Who discovered pasta?
Many school children were taught that the Venetian merchant Marco Polo brought back pasta from his journeys to China and this was a rediscovery of a product once popular among Etruscans and Romans. But in reality, noodles were already present in Italian cuisine before Marco Polo came.
There is evidence of an Etrusco-Roman noodle made from the same durum wheat used to produce modern pasta which was called ‘lagane’. However this type of food, first mentioned in the 1st century AD, was not boiled, as it is usually done today, but oven baked. Ancient pasta had some similarities with modern pasta, but cannot be considered quite the same.
The modern word ‘macaroni’ derives from the Sicilian term for kneading dough with energy, as early pasta making was often a day-long and hard process. How these early dishes were served is not truly known, but many Sicilian pasta recipes still include typically Middle Eastern ingredients, such as raisins and cinnamon. This early pasta was an ideal staple for Sicily and it easily spread to the mainland.
By the 1300’s dried pasta was very popular for its nutrition and long shelf life, making it ideal for long ship voyages. By that time different shapes of pasta have appeared and new technology made pasta easier to make. With these innovations pasta truly became a part of Italian life. However the next big advancement in the history of pasta would not come until the 19th century when pasta was made with tomatoes.
Types of pasta
There are around 300 different shapes and varieties of dried pasta in Italy. Shapes range from simple tubes to bow ties. By Italian law dried pasta must be made with 100% durum semolina flour and water.
All pasta starts out as fresh product but some is made to be eaten ‘soft’. Fresh pasta can be made with slightly different ingredients than the dried variety. Many northern regions of Italy use all-purpose flour and eggs while southern Italy usually makes theirs from semolina and water but it depends upon the recipe.