Did you know that there is no clear documentation of when pasta was created? Sure, there are stories that Marco Polo brought the culinary phenomena to Italy from China all the way back in 1296, but truth is, pasta was already part of Italian cuisine. It was a big ticket item for trade in Sicily, Cagliari, and Sardinia. In fact, there’s evidence of pasta recipes dating back all the way to 800 AD which included dried pasta that was made from durum wheat.
What’s also interesting is that the pasta wasn’t created by a peasant woman named Libista who lived in Lombardi. The old wives tale state that she invented ravioli and lasagna, but that isn’t the case either, as there was evidence of a stuffed pasta that looked like ravioli in the 11th century Arab world.
So, what’s the truth? Where does pasta really come from?
The first types of pasta that were recorded weren’t anything fancy. They were small, fine pasta like vermincelli. This type of pasta was often cooked in soups, broths, or almond milk. This mixture would create something like a gruel or a mush, certainly not like the delicacies we enjoy today.
Back when Italy was starting to evolve, food was for the wealthy, so naturally they ate well. Whenever there was any pasta available, the poor would receive the pasta, but it would be thrown into a broth, stretching the pasta out. These dishes would only be served on special occasions, but in modern days, these soups are often eaten for lunch.
Also, in the pasta, lasagna used to have a sweat flavor rather than the savory taste we have today. Back during the early 14th century, there are lasagna recipes that call for chicken and cheese. Also, around this time, gnocchi was made with flour and cheese, rather than the mashed potatoes that we use today.
If there is ever a great food debate, it would be over which is better, dry pasta vs fresh pasta. In history, if it wasn’t fresh, it was considered old and it should be discarded. People believed that dry pasta was made with subpar ingredients and it would take years before dried pasta made its way out of Sicily and into the homes of northern Italians.
The Sicilians were introduced to the pasta drying techniques by the Arabs and they did it so well, they became the center of trade for dried pasta in the 12th century, as Sicily is believed to be the best place to go for high quality durum wheat.
The time when pasta manufacturing really began to flourish was in the 1600s when the introduction of the extrusion press and brake took center stage in the industry.
Many people believed that pasta that was made from the extrusion press was better than pasta made by hand because the shapes and texture was really consistent, unlike handmade pasta. The trend of using these extrusion presses continued to spread throughout the rest of the country.
The first actual pasta manufacturing plant was built in Brooklyn, New York in 1848, which had the second largest population of Italians in the world. Antione Zerega opened the plant and Zerega Sons Inc. moved to New Jersey, where the family continues to make high quality dried pasta we enjoy today.