Pasta: The Story of a Universal Food

Pasta: The Story of a Universal Food

by Silvano Serventi, Francoise Sabban
     
 

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Ranging from the imperial palaces of ancient China and the bakeries of fourteenth-century Genoa and Naples all the way to the restaurant kitchens of today, Pasta tells a story that will forever change the way you look at your next plate of vermicelli. Pasta has become a ubiquitous food, present in regional diets around the world and available in a host of shapes,

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Overview

Ranging from the imperial palaces of ancient China and the bakeries of fourteenth-century Genoa and Naples all the way to the restaurant kitchens of today, Pasta tells a story that will forever change the way you look at your next plate of vermicelli. Pasta has become a ubiquitous food, present in regional diets around the world and available in a host of shapes, sizes, textures, and tastes. Yet, although it has become a mass-produced commodity, it remains uniquely adaptable to innumerable recipes and individual creativity. Pasta: The Story of a Universal Food shows that this enormously popular food has resulted from of a lengthy process of cultural construction and widely diverse knowledge, skills, and techniques.

Many myths are intertwined with the history of pasta, particularly the idea that Marco Polo brought pasta back from China and introduced it to Europe. That story, concocted in the early twentieth century by the trade magazine Macaroni Journal, is just one of many fictions umasked here. The true homelands of pasta have been China and Italy. Each gave rise to different but complementary culinary traditions that have spread throughout the world. From China has come pasta made with soft wheat flour, often served in broth with fresh vegetables, finely sliced meat, or chunks of fish or shellfish. Pastasciutta, the Italian style of pasta, is generally made with durum wheat semolina and presented in thick, tomato-based sauces. The history of these traditions, told here in fascinating detail, is interwoven with the legacies of expanding and contracting empires, the growth of mercantilist guilds and mass industrialization, and the rise of food as an art form.

Whether you are interested in the origins of lasagna, the strange genesis of the Chinese pasta bing or the mystique of the most magnificent pasta of all, the timballo, this is the book for you. So dig in!

Columbia University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Journal of Modern History
Pasta shows how much is to be gained by looking at historical change through the lens provided by... food.

— Priscilla Ferguson

Booklist - Mark Knoblauch
Serventi and Sabban's remarkable tracing of pasta's history and development makes this a central addition to the history of food.

London Times - Bee Wilson
There are countless books on pasta, but none before has really explained how noodles took over the world, from the two great civilizations of China and Italy.... [Pasta] is rich with stories.

Chicago Tribune - Dan Santow
You might think that a 400-plus-page book about pasta wouldn't be much of a page turner, but you'd be wrong....Serventi & Sabban have written an engrossing book.

Gastronomica - Fred Plotkin
[A]nyone who cares about pasta (which is to say, anyone who eats) will find a great deal of fascinating material to savor. This book is catnip for history buffs.

Journal of Modern History - Priscilla Ferguson
Pasta shows how much is to be gained by looking at historical change through the lens provided by... food.

Guardian
A feast for the mind.

Booklist
Serventi and Sabban's remarkable tracing of pasta's history and development makes this a central addition to the history of food.

— Mark Knoblauch

London Times
There are countless books on pasta, but none before has really explained how noodles took over the world, from the two great civilizations of China and Italy.... [ Pasta] is rich with stories.

— Bee Wilson

Chicago Tribune
You might think that a 400-plus-page book about pasta wouldn't be much of a page turner, but you'd be wrong....Serventi & Sabban have written an engrossing book.

— Dan Santow

Gastronomica
[A]nyone who cares about pasta (which is to say, anyone who eats) will find a great deal of fascinating material to savor. This book is catnip for history buffs.

