At my aunt Lucia’s house (in a village north of Rome), we occasionally used the spianatoia (called spianatora in the local dialect) as an oversized plate to eat polenta. This was a cherished family tradition from her and my father’s childhood. My paternal grandmother, Caterina, cooked polenta in the paiolo, a copper cauldron that hung from a thick chain inside the fireplace. When the polenta was ready she would pour it over the spianatoia, spread it in an even layer with a wooden spoon, top it with tomato and pork meat sauce, and sprinkle it with grated pecorino cheese and a bit of pepper. The family gathered around the spianatoia and ate from this special communal plate by cutting forkfuls of polenta.
I grew up taking the spianatoia and matterello for granted, partly because other kitchens with which I was familiar also had them. As my passion for cooking developed, the need for those two items became acute. After using alternative surfaces for a while, I bought myself the real thing: a spianatoia made of red maple. It is much smaller than my mother’s, but it fits perfectly over my working table, and has been there ever since it arrived. I also have two matterelli, one made of light blue silicone and a wooden one. A matterello that fits your hands and rolling mode makes the preparation of items like crackers, sweet and savory tarts and, of course, fresh pasta, more comfortable. Think of it as a plug-in to your hands and arms.