Who invented pasta? History and curiosities of the Italian dish par excellence
Who invented pasta? Let’s discover together curiosities and history of the most famous Italian dish in the world (along pizza). From the dry to the fresh homemade one, but grandma’s recipe always wins.
Who invented pasta?
The ancient Romans ate pasta, in the ancestral form of lasagna (without tomato of course) named lagana. In the Arab Sicily of the ninth century it seems that they were already preparing some kind of spaghetti. Surely, noodles were already known in China, certainly, made with other flours.In the Middle Ages the production of pasta changed turning more varied: wide, narrow, stuffed, long. Pasta cooking style changed as well, no longer in its seasoning, as it was for the lagana. But firstly boiled in broth and seasoned afterwards. Dry pasta was already known in Italy before Marco Polo returned from China with his valuable information.
Middle Ages: very far from the pasta al dente!
If the medieval forms of pasta were like the modern ones, however, the cooking times were decidedly different. The pasta was certainly not cooked following that typically Italian style that marks the watershed between well-cooked pasta and inedible pasta. In other words pasta was not cooked “al dente” – chewy under the teeth. According to some historical cookbooks, the pasta, cooked for a couple of hours, was decidedly overcooked. Pasta al dente seems to have begun to be appreciated only from the seventeenth century.
The pasta of Genoa.
Dried pastas, named pasta di Genova for a long time, were produced in Liguria region for long time. In fact, from Sicily, passing through the other important maritime Italian cities, dried pasta sailed the Mediterranean. Being a practical and durable food had a great impact on the food system. It is clear, therefore, that Italy, as a crossroads of international trade and foreign domination, turned into a melting-pot of gastronomic aggregations. The so-called pasta of Genoa is listed in fourteenth-century recipe books and is flanked by the most typical fresh pasta in Emilia, Lombardy, and Veneto regions. From port to port, in the sixteenth century pasta arrived in Naples, a fertile ground for this food. Thanks to the inventiveness of the Neapolitans, they create tools for grinding and drawing that will mark the birth of the pasta industry. By being able to produce pasta more economically, Naples managed to defeat hunger.
Tell me about your shape and I’ll tell you where you come from.
Pasta is a very versatile food, so it can be seasoned in a million different ways. Every family has its favorite style. It is not strange to witness heated discussions between supporters of opposing pasta brands. In addition, each region has its own formats and typical recipes, different from the others. So, in Rome the bucatino, strictly seasoned with the amatriciana sauce, dominates next to the mezza manica and the tonnarelli cacio e pepe. In Naples, ziti and spaghetti with clams. In Sicily macaroni alla norma, tortellini in Bologna, pizzoccheri in Lombardy, orecchiette with broccoli in Puglia. Strangozzi with black truffle in Umbria, pappardelle and pici with meat sauce in Tuscany. Linguine with pesto in Liguria, orecchioni in Romagna. Already from this brief list, is evident each region has its favorite pasta and seasoning formats.
Pasta: dos and don’ts
Forget all the habits you get in the Italian restaurants around the world. In Italy those don’t count. Take anyway in mind that wherever region you are visiting, in Italy there are some unwritten rules to be respected.
- Cutting long pasta with a knife.
This is a real crime against the work of the chef, and, indirectly against grandma’s tradition. Only kids can have cripple pasta, for safety reasons. All the adults need to be able to manage a fork properly.
- Asking for a spoon to heap pasta on one’s fork. Italians don’t do that, and they do not love to see it. Help yourself with the side of the dish.
- Asking extra condiments or sauce on the dish (especially if you haven’t tasted it yet).
The chefs working hard to serve you a perfect dish that doesn’t need any extras. Surely you can ask for, but it is not very polite.
- Expecting Meatballs on pasta.
Meatballs are good for what we call a “second course”. Never we will waste the opportunity to serve two dishes instead of one. In Italy we do not love too see much food mixed in a single plate. So, pasta with meatballs sauce is ok, but the meatballs will be generally served in a different plate.
