When we think Pasta, we think Italy. However, there is absolutely no clear trail that the origin of ancient pasta was actually in Italy. Just like ice cream, popular legend goes that that Marco Polo brought back the first form of pasta, i.e. some form of noodles from China in the 13th century. However, it has been believed that that different forms of pasta were in use not just in Italy much earlier than that. In fact, as per the International Pasta Organisation, the pasta dates back to ancient Etruscan civilizations, when pasta was made by grinding different types of cereals and grains together, and then mixed them with water. This blend was later cooked in different ways to produce a tasty and nutritious food product.
References to pasta have been observed in the ancient Rome, as far back as the 3rd century before Christ. Recorded history shows that the Roman emperor Cicero was passionate about “Laganum”, the “laganas”, which are strips of long pasta. However, these pastas’ or their forms, were wood oven baked, not boiled.
Another legend has it that the Arab invasions of the 8th century was the beginning of the modern time Pasta to Italy. Arabs carried some form of dried pasta on their journeys. These dried noodle-like product they introduced to Sicily is most likely the origins of dried pasta and was being produced in great quantities in Palermo at this time. Availability of grains required for the pasta, it became a stable diet in Sicily as the mainland climate was conducive to the growth of durum wheat.
It is said that from the 13th century onwards, pasta developed popularity, thanks to its durability and shelf life and easy ways to cook. It could be easily stocked for long voyages across oceans. And it is thanks to these voyages that pasta and forms of it started reaching unexplored regions and foreign zones. With the innovations in shape and recipes of pasta, it truly became a part of Italian life. It is note worthy however, that different types of pastas, semolina, noodles etc. have been a part of the Asian cultures since ancient history.
Back in the day, making the pasta was a painstaking and laborious undertaking. Barefoot men had to tread the dough and the treading could last as long as a day because milled durum wheat (semolina) is granular like sugar, not powdery like other flours. This dough was then squeezed through pierced dies under great pressure, provided by a large screw press powered by two men or one big horse. It is thus believed that the word ‘macarone’ comes from the Sicilian term for making dough forcefully. The first types of pasta as we know and love it appeared in the mid 1600s made in the pasta mills of the Amalfi Coast and included maccaroni, vermicelli and tagliatelle.
The next big advancement in history of pasta recipes came in with the advent of tomatoes. Tomato, believed to be a native American discovery, reached Europe only in the 16th Century, when explorers brought back this fruit from South America. Yet, it took some time for tomato to be accepted as a food. In fact for the longest time the Europeans admired the tomato for its beauty, but considered it poisonous and lethal for consumption. However, around the late 17th to mid 18th Century, the first tomato pasta recipe was documented, and they never looked back! Before the advent of the tomato sauce, the pasta was eaten dry using finger, but with the discovery of pasta tomato recipe, a fork was required.
Pasta was introduced to America by Thomas Jefferson, when he served as Minister to France from 1785 to 1789. He first tasted the pasta during his trip to Naples and when he returned to the U.S., he brought back crates of “maccheroni” and a pasta making machine.
It’s amazing, how one of the most popular staple diet of the world, has absolutely no definite origin or history!
Having said that… let’s turn to the pasta I had at one of the local restaurant.
DOODLE PASTA – CREATE YOUR OWN PASTA
I love to mix and match ingredients and food. And I believe Pasta as a dish lends itself beautifully to this mix and match. You can have different shapes of pasta, mix it with different types of sauces, add different types of vegetables and meat, and basically using same mix of ingredients get different types of outcomes.
How often have I wished… and even asked, can I replace the pesto with cream sauce? Or can I replace the salami with sausages and the list goes on. Well, the idea was out there, and someone had to pick it up. And pick it up they did. The almost-new (it’s just been 6 months) addition to the amazing gourmet city is Doodle & Switch, the latest addition brought to you by the SaladStop team.
Situated at Millenia Walk (they have another branch at Novena), it’s a simple eatery situated in a mall. Nothing outstanding about the ambiance. However, they have an extremely interesting concept. On one hand they have their own pasta menu, the regular, Spaghetti Bolognaise, Arrabiata, Spaghetti Aglio Olio and the likes. Then there are special pastas, namely, Under The Tuscan Sun (Penne pasta cooked in a Harissa cream sauce, a pasta for the Tuscany palate), Seoulful Sensation (a pasta catering to the Korean palate), and Taj Ma-Hell-Yea! (the Indian Palate special.)
While their adaptations are extremely interesting, what interests me the most is their “Doodle! Your Own” An option, where you can –> Select your choice of pasta or noodle –> Choose your own sauce (choice of 10 sauces given below) –> Select 4 basic ingredients (15 veggie options available) –> choose premium options (for $2 each you have a choice of 16 meat and seafood options).
At each step, you select your choice, and the chef makes your pasta before your eyes! During my last visit (I visit this place quite often!) we went for an all vegetarian pasta options, and this is what we had!
How much will it cost me: Depending upon your taste and your choice, a Pasta meal (with soup and drink) will cost you anywhere between S$ 15 to $ 25. But, the flavours, the taste and size of the serving makes it quite worth it.
Verdict: Is it the best pasta I have had, No. But it is good. And it allows me to make a choice of ingredients I want, allowing me the option to select depending upon my mood and craving for the day. I can choose not to have what I don’t feel like having on my plate. For example, I am allergic to capsicum, and have to often pick out the capsicum from my plate (if I forget to tell them first). This gives me the flexibility. But that’s not all, they have ready menu, for the lazy ones who don’t want to choose! That’s catering to preferences, and I love it. I would recommend, just for experience sake, a visit to this place, where you get to see your pasta being made.