This is a question for non-Italians only. If I was to ask you to think of food and ask you to tell me the first two words that come to mind when I say “Italy”, what would they be? For most of us, I should think the words would probably Pizza and Pasta! For me, Tiramisucomes in a close third.
Yet do you know that that it thought that it wasn’t the Italians who invented Pasta but the Chinese? Many people consider that Pasta to have originated from Chinese noodles, though technically both are quite different. Apparently, noodles were known in China as far back as 3000BC. Many people like to think that it was Marco Polo who introduced Chinese noodles in Italy sometime in the 13thcentury but the truth is that Italians were making and eating Pasta long before Marco Polo went to China.
A more believable explanation is that it was the Arabs who discovered the Chinese noodles which were made from millet flour. The Arabs tried making noodles with what they had which was durum wheat and Pasta was born. They also dried the pasta which became very popular with the army as it could be carried easily without spoilage.
Apparently, the Arabs (to be specific the Libyans) brought Pasta to Italy when they invaded Sicily. Pasta was considered a luxury food and was very expensive because it was difficult to make from durum wheat semolina and highly labour intensive. With the onset of the Industrial revolution, machines started doing most of the hard work, and Pasta become affordable and popular.
It may have been the Chinese and then the Arabs who made the first noodles and Pasta, but it was the Italians who took the Pasta and made it what it is today. So it’s no surprise that Pasta is as Italian as it gets, and 500 Pasta Dishes : The Only Compendium You’ll Ever Need by Valentina Sforza has an excellent collection of a huge collection of recipes to cook Pasta in a variety of ways.
We are Pasta lovers here, and I was quite interested to see what the review copy of 500 Pasta Dishes that Sellers Publishing sent me. Having reviewedother books in the 500 Series of cookbooks I now have certain expectations of these books like beautiful food photography, simple and easy to cook recipes, colour coded chapters and a good variety of recipes. I wasn’t disappointed.
This book has recipes for Classic Pasta Dishes, Pasta Soups Salads, Pasta cooked with Meat/ Vegetables/ Fish/ Cheese, and some all-time favourites from around the world. There are non-vegetarian recipes in the book, naturally, but there are enough recipes to keep a vegetarian like me happy too. Many of the non-vegetarian recipes are very easily adapted to vegetarian cooking.
The book includes an introduction to the world of Pasta – about it origin and how it countries other than Italy also cook their own kinds of pasta, different kinds of Pasta and which ones go best with what sauce, and tips on how to best cook Pasta. The first chapter in the book is a collection of basic recipes for making fresh Pasta at home and different kinds of sauces that it is eaten with.
Recipes include well known Pasta like Carbonara, Penne Arrabiata, Bolognese Ragu, Lasagne, and Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli. Some other recipes you can find in this book are Pasta and Bean Soup, Paccheri with Eggplant Sauce, Pasta with a Creamy Lemon Sauce, Burette with Almond Pesto, Macaroni with Pumpkin, Spaghetti alla Capricciosa, Penette with Soft Goat Cheese, Greek Tortellini Salad, And Thai Style Coconut noodle Soup.
About the Author: Valentina Sforza has enjoyed a long career writing and teaching about authentic Italian dishes. She currently lives in London and teaches at several cooking schools, continues to write, and offers her services as a consultant and caterer.
I have bookmarked quite a few recipes to cook, and one of them is Pasta with Vegetable Ragu. It’s a dish that cooks up as a hearty and balanced one pot meal with a good portion of carbohydrates, protein from the lentils and lots of vegetables.
In Italian cooking, a “ragu” is a meat and vegetable sauce usually made with tomatoes and served with pasta. In this version, the meat is replaced with red lentils which gibe the sauce a nice thick texture and flavour.
Valentina Sforza describes this vegetable and lentil ragu as a “a lovely rich vegetable ragu that allows you to use whatever vegetables you like best, and that are in season”. One could use a mix of zucchini, peas, green beans, peppers and mushroom.
Recipe reproduced, with permission, from 500 Pasta Dishes by Valentina Sforza.