FUN FACTS: PASTA
- The Chinese are on record as having eaten pasta as early as 5,000 B.C.
- Contrary to popular belief, Marco Polo did not discover pasta. The ancient Italians made pasta much like we do today. Although Marco Polo wrote about eating Chinese pasta at the court of Kubla Khan, he probably didn’t introduce pasta to Italy. In fact, there’s evidence suggesting the Etruscans made pasta as early as 400 B.C. The evidence lies in a bas-relief carving in a cave about 30 miles north of Rome. The carving depicts instruments for making pasta – a rolling-out table, pastry wheel and flour bin. And further proof that Marco Polo didn’t “discover” pasta is found in the will of Ponzio Baestone, a Genoan soldier who requested “bariscella peina de macarone” – a small basket of macaroni. His will is dated 1279, 16 years before Marco Polo returned from China.
- Christopher Columbus, one of Italy’s most famous pastaphiles, was born in October, National Pasta Month.
- Legend has it that noodles were first made by 13th century German bakers who fashioned dough into symbolic shapes, such as swords, birds and stars, which were baked and served as bread.In the 13th century, the Pope set quality standards for pasta.
- Thomas Jefferson is credited with introducing macaroni to the United States. It seems that he fell in love with a certain dish he sampled in Naples, while serving as the U.S. Ambassador to France. In fact, he promptly ordered crates of “macaroni,” along with a pasta-making machine, sent back to the States.
- The Spanish explorer Cortez brought tomatoes back to Europe from Mexico in 1519. Even then, almost 200 years passed before spaghetti with tomato sauce made its way into Italian kitchens.
- The first American pasta factory was opened in Brooklyn, New York, in 1848, by a Frenchman named Antoine Zerega. Mr. Zerega managed the entire operation with just one horse in his basement to power the machinery. To dry his spaghetti, he placed strands of the pasta on the roof to dry in the sunshine.
- During the 1980s, macaroni, which was traditionally considered a “blue-collar” down-home meal, was transformed into the more upscale “pasta.” As more and more people began to have fun with it and romanticize it throughout the ’60s and ’70s, its image began to change along with its name.
- Pasta is a good source of carbohydrates. It also contains protein. Carbohydrates help fuel your body by providing energy that is released slowly over time.
- One cup of cooked spaghetti provides about 200 calories, 40 grams of carbohydrates, less than one gram of total fat, no cholesterol and only one gram of sodium when cooked without salt.
- Carbohydrates like pasta provide glucose, the crucial fuel for your brain and muscles.
- Enriched pasta is fortified with folic acid – essential for women of child-bearing age. FDA regulations require enriched grain products to contain this essential vitamin. A serving of dry pasta supplies the equivalent of roughly 100 micrograms of folic acid, or 25% of the recommended daily intake.
- Pasta is part of a well-balanced diet. Current dietary guidance calls for up to 65% of daily calories to come from carbohydrates
- Pasta has a low Glycemic Index (GI) so it does not cause sugar in the blood to rise quickly. The GI measures how rapidly a carbohydrate triggers a rise in blood sugar – the higher the number, the greater the blood sugar response.
Cooking and Eating
- All pasta is made by essentially the same equipment using the same technology.
- Most pasta is made using wheat products mixed with water. Other types of pasta are made using ingredients such as rice, barley, corn, and beans.
- To cook one billion pounds of pasta, you would need 2,021,452,000 gallons of water – enough to fill nearly 75,000 Olympic-size swimming pools.
- One billion pounds of pasta is about 212,595 miles of 16-ounce packages of spaghetti stacked end-to-end — enough to circle the earth’s equator nearly nine times.
- Speaking of spaghetti…and meatballs: the Italians only ate meat a few times a month. So, when they came to America, where meat was so plentiful, they incorporated meat into their cooking more often, making meatballs an American invention.
- Egg noodles contain egg; almost all other dry pasta shapes do not. By federal law, a noodle must contain 5.5 percent egg solids to be called a noodle. So without egg, a noodle really isn’t a noodle.
- Cooked al dente (al-DEN-tay) literally means “to the tooth,” which is how to test pasta to see if it is properly cooked. The pasta should be a bit firm, offering some resistance to the tooth, but tender.
- Pasta comes in many different colors. Most pasta is cream-colored, but some is made using spinach making it green, red pasta that is made using tomato, gray pasta that is made using squid ink, and some pasta is called “cellophane” because it becomes transparent when cooked.
- The average person in Italy eats more than 51 pounds of pasta every year. The average person in North America eats about 15-1/2 pounds of pasta per year.
- Approximately 2.75 million tons of pasta is made in Italy each year, while the United States produces nearly 1.9 million tons per year
- There are more than 600 past shapes produced worldwide.
- When making delicious pasta dishes, be sure to choose a pasta shape and sauce that complement each other. Thin, delicate pastas like angel hair or thin spaghetti, should be served with light, thin sauces. Thicker pasta shapes, like fettuccine, work well with heavier sauces. Pasta shapes with holes or ridges, like mostaccioli or radiatore, are perfect for chunkier sauces.
Five Common Pasta Mistakes
It seems like one of the easiest things in the world to cook: You boil some water, throw in some pasta, add a little oil to keep it from sticking and voila! buon appetito. Wrong! Here’s five common pasta mistakes you’ve probably been making.
- Adding oil to the cooking pot: we have no clue as to where this idea came from originally but a lot of people tend to add oil to the cooking water thinking it will stop the pasta from sticking together. What it actually does is make the pasta too slick for any sauce to stay on it properly. If you have used enough water and remember to stir your pasta regularly as it is cooking, it will not stick together. Therefore – no need to add oil.
- Not adding salt to the water: we are constantly reminded that too much salt isn’t good and therefore choose to leave it out where we could, including pasta. This is a mistake. Pasta needs plenty of salt because salt toughens the surface and keeps it from becoming slimy. Add about a teaspoon of salt per each gallon of water. Seems like a lot but every good Italian chef cooks it this way and it really does make a difference. Luckily, the pasta does not absorb salt in the same way that vegetables or potatoes do, so you will not be eating all the salt that you use in the cooking water.
- Not stirring the pasta once it is cooking: when pasta doesn’t stick together it all cooks consistently. So stir that pot otherwise you will have clumped together pasta pieces.
- Overcooking the pasta: Mamma mia! Soft, fall apart pasta is a big no no, especially in Italy. The key to perfect pasta is to keep testing it as you cook it. Once it is slightly firm to the bite – a state the Italians call “al dente” (firm but not crunchy) it’s ready. At the al dente stage, turn off the heat and drain the pasta in a colander. Shake the pasta to get rid of all excess water (be especially careful to do this if they are pasta shapes which catch pockets of hot water) and serve immediately. The pasta continues to cook while it’s draining it in the colander, so when you are testing, remember that what you eat will be cooked for a minute or two longer than what you’re testing in the pan.
- Rinsing the pasta after cooking: if you rinse your pasta immediately after cooking, you’re ruining it. Al dente pasta has just the right amount of starches on the surface to absorb the sauce you will serve with it, which is where pasta gets its entire flavor. If you rinse, you take away these important starches.
Pasta cooked to perfection and will taste delicious with anything you throw on top of it.