Romina Beneventi is an Italian painter and illustrator of books for children. She’s been living in Tuscany for many years now, but she is actually from the South where her memories about her grandma’s house are still rooted. She likes to cook homemade food  and appreciate Italian culinary traditions.

What is pasta for a native Italian girl like you?

For a native italian, there is no doubt that pasta is a synonym of family, of home. It is like the feeling that everything is ok, that you are loved and safe. The first thing italians dream for after returning home from a travel abroad is to eat pasta. It is the same for me. I can stay without pasta for long periods if I am not in Italy. But the moment i’m back – until I eat my pasta dish I don’t feel like i’m really home.

And who taught you to cook it?

When my mother used to cook and I was not anymore a little kid (maybe between 9-11) , she asked me to help. In the beginning just putting the water to boil, after adding pasta in the water and so on, until  I learned the whole process. Actually “learn” is not the right word because it is something that you’ve seen throughout your whole childhood, twice a day and no one has to explain how to do something that you’ve been seeing daily for years.

Do you have an interesting story with pasta – a dream, an event, a memory…?

Until some years ago, in every italian family, the Sunday lunch (normally in grannie’s home)  was a very strong tradition. Every family had his own “holiday dish” that could be lasagne or some other home made pasta, depending on the peculiar regional traditions.

In my grandma’s house the tradition was to eat orecchiette and cannelloni. Both of them are home made pasta. Orecchiette is small hat-shaped and cannelloni is a tubular layer of pasta with ricotta inside, tomato sauce, meat and aromatic herbs, cooked in the oven.

I remember how grandma used to wake up very very early in the morning, probably around 5:00, and she made the pasta dough. Then she started making the shape of orecchiette (it was the hardest part, they are not easy to make and it takes a lot of time). When me and my cousins, much later, woke up for breakfast (around 10-11) she was still there working and we could see all these small hats all along the big table. We used to be  between 20 and 30 relatives in the holidays in her house! Yes, a big family. Then she gave us pieces of the dough and we liked to play like with plasticine.

Was there anything you disliked?

I had my problems with cannelloni, because I didn’t like ricotta (nowadays too) and I was pushed to eat them. When I had the chance, I deceived my granny. For example I put my cannelloni in the plate of some of my cousins, or some of my uncles took from mine, of course in secrecy, otherwise my granny would have not be happy!

Thanks God there was orecchiette, too (which i liked a lot)! In my teenage years I made a deal with Granny: I will eat twice as more orecchiette and no cannelloni. But this was a compromise that I was able to make only as a teenager. As a kid I didn’t have the right to ask for compromises.

What is your favourite pasta recipe (maybe inspired by your childhood)?

My favourite pasta is Amatriciana, or Matriciana. Well, two names… and it is not a mistake or a linguistic variation. It is a war for pasta (we have many here). A war between Rome and the nearby small city Amatrice over the origin and the belonging of the original recipe. The inhabitants of Amatrice claim that the recipe belongs to their tradition and that it takes its name precisely from the city. But in Rome they will tell you that it is called Matrice, and it is not a recipe from Amatrice, but from Rome.

In many areas of Italy it is claimed that the amatriciana or matriciana should be prepared with bucatini or spaghetti. But in Rome, in a very old and traditional tavern on the ancient Appian Way, the innkeeper explained to me that the “right” pasta for that recipe is rigatoni. In short, the Italian tradition is made up of endless variations. Just move a few kilometers away and the same recipe becomes something different.

How should we choose shapes of pasta? Give us some criteria.

Some regional recipes ask for a specific type of pasta. For example in Bologna “Ragu'” demands tagliatelle, while in Tuscany Ragù is more frequently made with penne rigate or rigatoni. The preference of the shape, if it is not completely subjective, is in any case regional or even city-based.

Is it typical nowadays for italians to make home-made pasta?

Homemade pasta is a tradition that has survived to this day. Every region has its own pasta, for example in the South you find orecchiette, while in Emilia Romagna we are in the area of tortelli and cappelletti. In some regions the dough for homemade pasta is made with eggs, in other it is just flour and water (with a little bit of salt).