Spianatoia and matterello (a pastry board and rolling pin) were two important items in my mother’s kitchen. She mostly used them to make pasta all’uovo (egg pasta), one of her specialties. In my childhood kitchen, when not in use, both items were inserted in the kitchen table, underneath the table top, like special drawers. My mother had that table, which could accommodate six people, and its wooden add-ons custom-made. The board was somewhat narrower and shorter than the table and the rolling pin matched the longer side of the board.  When we moved to a bigger apartment, she left the kitchen table behind, but not the spianatoia and matterello. Since she could no longer store them in the place that had been built for them, they found a new home in the space behind the kitchen door. And, to this day, that is where they are.

 

italian cuisine

Spianatoia and Matterello

 

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.

Hear the pronunciation of the Italian words in this article spoken by me.

 

A Paiolo

italian cuisine

Spianatoia and Matterello at work

 

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.

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