History Of Pasta

The History of Pasta! There is no documentation of it coming from or being invented by any one person. We can safely say that Marco Polo was not responsible for pasta being brought from China to Italy. In fact pasta was well on it's way to becoming a big part of Italian food history when Marco Polo returned from his journey in 1296. Pasta had already become a huge trading commodity in Sicily, Cagliari and Sardinia. In fact there is historical documentation and recipes dating back to 800 A.D. that included dried pasta made with durum wheat.

It's also my regret that pasta was not invented by a peasant woman in Lombardi by the name of Libista. Many a wife's tale claim she invented ravioli and lasagna. Stuffed pasta very closely resembling the shape of ravioli can be traced all the way back to the 11th century Arab world. As Italy adopted these delicacies, stuffed pastas were as little as bite-sized cakes (Tortellini means little cakes) and typically fried.

So what is the history of pasta and how did it get to Italy? Ultimately it is a combined effort of both human intelligence, creativity and evolution. Marco Polo and the peasant woman had nothing to do with the invention pasta. Cute stories though.

Historians also say that spaghetti was not native to the Mediterranean but originated in Arabic countries and even Africa which is known for Kamut crops used to make kamut pasta and a pasta shape that originated in Africa that was renamed Fregola. Greeks had their share in the history of pasta and if you've ever gone to Greece, Italy's brother of the Mediterranean (una faccia, una razza) you'll find pasta is a main source of food in recipes such as pastitsio and orzo dishes. China with their asian style noodles also made with rice flour and the Middle Eastern countries serving pasta with pine nuts and a yogurt style sauce typically served with meat. All of them sounding, looking and tasting delicious in their own right, they served a combined effort of the many countries and cultures bringing pasta to all of us around the globe.

The History of Pasta Recipes:

Medieval Italian cookbooks contained recipes for lasagna, ravioli, linguini and vermicelli.

These are the first pasta shapes in the history of Italian food. Pasta recipes of the past involved small, fine pasta such as vermicelli cooked in soups, broths or in almond milk to create a gruel or mush. Sound yummy? NOT! Because Pasta and flour, during it's beginning stages of evolution in Italy, was considered to be food for the affluent and rich. So whatever pasta was available to the less affluent population was tossed into soups to make it go a long way and were usually served on special occasions. Some you may be familiar with as the tradition has carried on into the 20th Century. Italian Easter soup named Stracciatella for instance or one of my favorites Pasta Fagioli.

Losyngys was, what we today consider, lasagna. However you wouldn't recognize it by any lasagna recipe you would find in a restaurant or home kitchen today. It was layered but it had a sweet flavor rather then herbal and tomato sauce and although it had cheese it didn't have any meat or vegetables. Ravioli, even back in the early 14th century you'll find recipes for fillings of chicken as well as cheese. And gnocchi in the 14th century was made in the same style as todays technique however instead of mashed potatoes they were made with flour and cheese.

The History of Pasta, Dried vs Fresh Pasta:

Then came the integration of Dried Pasta. There was a lot of controversy over fresh and dried in pasta history. Anything but fresh pasta was considered old food and should be discarded. Pasta snobs believed it was made with bad, substandard or old flour. It took many years before dried pasta migrated to the North from Sicily.

Northern Italians looked down upon such foods. Southerners, as far as Italian food history is concerned, were considered peasant farmers. But thanks to them they are responsible for some of our most delicious and popular Italian pasta recipes today. Much like most foods in the world that we consider "comfort foods" or "traditional foods" came from the kitchens of what most considered peasants. They are the heart beat of the history of pasta, as we as a foodie culture, know and love today.

Sicily was introduced to the technique of drying pasta by Arabs and boy did they ever learn. They became the center of trade in dried pasta dating back to the 12th Century. They had the home court advantage of having what most of the Mediterraneans believed then and believe still to this day as having the best durum wheat in the world. Sicily's only rival for producing pasta in the middle ages was Sardinia and several centuries later pasta production was growing in satellite regions such as Naples and Amalfi Coast but as a whole Southern Italy did and does dominate the production of dried pasta.

The History of Pasta Manufacturing:

The Golden Age of manufacturing pasta dates back to the 1600's when you saw a large migration and population of manufacturing plants all the way up the coast to San Remo. The introduction of the extrusion press and brake had taken full force in the industry.

It was becoming the opinion that pasta made by the extrusion press was superior to the pasta made by hand. The consistency of the pasta shapes and the texture were identical from one piece of pasta to the next. An impossibility when making homemade pasta.

The trend crossed the country rapidly from then on migrating to Genoa, Apulia, Brindisi. In Bari in the mid 1700's five manufacturers of pasta were registered in the city registry to have had extrusion presses. In Tuscany in the city of Arezzo the Pacifico Fabianelli began operation in 1860 and still is in operation today.

Shortly after that in 1867 in the upper Tiber Valley far from the fields of durum wheat, major trade routes and without easy access to the sea the Buitoni Company would be founded and not only prosper to this day but has become one of the leading pasta manufactures in the world.

Now there are pasta manufacturing plants all over Italy but the first pasta manufacturing plant in the United States was established in 1848 in Brooklyn New York, the second largest population of Italians in the world, by Antoine Zerega. Antoine was born in Lyon, France in 1814 and began his journey into the manufacturing world by working at a flour mill. Although Zerega's Sons Inc has moved their operations to New Jersey they are still putting out quality pasta to this day and is now being run by his grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Italians, the first to serve Pasta as a main dish, are responsible for how pasta is eaten today. Italians mix the best, fresh, local ingredients to their pasta recipes to create wonderful pasta sauces. This is the image that dominates the minds of people all over the world as Italian food. VIVA LA PASTA!

Do you have a History of Pasta fact you would like to share? Send me an email and tell me and I'll post a page on this site dedicated to you.

Alfredo in an effort to please his pregnant wife, created a legendary pasta!

What's the real story about this Italian Pasta Sauce with everything in it?

Vivere, Amare, Ridere e Mangiare Bene
Live, Love, Laugh and Eat Well!
Kira Volpi
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