How to Party with a Pasta Nonna

Oakland has an expert home pasta maker in Maria Dito (left) who is seen here giving instruction on “knitting needle pasta” technique to Vicky Bennison, author of Pasta Grannies. (Photo by Roberta Klugman) At right are eight of the pasta shapes that Maria’s daughter, Rosetta Costantino, made for the demo.


In early November, Vicky Bennison, British author of the hit cookbook, Pasta Grannies, spent time in Oakland with a group of local chefs and food media around two large wooden tables, where 89-year-old pasta grannie Maria Dito, a native of Calabria, demonstrated how to make “knitting needle pasta,” literally rolling dough around a knitting needle and deftly slipping it off to add to several large trays of fusilli to cook for our lunch. Maria’s daughter, Rosetta Costantino, notched up the demo when asked if she could show how to hand form six different pasta shapes. In the flick of a knitting needle, she came up with more like 12 shapes, and it was no surprise, since this master of her craft is the co-author (with Janet Fletcher) of the 2010 title, My Calabria (W.W. Norton) in which she detailed how her family has grown and hand-crafted much of their food from before they came to the United States in 1974 (when Rosetta was 14) until today. After the demos, we sat down to Rosetta and Nonna Maria’s rendition of the Pasta Grannies recipe for Franchina’s Fusilli con Grassato de Capra (recipe here) using goat meat procured from Halal Food & Meat Market at 1964 San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley. As if our meal needed any more blessings, one of Oakland’s brightest young Italian chefs, Michele Belotti of Belotti’s Ristoranti in Rockridge, showed up just in time to kiss the pasta grannie before tucking into the tiramisu. There’s no underestimating what can happen when you have a pasta grannie in the house.