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Pasta, History

The popular story that Marco Polo introduced pasta to Italy after discovering it in China is a fallacy originating in a mis-translation; when he wrote he had "discovered" pasta in China, it has been taken that he had found something new, when in fact he had discovered that the Chinese had past "like ours". Indeed, several years before Polo"s venture a cookery book had appeared mentioning vermicelli, tortelli and tortelletti.

It is possible that a type of macaroni was made by the Etruscans in about 200 BC, but the evidence is inconclusive. Lasagne is included in recipes in the cookery book named after Apicius, and compiled in the first few centuries AD, and it is only a short step from here to other simple pasta shapes.

The Chinese were probably making noodles around this time, while in India "sevika", and Persia "rishta" (both meaning thread) were being made before 1200 AD. The Italian word spaghetti is also descriptive - derived from "spago", meaning string.

In Italy shapes developed on a regional basis, but generally speaking - in Rome and further north, pasta was ribbon-shaped; further south it tended to be tubular. In Northern Italy eggs tended to be added as a matter of course, whereas in the poorer south flour and water were (and still are) used without this addition.

There are now over 300 recognised shapes. Pasta lovers should try to visit the pasta museum in Pontedassio (inland from Imperia), when next in North-West Italy.

Pasta wasn"t very popular outside Italy until after the turn of the century, mostly because it wasn"t very good. It was largely improved by the work of an American, Mark Carleton, who introduced Russian durum wheat to make semolina and the campaigned to make macaroni popular

If you enjoy cooking take a minute to look at ‘Simon Scrutton French Cookery Classes’ on Google – and learn how to make top class bistro-style dishes. Suitable for beginners upwards. Small classes.

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