There is proof that the ancient Etruscans prepared wheat & egg paste, but it was not boiled. Does that count? Certain artifacts from about 3,000 years ago look remarkably like pasta dies & extruders.
But naturally, the sort of material they worked on is not preserved. Indeed the ancient Greeks had some form of a flattened dough that is quite similar to lasagna.
The knowledge to mix wheat & egg with water was known long before. But the result of the dish was roasted on hot stones.
Whether this should be understood as ‘baking’ is a matter of semantics. Romans soon followed suit in the 1st century AD with a layered dish composed of ‘lasagna’ & meat or fish. By the 5th century AD, making noodles was commonplace, known by the Talmud references.
This record of pasta-like making in Arab lands provides a basis for claiming that the practice reaches to Italy from Arabia. With the incursion of Arabs into Sicily at that time, they would undoubtedly have brought cuisines and dishes that could travel well. A rich flour-based product in the shape of strings was made in Palermo at the time that might fit the bill.
While it was thought that the great Marco Polo returned from China in 1295 with pasta, there are Italian recipe books from twenty years earlier containing references to pasta dishes.
However, he inevitably did encounter pasta on his travels. Since China is an old civilization with a complex culture dating back 5,000 years, pasta likely existed in China very early.
Nevertheless, the pasta did become more popular during the 14th century and spread to the ‘New World’ as Italian and Spanish explorers sailed the seas to new lands. In the ‘Old World,’ it continued to spread, with pasta tubes in use at 15th-century Italian monasteries.
By the 17th century, it was typical food throughout the Italian region. In the New World, pasta grew in vogue through the 18th century. By the end of the century, it graced the table of Thomas Jefferson & commoners alike.
When the US Ambassador returned from France in 1789, he brought a macaroni maker to delight friends. Macaroni and cheese were enjoyed by many during the Civil war in the mid-19th century (1859-1864), owing to its ease of storage & cooking, along with the great taste.
But it was with the Italian immigration around the turn of the century that pasta took off in America. Spaghetti, lasagna, and a great many other forms became widespread as a result.
Origin of Pasta
The development of famous Italian pasta, both dried macaroni & fresh noodles, proceeded slowly and steadily through the 1600s, primarily a food of the elite & the Jews.
By the mid-1700s, the delicious pasta had become a central feature of the broader Italian diet, & Italian companies began industrializing & popularising pasta production & consumption in Europe & the Americas.
They also transplanted the native durum wheat, which became particularly valuable and famous to growing populations because of its strength & versatility. In all their glorious diversity, the noodles are a fundamental & symbolic part of many cultural cuisines.
In East Asia, noodles often symbolize longevity and good fortune, to be consumed without cutting, breaking, or biting the strands.
Soba is given as a welcome in Japan. In Italy, pasta shapes reflect an idealized daily life: cappelletti are little hats, agnolotti are sleeping lambs, and farfalle are butterflies. Korea, China, Japan, France, & Italy all claim to have invented noodles. Still, such is the delicious diversity of pasta that it seems almost silly to argue when we could eat instead!
Pasta Recipe Traditions
Here are some of the favorite pasta recipe traditions.
Spaghetti al Pomodoro
If you ask an Italian chef which single recipe is best at evaluating a cook’s skills, they will tell you spaghetti al Pomodoro.
The secret is using fresh and tasty sun-ripened tomatoes without overcooking them, excellent quality tinned peeled tomatoes, a little bit of garlic, and fresh basil leaves to give scent during cooking. Put a new basil leaf on the top of the finished dish for an additional Mediterranean touch.
Fettuccine al Pomodoro
This is northern Italy’s response to spaghetti al Pomodoro; the typical, not-too-thin egg pasta is seasoned with a creamy, slowly-cooked tomato sauce (with or without meat; in the former case, you would call it a ‘quick ragù’) and flavored with a generous amount of freshly grated Parmesan or Grana Padano cheese.