The past of pasta


(Canscene) — Pasta, Italian style with its varieties of shape, texture and cooking time has conquered the world, and claims that it was invented in ancient China are utterly false.

When Marco Polo visited China, they were probably eating some form of rice noodles but the date of their origin is not known and Polo doesn’t mention them irs. Mention of pasta may be found in ancient Roman times.

The late, great dietary expert Ancel Keys who lived to be 100 was a fervent champion of Mediterranean food. He wrote: “One of the least fattening cuisines in the world is….the real Italian cuisine consisting of a plate of pasta with tomato sauce with a little ground Parmesan., followed by a little meat or fish and fresh fruit.”

In her book Portrait of Pasta, Anna del Conte attributes the unification of Italy to pasta. In the 1830s the principal source of durum wheat for making the best pasta was Ukraine and the wheat was loaded onto Italian ships at the Black Sea port of Taganrog. Giuseppe Garibaldi, a young freighter captain from Northern Italy was visiting a bar in Taganrog when he heard another Italian seaman, Giovanni Cuneo, orate on the dire need for a united Italy instead of a peninsular with nine different states, several amount which were dominated by the Austrian Empire.

Garibaldi joined the young Italy movement, which led to his exile to South America where he became a guerrilla leader in the fight against dictatorships in Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. He returned in 1848 to become the most colorful figure in the long struggle for Italian unity; its final battle was fought with the overthrow of the Papal States in 1871.

Portrait of Pasta was published in English in 1976, the first of Del Conte’s many books on Italian cuisine. Around 1984, I located dozens of copies remaindered at 19 cents each and purchased 10, keeping one for myself and giving the remaining nine to friends. It is still mentioned on web sites, but only used copies seem to be available. Besides containing much pasta lore, there are more than a hundred pages of recipes.

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