One of the things anybody on a food and wine tour in Bel Paese wants to try is, undoubtedly, authentic Italian pasta. It is no surprise that pasta has become one of top Italian attractions. Italians have perfected the art of pasta making over centuries and became the experts in the field. Ask any food connoisseur where to find the best pasta and they will forgo the most reputable restaurants in Toronto or New York and tell you to go to Italy.
Pasta has a long history. Some experts say it was brought to Italy by Marco Polo from China, while others will argue that the Etruscans and, later, Romans, had noodles on their menu. However, their noodles were oven baked rather than boiled.
The first documented reference to the pasta as we know it today dates back to the early 12th century. It seems that it was brought to Sicily by the Arabs. It was made from durum wheat flour and water, kneaded, cut and dried in the sun. It became a staple food during long sea voyages from the 14th century. In the 19th century, when tomatoes took center stage in the southern Italian cuisine, it became clear that pasta and pomodori were a match made in heaven.
Today a staggering 310 shapes of pasta exist with over 1300 names. Each Italian region has their traditional pasta recipes. In Sicily the delicious pasta alla norma is made with tomatoes, fried aubergine, grated ricotta cheese, and basil. In Naples, spaghetti with clams (spaghetti con vongole) have been served for generations packed with garlic and a generous amount of chili pepper. A typical Roman pasta dish is a simple cacio e pepe, which means pasta dished up with black pepper Pecorino Romano cheese. In Emilia-Romagna there are tasty tortellini stuffed with meat and cheese, pappardelle with wild rabbit in Tuscany and less-known ricotta-stuffed culurgiònes in Sardinia. Gnocchi, ravioli and lasagna… The list of different pasta dishes can go on.
If you are after authentic pasta head to a small trattoria or osteria which will always have some delicious simple pasta dishes listed among “primi piatti” on the menu. Michelin-starred Italian restaurants do not shy away from humble pasta either and often offer innovative interpretations of centuries-old recipes.
Photos by: Alessio Michelini, Stijn Nieuwendijk, Anna Mayer