The discussion on who made the first pasta is an emotional one – firstly because there are so many theories and secondly because it is, essentially, an Italian discussion.
The Chinese did not make the first pasta even though the oldest form of this food type was found in Lajia (China) in a bowl buried under muddy volcanic slush and made from a millet flour that had been cultivated 7,000 years ago. I could find no proof that it was even remotely like today’s pasta – even though Patrick McGovern (archeochemist, University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archeology and Anthropology) says it does prove a high level of culinary skills. That still doesn’t make them the first!
“Evidence” pops up constantly throughout history and the Talmud, the ancient Greeks and the Etruscans all mention various kinds of pasta-like foodstuffs during varying stages of their own histories. The most likely creators are the Arabs and even though the Romans could have had a valid claim, they roasted their laganon on stones – which turns it into a bread of a kind. Al Idrisi, an Arab geographer, confirms that a flour-based pasta (string-like in shape) was made in Palermo by the Arabs during their rule.
To my mind, the discussion should be based on whether durum wheat was used or not – since that is the very basis of pasta it should be as simple as that. Italy produces the most durum wheat in the world and they started producing it first. Whether the Arabs brought a pasta of sorts to Italy (and I have every reason to believe they did) or not, it was the Italians or rather the Sicilians, much like these Sicilian pasta makers, who did it first.
Oh yes, the Marco Polo theory – I don’t buy it. He came back from his travels towards the end of the 11th century with records of pasta made from breadfruit!!!!!!!! Furthermore, Naples invented and made the first pasta machine when King Ferdinand II of Naples was annoyed by how long it took his chefs, using their feet, to knead the dough! He probably couldn’t get at it fast enough. 🙂 The weather in Naples is perfect for drying large quantities of pasta and since Italian statutes decree that pasta may only contain semolina and water, the good dry weather is just what is needed! Italy produces the most durum wheat in the world, but that’s not enough for increasing world demand with the result that the old “out” sources in the Ukraine and the Volga River Valley were expanded in the last century to include Australia.
For fresh pasta one goes to Emiglia Romagna in the north of Italy, the paradise of fresh pasta (and also mortadella, ham, parmesan, aceto balsamico …..).
I firmly believe that the pasta from there is always better – smoother and without doubt much more pliable (if that’s the right word). Apart from the flat shapes, there are the ravioli, tortelli, tortellini, lasagne, anolini, cappelleti, cappellacci, agnolotti and so on. One can carry on for the length of one’s imagination. After the pasta there are a myriad of possibilities and I can think of heavenly torte salate like the famous erbazzone Regiano stuffed with spinach as only the Italians can and if you’re in a hurry – have a piadina (it’s Romagna, remember and that’s what they call the tigella) with parma ham instead of a sandwich or crescentina with your antipasti.
Pasta can be divided into the following basic types:
Pasta di semola di grano duro secca – dried, keeps for a long time if stored properly;
Pastina – the small ones used in soup, loved by young children;
Pasta lungha – like spaghetti
Pasta glutinata – with added gluten for kids;
Pasta corta – all the short dried ones
Pasta all’uovo secca – dried, made from durum wheat and egg
Pasta speciale – the flavoured ones, coloured ones and so on;
Pasta di semola fresca – fresh made with durum wheat (like Sardinian malloreddus);
Pasta all’uovo fresca – fresh pasta to be eaten fresh immediately;
MY BASIC PASTA DOUGH
500 grams flour
Use the well method, make dough and rest in the fridge or put the whole lot in your food processor, adding the eggs one by one, process until smooth and elastic, cover in cling wrap and rest for at least one hour.
And what to do when you’ve made enough dough for a legion? Make a torta salata
300 grm flour
2 TB melted butter
1 TB light extra virgin olive oil
1kg spinach, cleaned
50 grm smoked ham
1small garlic clove
1TB finely chopped Italian parsley
4 – 5 TB excellent extra virgin olive oil
60 grm grated parmesan
2 TB melted butter
Make as you do pasta and leave to rest in a cool place.
Blanche the clean spinach briefly, chop and add chopped ham. Saute briefly with crushed garlic and parsley for a few minutes and remove from heat. Whisk egg until foamy and stir egg and parmesan with salt and pepper to taste. Allow to cool.
Brush springform pan with butter and line with dough, leaving enough for the top. Fill with spinach filling, press down and cover with rest of the dough to make a lid. Brush with the rest of the butter. Prick lid a few times and bake for about an hour in pre-heated 200 C oven.
Enjoy and expect to fall in love.