To get a good idea on how much importance pasta is to various food historians, one need not look further than Alan Davidson’s “Oxford companion for Food”. Within this magnificent tome, typical foods are given brief descriptions, a little history, and not much else. It’s common for many popular foods to get between three hundred to one thousand words, on average.
Pasta? Pasta gets around four thousand words. Noodles? Another four thousand.
So yeah, pasta is a big deal.
But for being such an important food, at least from a historical aspect, very little is really known in regards to it’s creation. If a region had flour made from hard wheat and water, they likely came up with some sort of noodle on their own. China is often considered the first area of the world to make noodles, during its ancient period, some four thousand years ago. The Mediterranean area picked them up around 800 or 900 AD, depending upon who you ask. It wasn’t the Europeans who developed the noodle in this region, but rather the Muslims, who likely brought it up into the region through Sicily. Where or how the Muslims came across the food is currently unknown.
What was so revolutionary about pasta was it’s tremendous shelf life. It allowed governments to store food on an extended basis, and allowed households to feed themselves in the lean months when fresh food was difficult to come by. It also was quite transportable, and required little except a bit of water over a fire in order for it to become palatable. It also held sauces very well, so even the smallest bit of oil and herb could flavor it.
Over the course of the years, an entire slew of pasta varieties have been created for all sorts of different types of dishes. This includes everything from lasagna, the sheets of pasta used to created layered dishes, to the long stringed noodles of East Asia, used often in soups, to the tiny pebble-like orzo, used both in soups or as a replacement for rice. So in addition to it’s long shelf life, it’s portability, and it’s ability to hold flavor, it also is exceedingly versatile.
Over the next few weeks, probably until October, I’ll be exploring noodles as best as I can, finding various recipes, and trying to discern the differences of noodles throughout the world.