The early history of pasta

Pasta. The creation that arises out of the union of wheat flower and water. Its origins are obscure. Popular legend has it the the great 14th century Venetian traveler Marco Polo discovered pasta during his travels throughout China, where a noodle-like food has existed since 3000 BC. Popular legend is so very wrong.
[Greek lagana]
We know that references to a pasta-like pittance can be traced far back to the 1st century AD. Horace, the leading Roman poet during the reign of Augustus, mentions in his writings something called lagana, which were fine sheets of fried dough. The Greek rhetorician Athenaeus of Naucratis provides a recipe for lagana which he attributes to the 1st century Crysippus of Tyana: sheets of dough made of wheat flour and the juice of crushed lettuce, then flavoured with spices and deep fried in olive oil. An early 5th century cookbook describes a dish called lagana that consisted of layers of dough with meat stuffing, an ancestor of modern-day lasagna.

The works of the 2nd century AD Greek physician Galen mention a certain itrion, a homogeneous compounds made of flour and water. The Jerusalem Talmud records that itrium, a kind of boiled dough, was common in Palestine from the 3rd to 5th centuries AD.

A dictionary compiled by the 9th century Arab physician and lexicographer Isho bar Ali defines itriyya, the Arabic cognate, as string-like shapes made of flour which were dried before cooking. The geographical text of Muhammad al-Idrisi, compiled in 1154 for the King of Sicily Roger II, mentions that itriyya was manufactured and exported from Norman Sicily.

Sicily may well have been the origin of a North African cousin of pasta known as couscous: small droplets of durum dough which are steamed and usually served with a meat stew or vegetables and sprinkled with almonds, cinnamon or sugar.

Food historians estimate that the dish probably took hold in Italy as a result of extensive Mediterranean trading during the Middle Ages. From the 13th century, references to pasta dishes, such as macaroni, ravioli, gnocchi and vermicelli, crop up with increasing frequency across the Italian peninsula.

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