Pasta was developed independently in a number of places around the
planet. In each of these places, locally available grain was the primary
starch source in the diet. Grains had, before the invention of pasta,
been consumed as a gruel or grain paste, or rendered into flour and
eaten as bread. Pasta noodles were likely developed as an alternative to
gruel or bread. Pasta noodles can be created even where there is no oven,
or not enough fuel to support an oven. In contrast, bread requires a
great investment in time and effort to accomplish.
The earliest known records of noodles in Europe are found on Etruscan
tomb decorations from around 400 BC. Noodles dating back to about 2000
BC have been found near Lajia at the Huang He in Western China. Though
the site was devastated by an earthquake followed by a flood, the yellow
noodles survived in an upside-down clay pot underneath a thick layer of
loess. Archeologist Houyuan Lu discovered the noodles and was able to
take photos. Analysis showed that the noodles, with a length of
approximately half a meter and a diameter of three millimeters, were
produced from millet.
Chinese noodles before the age of industrialized food production were
always used fresh, and they are comprised of one giant noodle mass
through the cooking process because it is considered bad luck in China
to cut noodles before serving them to eat.
Thomas Jefferson and Pasta
At a White House dinner in 1962, President Kennedy
told a group of Nobel prize winners that "this is the most extraordinary
collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever gathered
together in the White House with the possible exception of when Thomas
Jefferson dined alone." Among the wide ranging interests of this
extraordinary mind, were agriculture and viticulture. During his years
as American Ambassador to France, Jefferson developed the gourmet tastes
that would lead him to plant vineyards, and to garden extensively at
Monticello. On his return in 1789, he brought the first "maccaroni"
maker to America. Since he fed mostly his friends and acquaintances, his
import was not a defining moment in history, but he was fascinated
enough with the tasty noodles to invent a pasta machine of his own.
Though he had a personal taste for pasta, it was first produced
commercially by a Frenchman in Brooklyn.
The 'maccheroni revolution'
In Naples, pasta making as an industry preceded the
machine. The pasta maker was seated on a support while he kneaded the
dough with his feet. The King of Naples, Ferdinand II was not pleased
with this method of producing pasta, and hired an engineer who devised a
system where a machine too over the job of kneading and cutting. The
climate of Naples is perfect for drying pasta, not so moist that the
dough becomes mildew before drying, nor so dry that the dough cracks
from drying too fast. Naples became Italy's pasta center.
Macaroni and cheese was a popular dish in America at the time of the
Civil War, however, the huge Italian immigration that entered the US
around the 1900's brought the popular spaghetti dishes we eat today,
mostly from the Campania area. Sicilians who followed the Campanians
found it difficult to get the ingredients they used at home, and adapted
the the Campanian methods of cooking. But history does not end, and
today we are returning to authentic Sicilian cuisine as though we were
discovering something new. Pasta goes on and on.
By Italian statute, dried pastas can contain nothing but semolina and
water. Though Italy is the world's leading producer of durum wheat, it
cannot keep up with the world's demand. Until the early 20th century,
Italy's great sources of durum wheat were Ukraine and the Volga River
Valley. Today some of Italy's Durum wheat is supplied by Australia. The
island continent of Australia is among the excellent places to grow
clean, high quality wheat.