- No Cheese on seafood pasta.
Even If there are people liking this combination, please don’t.
- In Italy pasta is always cooked al dente
If you like softer pasta, ask for gnocchi (potato dumplings). No real chef will overcook pasta for you, even if the client always is right, there are some insurmountable limits.
- If you do not like cheese, please ask to the waiter if there is cheese in the pasta recipe before ordering.
So, the waiter will recommend you a good recipe without it, since, often could be already in the sauce.
- Make scarpetta if you’d like to say I love you to the chef.
Take a piece of bread and mop up the dish from the leftover sauce. When the plate comes cleaned in the kitchen, the crew and the chef will know you loved it.
Pasta: it’s good or evil food?
On and off, pasta has played a different role, from food for the poor to the favorite dish of the Kings. Despised in the Futurist manifesto as a dish too far from modernity. On the contrary, during fascism, claimed as the backbone of the national diet. From a dish of well-being and joy to a danger for all overweight people. Sometimes it has been fashionable, sometimes, not at all. In fact, it is a food of great nutritional value, especially if made with quality flours. Beyond the diets that demonize it, in fact, pasta finds ample space in the Mediterranean diet. It provides energy and exerts a calming and antidepressant action. Surprisingly, pasta also contains proteins, especially if made with whole wheat flour, containing wheat germ.
What are ancient grains?
For some years there has been a lot of talk about flours from ancient grains. A fashion or a reality? Verna, senatore cappelli, tumminia, saragolla, gentil rosso to name a few, are different grains from modern grain varieties. This is the rediscovery of local ancient grains, different from the modern varieties, which are hybrids and OGM. From an agronomic point of view, they are high in size, adapting well to the environment. Senatore Cappelli variety, for example, stretches very high and is taller than modern grains. It covers the soil well and competes well with weeds, reducing the need to fight them. So, it is perfect for organic cultivation. It contains a lower amount of gluten but a greater number of proteins and mineral salts.
Why choose flour from ancient grains
Generally, ancient grains are stone-ground and the flour is less refined. With a naturally balanced ratio of gluten, protein and starch, ancient grains are more digestible. For this reason, they are also less allergenic than other flours. However, they contain gluten, so they cannot be consumed by celiacs. However, by containing less, they slow down sensitization processes in non-allergic individuals. Of course, it must also taste good. The taste of these grains, rawer, is decidedly different from the refined ones. For the modern taste, increasingly looking for natural flavors, it is certainly a plus point.
The concept of quality pasta lays, therefore, on the choice of raw materials. First, flour. Secondly, water and quality production chain. Without neglecting organic cultivation and perhaps the use or not of genetically modified grains. To choose a quality dry pasta, therefore, just read the instructions on the package. In addition to slow drying, bronze drawing, it is advisable to evaluate the origin of the grain. Which by Italian laws, must be indicated. Indeed, if you are looking for an authentic Italian product, you will probably prefer a 100% Italian product. From the cultivation of the grains used to the production to the package.
Homemade pasta, the recipe as grandma commands
Anyone can make, therefore, an excellent homemade pasta. Fresh pasta made with or without eggs, with or without water and a little flour.
Here is our recipe for egg pasta:
- 1 egg per person
- Flour (semola di grano duro) – semolino from durum wheat semolina. The quantity depends on the egg size
- Pinch of salt
- optional few drops of Extra virgin olive oil
Arrange the flour (more or less a cup) on a pastry board creating the shape of a volcano. Break the whole egg in the center of the volcano and add the salt. With the help of a fork start beating the egg gradually collecting the flour. When you get a kneadable dough, remove excess flour. Work the dough quickly with energy. Form a ball, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for half an hour. Roll out the dough with the help of a rolling pin or a pasta machine, folding the dough several times. Cut the dough into the desired shape.
Didn’t you have the good fortune to have a grandmother teach you how to make pasta? Take part in a cooking class, you will be able to meet gourmets from all over the world