The history of pasta

The origin of pasta is a complex story with many myths and contradictions.

Greek Mythology states that Hephaestus created a tool that made “strings of dough”. The roots of pasta are lost in the centuries, since ancient Greeks and Romans prepared dishes that were very similar to today’s spaghetti, with the difference that they were baked and not boiled. However, their basic ingredients, wheat and water, are so common that it is difficult to assign them a single origin. The name “makaronia” probably comes from the Greek “makaria”.

Indeed, it is known that the ancient Greeks prepared dried flour preparations that they left together with oil and wine in the tombs of the dead (the blessed). In another version, it may come from the Latin “amaccare” (=to cut). In Byzantium, pasta was served as a dessert with honey and cinnamon. Continuation of this culinary habit are the Christmas ¨melomacarona¨. The widely held legend that spaghetti was brought to Italy by Marco Polo on his return from the Far East in the 13th century is now being dismissed by scholars. The first reference to the existence of pasta dates back to around 1000 BC, in ancient Greece, where the word “laganon” described a wide flat dough made of water and flour, which was cut into strips. This dough was also brought to Italy by the first Greek settlers around the 8th century BC, and was renamed “laganum” in Latin, today’s Lasagna.

The fact is attested by Latin writers such as Cicero, Horace and by the famous gourmet Apicius, who in perhaps the first complete cookbook in history describes imperial meals with “laganum”. But the first tangible proof of the existence of pasta belongs to finds discovered in frescoes of the 4th century BC, in an Etruscan settlement north of Rome, where various vessels for boiling water, a surface for mixing water with flour are represented , a rolling pin and a cutting tool, similar to the one used today to cut pasta. Pasta undoubtedly existed in ancient China as well as in the Arab world, since there are written references in medieval Islamic texts to some pasta called “rishta”. What remains unknown is whether these existed before the Greek version. A tradition says that the Arabs fermented macaroni and this recipe was taken by the Greeks who traveled as far as Sicily and Naples and brought it to the Italians. The first specific written reference to noodles cooked by boiling is found in the Jerusalem Talmud, written in Aramaic and dated to the 5th century AD.

When Sicily was occupied in the 9th century by the Saracens, they also brought their eating habits, which included pasta. In texts from the 12th century there is a reference to the production of a type of spaghetti in Palermo, under the name “itria”, a Persian word meaning “laces”. This type is still produced in Sicily today and is called “trii”. The first completed pasta recipe is recorded in the middle of the 15th century in the book of the cook Martino da Como and later we find the pasta in the texts of Bartolomeo Sacchi, who tells us that the spaghetti should be boiled for as long as three “Our Fathers” last. From the 15th century onwards, spaghetti began to be manufactured on a commercial basis, but until the 17th century it did not occupy an important place in the diet of the people and was consumed only as a luxurious meal or as a dessert. In the 18th century, spaghetti flourished.

In 1700 there were about 60 shops selling pasta in Naples, which reached 280 in 1785. The climate of Naples was ideal for the proper drying of the spaghetti which was spread on wooden rods in the sun to dry in every corner of the city. Goethe in his diary, Travels in Italy (from 1787) defines macaroni as “an elaborate dough, made with fine semolina, finely worked, boiled and cut into various designs”. The mixing of the dough was then done by foot, like pressing the grapes, until King Ferdinand II commissioned Cesare Spadaccini to build the first mechanical copper press. Soon the first spaghetti factories also start operating. Spaghetti until then was mainly combined with pepper and cheese and eaten with the fingers.

With the introduction of the tomato from the New World, around 1800, the first tomato sauces for spaghetti began to appear, which were mainly tomatoes boiled with salt and basil, and soon the 4-pronged fork began to be used, which can be carried with less loss of spaghetti from the plate to the mouth. The entire process of pasta production begins around the end of the 19th century to be automated and spread not only throughout Italy but also throughout the world in general, and we now begin to speak of the Pasta Industry. Today, pasta is one of the staple food products of many peoples and across the length and breadth of the Earth, people from different cultures enjoy the famous traditional recipes but also thousands of variations, adapted to the peculiarities, tastes and culture of each country .

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