Vicky Bennison is the mastermind behind Pasta Grannies, easily one of the greatest YouTube channels around. Every Thursday afternoon, she posts a new video featuring a different Italian nonna, who makes—yes, you guessed it—homemade pasta. ("And sometimes soups, breads, dolci, rice dishes, that kind of thing," Vicky writes, "because that is what the Grannies wanted to cook for me.")
A few months ago, we chatted with Vicky about one of her own favorite pasta dishes, an 11-minute chickpea number she makes when her cupboard is bare and she has zero minutes to spare.
Where did the inspiration for your cupboard pasta come from? Perhaps from the famed Roman dish, pasta e ceci (sans tomato)?
VICKY BENNISON: Recipes are a bit like Mexican waves aren't they? This recipe was given to me by my mother, who in turn got it from The Silver Spoon, I have just found out. I don't know if it has stayed the same. And I use dried pasta because the idea behind it for me is always: I need something on the table in 10 minutes. You can use fresh pasta as well; I'd make something like strapponi (torn sheets) or sagne (twisted ribbons) for this recipe.
I use fresh rosemary because I always have it my garden and I sometimes use fresh thyme or oregano. Yes, it's a full tablespoon of the fresh needles, which I chop up.
What first drew you to Italian cuisine? I understand you split your time between London and Italy, so I bet this love is a long-forged one.
VB: I like Italian cooking because of its emphasis on good ingredients. I was born in Kenya, and the only way back to the UK was via an Italian shipping line which used to sail to Venice from Mombasa—I still remember the excitement of spaghetti al pomodoro overlooking some quiet backstreet canal at the age of 5. So the love affair began early.
What are a few (since I know there are many) valuable lessons you've learned from all the beautiful nonne over the years, especially as it pertains to home cooking?
VB: The lessons I have learned from the nonne is to involve people in your cooking—get your kids or friends helping if you can. Also to be more frugal; most of these pasta recipes are ways of making more expensive ingredients go further, or using them up so they won't be thrown away. For example, passatelli are breadcrumb and cheese noodles. The breadcrumbs are the end of a loaf, the Parmigiano cheese is expensive, and together they are gorgeous!
How has your cooking changed as a result of being with all of these nonne? More fresh pasta in your diet?
VB: I am very much more discerning about fresh and dried pasta. I like to experiment with heritage wheat or farro (I think this is emmer in the States) flours for my fresh pasta. With dried pasta I don't buy the cheap stuff anymore. I don't think I have more fresh pasta in my diet—I have a weird pattern of pasta eating because when we're away filming, we always "have to" (it's no penance) eat the pasta the nonna has made; so I eat it 3 or 4 times a day, and then I come home to several days of vegetables.
Finally, what does your husband think of this pasta with chickpeas?
VB: I asked my husband Billy what he thinks of the Cupboard Is Bare pasta and he said, "Yum. I like it with that fennel and orange salad you do." He also said "and a beer"—but worried that would make him sound boozy!
A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).