— Fred Plotkin

Publishers Weekly
The latest entry in Columbia's series, Arts and Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History, is stuffed as tight as cannelloni with facts, numbers and quotes. If at times it is a little dry-through no fault of a very competent translation-it still stands as one of the most thorough histories to date of this beloved food. From the stuffed pastas of the Middle Ages (known as tortelli, because they were considered bite-sized cakes) to the artisan-produced pastas that made a comeback in Italy in the 1990s, Serventi and Sabban touch all the necessary bases and then some. A section on pasta in China begins with a lengthy "Ode to Bing" (noodles) by the scholar Shu Xi (264?-304?) and leads up through the Ming Dynasty, which the authors describe as the peak of pasta production in China, to modern-day ramen noodles, invented in Japan in 1958. The treatment of pasta development in Italy is even more complete and includes overviews of early pasta-making equipment and the role of women in its manufacture. The chapter "Pasta Without Borders," about the spread of pasta from Italy to the rest of the world (laying to rest Marco Polo myth), is an excellent study not only of pasta but of the way a single product can mutate and influence various economies over time. Perhaps too encyclopedic to be taken in at a single sitting, this is no doubt the exhaustive new authority on its subject (Jan.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Scholarly investigation of the quintessentially Italian carbohydrate. Quintessentially, but not originally. Food historian Serventi and French social scientist Sabban cannot precisely pinpoint the inventor(s) of pasta and take perhaps overmuch time at the outset laying out reasons why. Shards of linguistic evidence point to an Arabic origin, as does the fact that Sicily was a center of Islamic culture and commerce in antiquity. The idea of Marco Polo returning from China with a bowl of spaghetti is once again debunked with finality, but the roots of bing (ancient Chinese for wheat flour dough) in that part of the world are also plumbed. The authors aim to reveal pasta as a cultural hallmark that spawned a major industry, not to deliver new recipes; however, an extensive section on gastronomy over the ages reveals much. For instance, Italians spent nearly a millennium eating pasta, whether in the form of capelli di pagliacci (clowns’ hats) or strozzaprieti (priest stranglers), cooked until it nearly fell apart and served without any tomato sauce. Available since the 16th century, the tomato was largely ignored in favor of sugar, cinnamon, and things like rendered lard until Neapolitans perfected salsa di pomodoro 300 years later; the term al dente was unheard of until after WWI. Emigration to America brought new phenomena: there were over 300 industrial-sized pasta factories in the States by the ’20s, and after WWII, bureaucrats knew the Marshall Plan was working when pasta exports to war-torn Europe, boosted almost a hundredfold from prewar levels, suddenly plummeted. In the 1960s, inhabitants of the immigrant-founded town of Roseto, Pennsylvania, were found strangely hale and heartywhile vascular diseases ravaged the surrounding countryside, causing doctors en masse to endorse the "Mediterranean Diet" of olive oil, wine, and, of course, pasta. Sometimes endlessly informative (for instance, on pasta-making machinery) as it offers more in the way of pasta history than most readers have even begun to imagine.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780231124423
Publisher:
Columbia University Press
Publication date:
10/30/2002
Series:
Arts and Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History Series
Pages:
416
Product dimensions:
6.26(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.20(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

Lynne Rossetto Kasper

Finally a thorough, scholarly examination of this universal food published in English. I applaud this work for all the misconceptions it will clarify and for all the new paths it will open to research.

Lynne Rossetto Kasper, author of The Splendid Table: Recipes from the Emilia-Romagna, the Heartland of Northern Italian Food and The Italian Country: Recipes from Italy's Farmhouse Kitchens

Piero Selvaggio

Italy and China share the birth and evolution of pasta, the most universal of all food, and certainly the most exciting. This book, so eloquently composed, gives us the most comprehensive and in depth information on pasta with all of the historical, traditional and emotional tones. We learn the history and culture of people that have maintained tradition and legacy through pasta, influencing its taste, shape and importance.

Piero Selvaggio, head chef at Valentino Restaurant, Los Angeles

Carol Field

The fascinating research that fills the pages of this amazing book has moved me to make a forest of little check marks next to information I want to remember. I applaud this important contribution to the literature. Now that I know how much mystery, rivalry, intrigue, clever and audacious planning and the accidents of history and geography have contributed to the production of the food we all love to eat, I'll appreciate it even more.

Carol Field, author of In Nonna's Kitchen: Recipes and Traditions from Italy's Grandmothers

Charles Perry

The history of pasta has been a blank canvas for lazy guesswork so long that it is gratifying to find it discussed at last in serious, concrete detail. Serventi and Sabban have gathered just about everything that is truly known about pasta and tell a story that can be trusted, even on the obscure and slippery origins of this fascinating food.

Charles Perry, Food Editor/critic, Los Angeles Times

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Meet the Author

Silvano Serventi is a historian of food and of French and Italian culinary practices. He is the author of many books, including The Medieval Kitchen: Recipes from France and Italy (with Odile Redon and Françoise Sabban).

Françoise Sabban is a sinologist and director of studies at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris.

Antony Shugaar is coauthor of Latitude Zero: Tales of the Equator and translator of The Judge and the Historian by Carlo Ginzburg, and Niccolo's Smile and Republicanism by Maurizio Viroli. He lives in Arlington, VA.

Columbia University Press

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