the truth about pasta -- 8/7/18

Today's selection -- from The Italians by John Hooper. Italy and pasta:

"Pasta has long been a part of Italian cuisine, but only quite recently acquired the dominant, pervasive role it plays now. The oldest form is thought to be lasagna, which is known to have been cooked in ancient Rome, though not quite in the way it is today. Dried pasta seems to have been invented quite separately, in North Africa, as expedition food for desert caravans. It was probably brought to Sicily by the island's Muslim conquerors. In a codex published in 1154, a Moroccan geographer and botanist known as al-Idrisi described a thriving pasta manufacturing industry near Palermo, which exported its products to Muslim and Christian coun­tries alike. Among them was a stringlike pasta then known by the name itrija. Dried pasta had the same advantages for seafarers as it did for camel drivers, so it is hardly surprising that it next appears in Genoa. It is men­tioned in a document written in 1279, and production of vermicelli, which was to remain a Genoese specialty, had begun by the fourteenth century. The consumption of pasta continued nevertheless to be associated with Sicilians until in the eighteenth century the nickname of mangiamaccheroni gradually came to be bestowed on the Neapolitans. By 1785, Naples had 280 pasta shops.

"Amazing Pasta", by David Adam Kess 

"Grated cheese was used for flavoring from an early stage, but sugar and cinnamon were also thought to make tasty accompaniments. Pasta was often prepared in quite different ways, boiled in broth or milk rather than plain water. In their study of the history of Italian cuisine, Alberto Capatti and Massimo Montanari quote an early cookery writer who was adamant that 'macaroni must be boiled for a period of two hours.'

"Nor was tomato sauce added until comparatively recently. The tomato, which almost certainly reached Italy through Spain, had acquired its name -- the pomo d'oro, or 'golden apple' -- at least as early as 1568. But it was treated by Italians -- as indeed by many other people, including Americans -- with immense suspicion, and entered Italian cuisine only very slowly. The first mention of tomatoes in a written recipe comes at the end of the seventeenth century. Over the next one hundred years, toma­toes seem to have won a firm place in Neapolitan cooking. But right up until the end of the nineteenth century, it was more usual in central Italy to use agresto, a concoction made of sour grapes, to give 'bite' to a dish."



John Hooper


The Italians


Penguin Books


Copyright 2015 by John Hooper


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