom’s mom) is the oldest of 14.

A first generation Italian-American, she was born into a lively immigrant family with little money but plenty of mouths to feed.

I grew up next door to my grandparents and, though I loved them both dearly, I could never identify with their traditional lifestyle. I robotically helped shell beans and fetched canned vegetables from the cellar. I barely noticed her fresh baked Easter breads, shaped like small dolls with a hard boiled egg for a face, or how she effortlessly minced garlic — between her thumb and a blunt steak knife.

As a young girl, I dispassionately told my grandmother that I didn’t need to learn “woman’s work” because someday I’d have an important job and the business of making a home was, quite frankly, irrelevant and boring.


I was convinced that a world lacking proper feminists or modern gadgets could never be interesting or important. 

(You see where this is going, don’t you?)


Today I live hundreds of miles away as nonny approaches her mid-90s. A glimmer of her former self, she’s no longer lucid enough to remember the names of her own siblings or recall which are still living. 

Yet, as the years pull me away from my time with her, my respect for all things made simple, fresh and by loving hands only grows stronger.

In keeping with our journey of making small batch chocolate and such from scratch — and enchanted by stories of nonny’s handmade dough lining crisp white bed sheets — making fresh pasta has become my attempt to reconnect with her. 

This year, Zan and I have decided to learn a new pasta each month. Pictured is our attempt at Ricotta Caramelle Elle Erbe Emilia-Romagna.

Without any equipment, we mixed, formed and rolled the dough into transluscent sheets by hand. We then cut the paper thin sheets into strips, dolloped a cheesy herb mixture and proceeded to wet, fold, press, score and twist.

Who said this was boring?

As I spent the morning rolling and folding mounds of gorgeous dough, warm memories of watching nonny at work flooded back.

If she was here to see me, I know that she would barely understand the making of our fancy, modern lifestyle. But, as we gently tossed our rustic creation into a fragrant herb-butter sauce, I just knew that she’d be proud.