When Man became a farmer
The history of pasta begins when man gave up nomadic life and dedicated himself to agriculture, starting to grow corn. Through the centuries, man improved his skills in processing this precious cereal, kneading it with water, rolling it in thin kneads and cooking it on red hot stones.
The laganon from Ancient Greece
Ancient Greeks already produced the first forefather of pasta, the laganon, a large, flat, garlic-flavoured pasta sheet, usually cut into slices - hence the Latin laganum, described by Cicero in some of his scripts. These pasta sheets conquered the whole Empire, and – as it always happens – people adapted this new kind of food to their own experiences.
Arabs create the desiccation
Arabs from the desert were the first to desiccate pastas to preserve them for the better, since their continuos traveling didn't allow them to have enough water at their disposal to prepare fresh pasta everyday. In order to ease a quick desiccation, pastas were shaped as small perforated cylinders. The most ancient prove of that is the cooking book by ‘Ibn ‘al Mibrad (dating back to the ninth century), containing the recipe of a very common course from the Bedouin and Berber's tribes' culinary tradition, that is still widely appreciated in Syria and Lebanon nowadays: the rista, namely dried macaroni, seasoned in several different ways – but most of all with lentils.
“A kind of flour-based food, shaped in threads”
The first acknowledged date in pasta history in Italy is 1154, when a true forerunner of our tourist guides, the Arab geographer Al-Idrin, mentions “a kind of flour-based food, shaped in threads”, called triyah, that was prepared in Palermo and exported in barrels all over Italy. Nowadays, pasta dishes such as tria bastarda and vermiceddi di tria are still popular in Sicily, just like la massa e tria and ciceri e tria, in Salento, while tridde (a diminutive of tria) is quite common in the Bari area.
1279 is another key date: Ugolino Scarpa, a notary from Genoa, drew up an inventory of a dead sailor's objects, which included a “bariscela plena de macaronis” (“a small barrel of macaroni”).
As we all know, Marco Polo came back from China in 1295: therefore, the legend of the Chinese origins of Italian pasta is completely debunked. According to this false myth, the Venetian explorer was supposed to have introduced pasta in Italy while coming back from his Far East journey – however, Chinese pasta had very little in common with the durum wheat kind typical of Italy.
A few years later, the word maccheroni officially debuted in literary form: it was Boccaccio to use it in his famous “Decameron”.
Air- and “carousel”-desiccation
The dry and windy climate of Liguria, Sicily and Campania (particularly in the Torre Annunziata and Gragnano areas) favoured the production of pasta, that kept being desiccated through simple exposition to the air for centuries. Later on, in Northern Italy, where the climate wasn't that favourable, to desiccate pasta a carousel-like machine was invented, consisting of a vertical central shaft that sustained the frames for short pastas or hanks of pasta, or the canes for long pastas. The carousel was usually placed in a heated room, and turned through water or animal motive force.
Here comes the tomato
Tomato, pasta's mythical “groom”, arrived in Italy from Peru back in 1554, but its large-scale growth only begun in the seventeenth century. It follows that a worldwide-known dish such as pasta col pomodoro (“pasta with tomato sauce”) is just four centuries old.
The birth of corporations
In 1500, alimentary pastas' maestros gathered in crafts associations: reportedly, there were pasta-makers corporations in Rome, Naples, Palermo, Milan and Savona.
In those towns where this art wasn't that popular, pasta-makers (pastai in Italian) used to associate with bakers. A protectionist atmosphere ruled in Rome: all those who sold pasta without being bakers were severely fined and may even undergo corporal punishments – up to 25 lashes, jail and pillory.
The invasion of vermicelli
In the seventeenth century Rome hosted so many vermicellai (artisans who produced a long, typically Italian kind of pasta) shops, that in 1641 Pope Urban VIII, aiming at trying to control the pasta commerce, promulgated a papal bull to impose a minimum distance of 24 meters between each one of them.
Until the second half of the eighteenth century, semolina and water were kneaded... by feet. This method kept being used until Ferdinand II, King of The Two Sicilies between 1830 and 1839, asked scientist Cesare Spadaccini to invent a specific mechanical process.
The first water presses appeared around 1870, while at the end of the century pasta was processed through machines propelled by steam or water energy.
The first machine to perform every single stage of the production process was patented in 1933.
Futurism against pastasciutta
In the first part of the Thirties, the Futurist movement try to renew the Italians' food habits.
So much so that its leading figure, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, in a demonstrative act, shot a spaghetti plate with his gun, since he believed that the country's well-being required “the abolition of pastasciutta (another way to name “pasta” in Italia), an absurd gastronomical religion in Italy”. Luckily enough, Marinetti changed his mind: in 1936 he had his picture taken while dining in a restaurant, in front of a dish of spaghetti!
Today, the history of pasta is strictly linked with that of advertising and commercials.
The main brands have all contributed in spreading their own image on several media, thanks to highly-emotional commercials, famous testimonials, messages that combine tradition with product innovation – but, above all, thanks also to the ever-improving quality of the producing enterprises, the real flagship of a product that represents a symbol of Italy all over the world.