Although legend claims that Marco Polo introduced pasta to Italy in the 13th century, 4th century BC Etruscan tombs in central Italy show people making what appears to be pasta. This simple but inspired combination of flour and water could be preserved by drying, and was an inexpensive and wonderfully convenient food, lending itself to many different preparations, with sauces, butter and cheese, vegetables or broth.
The first pasta factory in America was built in Brooklyn in 1848 by a Frenchman who spread his spaghetti strands on the roof to dry in the sunshine. As shown in this vintage photo (below) from the early 1900’s, drying pasta was an enormous undertaking. Doing this outdoors must have had its downside though – think birds, insects and unexpected rain.
We’ve come a long way since then and today pasta is dried in temperature-controlled chambers or, in the case of more expensive pastas, dried more slowly in pristinely clean drying rooms. The contemporary photo above (at right) is from Classic Foods in NE Portland, which makes fresh pasta for Pastini’s lasagna and other dishes. A slower drying process enhances the natural wheat flavor in pasta, and results in a tastier noodle.
Today we enjoy a great variety of pasta shapes and styles, and the luxury of high-quality noodles available any time. But next time you open a box of fettuccini or fusilli, remember that, in the beginning, it was truly a revolutionary food!