Pasta is made from unleavened dough consisting of ground durum wheat and water or eggs. The use of durum wheat sets pasta apart from other forms of noodles. Durum wheat’s high gluten content and low moisture make it perfectly suited to pasta production. The durum wheat dough is pressed into sheets, cut into a variety of shapes, and cooked before serving.
While we do think of pasta as a culturally Italian food, it is likely the ancestor of ancient Asian noodles. A common belief about pasta is that it was brought to Italy from China by Marco Polo during the 13th century. In his book, “The Travels of Marco Polo,” there is a passage that briefly mentions his introduction to a plant that produced flour (possibly a “breadfruit tree”). The Chinese used this plant to create a meal similar to barley flour. The barley-like meal Polo mentioned was used to make several pasta-like dishes, including one described as “lagana” (lasagna). Since Polo’s original text no longer exists, the book relies heavily on retellings by various authors and experts. This, combined with the fact that pasta was already gaining popularity in other areas of Italy during the 13th century, makes it very unlikely that Marco Polo was the first to introduce pasta to Italy.
Noodles existed in Asia long before Polo’s trip to China. Archaeologists believe that central Asia is most likely the first area to have produced noodles thousands of years ago. From Asia, it traveled westward. The way it reached Europe is unclear, though there are many theories—some believe that nomadic Arabs are responsible for bringing early forms of pasta westward. Once it reached the Mediterranean the process was refined, and durum wheat became the ingredient of choice for pasta flour because of its high gluten content and long shelf life. When durum wheat pasta is dried, it lasts indefinitely, making it a very convenient food to store. Over time, because of pasta’s affordability, shelf life, and versatility, it became firmly rooted in Italian culture. The warm Mediterranean climate of Italy is suited to growing fresh vegetables and herbs, which meant that Italians could get creative with a delicious variety of pasta sauces. Tomato-based sauces emerged as a favorite compliment to pasta, and tomatoes remain the most popular ingredient in pasta sauce today.
Early Spanish settlers were among the first to bring pasta to America. Believe it or not, it was Thomas Jefferson that helped give pasta an initial push into popularity. During an extended stay in Paris from 1784-1789, Jefferson ate what he called macaroni… back then, the word could have referred to any shape of pasta. He enjoyed the dish so much that he returned to America with two cases in tow. When his supply ran out, he sent for reinforcements via a friend from Naples.
During the late 19th century, when a large group of immigrants relocated from Italy to America (most from Naples), pasta became a common food in the states. We have been making spaghetti in America ever since.
Today, pasta is generally cooked by boiling the dough. The first evidence of pasta being boiled comes from the Jerusalem Talmud. The Talmud includes a discussion on whether or not boiled dough should be considered unleavened bread under Jewish law. Pasta was likely boiled before the Talmud was written, but this is the first text reference to the cooking method.
Here in America, we are most familiar with dried pastas imported from Italy. Dried pasta is usually made from semolina, or purified durum wheat. Semolina isn’t overly absorbent, which makes for great al dente style pasta. It also has a long shelf life, unlike fresh pasta.
Shrimp alfredo is easy to make and tasty.
Copyright 2012, Christine’s Pantry. All rights reserved.
1 pound cooked medium shrimp, peeled, deveined and tails removed
1 1/2 cup uncooked bowtie pasta (farfalle)
1 (15 oz.) jar alfredo sauce roasted garlic
3 tablespoons butter
salt and pepper, to taste
chopped parsley, for garnish
Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain.
In skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add shrimp to the skillet, salt and pepper. Stir and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in alfredo sauce and cooked pasta, until heated through. Garnish with parsley. Enjoy!