For more than a thousand years, Italian hands have mixed and molded these few simple ingredients into this primary staple of their cuisine.
But over the last few years, a battle for the soul Italian cuisine has begun: homemade pasta is getting harder to find.
It’s a colorful history. According to Burton Anderson, author of The Foods of Italy, Italians and pasta have been linked since Arab forces invaded Southern Italy in 652 AD. That contradicts the popular story that Marco Polo introduced pasta into Italy in 1296 on his return to Venice from China. This misconception, food historians say, stems from the fact that “pasta” was developed in China and Italy independent of one another.
The authors of Pasta: the Story of a Universal Food explain that although noodles from both countries seem identical on a superficial level, they are fundamentally different. Italian pasta, as most pasta is today, is made from durum wheat. This grain is native to Italy, but it doesn’t grow naturally in China, where “pasta” is made from another cereal grass, millet.
In The Encyclopedia of Pasta, leading Italian food historian, Oretta Zanini De Vita, said that by the time Marco returned, people throughout Italy had been eating pasta for at least a century.
Storoni said pasta is still important in Italian cuisine – “as necessary to Italian cooking as showering is necessary to get ready in the morning” – but more Italians today purchase their pasta from the supermarket. Storoni tracks that trend to the societal changes that started in the 60s and 70s which have seen Italy’s women moving from the home to the workforce, leaving less time for home-cooking.
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