Pasta or maccheroni
Pasta is one of the most famous product of the Italian tradition. Pasta is a healthy food if made with quality flour, well included in controlled diets.
An old Italian proverb, dated 1700, says: “Vuoi campari anni e annuni? Vivi vinu sopra li maccaruni” (Do you want to live a very long life? Drink wine and eat maccheroni”).
Up to now, maccheroni are still home made in all the families in Sicily. The method used to make maccheroni consists of rolling the dough with a rush and then pulling the rush out so to have the typical hole.
In Umbria, on the other hand, we have “umbricelli”, differently called “pici” in Tuscany , long maccheroni without hole.
In Emilia we have “tagliatelle”, in Romagna “strozzapreti”…every region, and even every zone of the same region has its own tradition about pasta.
The use of pasta is widespread not only in Italy, which is often considered its birthplace, but all over the world.
Pasta is in fifth place in the world after pizza, which is without fail in first place among the hashtag food.
Pasta has ancient origins. According to the discovered tools it is believed that Etruscans did use it.
Another opinion says that the use of pasta arrived to Italy , particularly to Naples, with Greek settlers, or to Sicily with Arabs.
At the beginning, we had just simple strips made with water and flour, later enriched in special occasion.
It seems that at the beginning the identifying name for pasta was “maccheroni”. This word has uncertain origins, it dates back to Greek language, but it’s not certain if it originates from the word “makros”, such as “long”, or from “makares”, such as “blessed”, or instead from “massein” such as “to knead”, from which the word “mattarello” (rolling pin) derives.
The word “tagliatella” too seems to have ancient origins, as it’s possible to recognize its ancestors in the water and flour dough, stretched and cut in strips, for which Aristofane (around 450-385 b.C.) and Orazio (65-85 b.C.) used words such as làganon (Greek) and laganum (Latin). From this terms it should derive the word “lasagne”, with which the tagliatelle are still called in many parts of Italy.
For what concerns pasta or maccheroni, it is said that Marco Polo brought it form China. We don’t know if it’s true or not, but it’s absolutely true that Chinese used it for 4000 years already. On the other hand, it’s not sure that at that time pasta was made with wheat flour, that Chinese knew only later on.
The invention of tomato sauce, that it is combined with pasta, in the contemporary imagination, dates back for sure to a period subsequent to the discovery of America, because tomatoes has been imported to Europe right from there.
In 1200 we have news about pasta factories in Naples and Genova, and from 1400 we know about the first production of pasta on a large scale. In those years there were pasta factories already well settled in Liguria, Sicily, Sardinia and in Rome.
Maccheroni were a widespread dish in Naples in 1600, at the time of the Spanish viceroy, and they replaced the famous “minestra maritata” (married soup) as typical popular dish.
In the past, talking about maccheroni in Italy, a country very rich in popular traditions, dialects and strictly local customs, you were talking about a kind of pasta made in a long shape, holey inside, but also about spaghetti or vermicelli, so not only short pasta to which we commonly refer in the centre and in the North of Italy with the word maccheroni.
In Abruzzo region there was a special tool, la “chitarra”, to make spaghetti, also called maccheroni.
In our Country pasta can be different not only from region to region, but even from place to place, and not only in the way of calling it, but also in the preparation and dressing.
An example can be given by the Venetian version of spaghetti, the “bigoli”, that become maccheroni in Abruzzo region and Sicily but pici in Lazio region.
The maccheroni alla chitarra from Abruzzo are very different from the maccheroni from Etna zone, in Sicily. The tool to prepare maccheroni alla chitarra is the typical “chitarra”, while to prepare the ones from Sicily you should roll the dough with a rush and then pull the rush out so to have the typical hole, in which the sauce collects itself.
The way of making pasta or maccheroni can change from region to region, but also the recipes for condiments and ragù may vary from region to region. Some of the condiments now spread all over the Country, they once were linked only to some local traditions. An example is given by “pesto alla Genovese”, which arrived from the local tradition to all the country.
Nowadays in Italy there are many pasta shapes – more than 300 – with different names: tagliolini, tagliatelle, lasagne, maltagliati, farfalle, mezzemaniche, gobbi, rigatoni, penne, bucatini, vermicelli…the fantasy of “azdore” (typical ladies from Emilia Romagna who make home made fresh pasta) and chef plays around and keeps producing new shapes.
The dough is enriched with ingredients, from the vegetables to cocoa and coffee powder. Also the dough flours are now various. In the past they used the flours of the products locally available, now it’s possible to choose according to the taste and the nutritional properties.
It’s important to make a distinction among home-made, artisan and industrial production. The real home-made pasta is hand-made, kneading only eggs and flour in proportion to 1 egg for each Hg of flour, or better, at least 1 egg for 1 Hg of flour, according to the tradition from Emilia and Mantua.
The chef Massimo Bottura , whose restaurant “Osteria Francescana” for Modena has been elected the best restaurant in the world in New York, put in his tagliatelle one yolk, half whole egg and half embryonic egg for one Hg of flour.
The eggs are not foreseen in the durum wheat flour dough which is kneaded with water and salt to make orecchiette, cavatelli, strozzapreti….and in the dough for Sicilian maccheroni eggs have been introduced only recently.
In any case in my Emilian memories with my grandmother, in order to make the “sfoglia” (dough) we started preparing the so-called “fontana”: we made a sort of mound with the flour on a “spianatoia” (a wooden board), and then we made a hole in the top of the mound so to pour inside it the eggs and any other ingredients foreseen for the dough.
Now there are available mixers of different dimensions, some of the for domestic use.
In 1933 Braibanti Brothers introduced the mechanization of the production process for pasta.
It should be open then another large and interesting section about the kind of flour used for the dough…