When most people talk about pasta, they probably think of Italy as its birth place. Historians would disagree however, and give credit to our neighbors in the east for inventing the earliest form of this much loved food.
It was around 1700 BC when the Chinese came up with a noodle made from rice flour. While not a popular theory with those who insist on giving credit to the Italians, the Chinese do get the vote from most historians.
That does not mean that the Italians were not major players in the evolution of pasta as we know it. Around 400 BC the Etruscans, who live in an area in the western part of Italy, made a noodle similar to lasagna. This noodle was made from spelt, a grain from which wheat has evolved.
Much later the Romans are credited with making a noodle similar to the one made by the Etruscans, out of flour and water. These noodles, like the earlier versions by the Chinese, were prepared by baking in an oven.
Boiled noodles came later and the Italians do not get credit for inventing these either. Instead, we can thank Arab traders who would bring dried noodles along on their very long trips to the Orient. Who does not want a hot meal while traveling? The Arabs did, and they realized that this dried pasta along with a little boiling water was a quick, hot and easy to carry meal.
The Arabs bought this food with them to Sicily during the 8th century invasions. Before too long the Italian city of Palermo was producing huge quantities of dried pasta. So, can we give Italians the credit for mass producing pasta? Much to the delight of the Italians, most historians would say, yes.
Specifically, Naples gets the credit for the invention of techniques that allowed dried pasta to be produced en masse in 1600’s. This pasta, which could last long time, is credited with bringing Naples out of an economic depression. No wonder Italians love their pasta!
This pasta was often sold by street vendors and was ate with the bare hands. If you’re thinking the sauce must have made quite a mess then you’re jumping ahead in the story. Pasta at this time was eaten either plain or sprinkled with cheese. It’s not until a couple of centuries later that sauce is introduced.
The first written record of a tomato sauce recipe is 1839. Soon pasta was becoming popular all over the country of Italy, and pastas of various shapes were being introduced. Still, even with its popularity, pasta was being made by small family businesses. Spaghetti, macaroni and vermicelli were being handmade by those specially trained in the art of pasta making.
The Agnese family changed all of that in 1824 when they opened the very first pasta factory in Northern Italy. It’s easy to see why Italians get the credit for this favorite food, and in the United States a wave of Italian immigration would help the cement the idea that pasta was an Italian food.
Even though Thomas Jefferson had brought pasta to America as early as the late 1700’s, the food did not become widely popular in the country until 1880-1900 when large numbers of Italian immigrants came to America, bringing pasta with them.
The next several years would bring even more advances for pasta such as the addition of meatballs and later, thanks to the Franco-American company, canned pasta.
Pasta has a place in American history as well. In the 1920’s farmers used pasta as a marketing campaign for wheat. During the depression, the inexpensive and filling dish became a staple in many households.
Today, pasta is as popular as ever. In tiny sidewalk cafés to the fanciest of gourmet restaurants, you are sure to find a few pasta dishes on the menu. Whether you choose to thank the Italians for this delicious food or their eastern neighbors, we can all agree that our dinner tables would not be the same without this fabulous food.
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