Pasta and pizza are considered the two Italian national dishes, and Italians consume pasta about once a day which adds up to something like 30 kg per year. There has been discussions and disagreements about the origin of pasta, some say Marco Polo brought pasta when he came back from his trip to China. Some say it started in Italy way before the Roman times.
Well, if we look at history and going back to antiquity about 3000 bc, there are some clear proofs that pasta was already consumed then. We can find that a mixture of flour and water was made, then boiled in water and consumed. It seems that the Etruscans already consumed something that looked like the ancestor of our modern pasta as well. Some thumbstones were discovered with paintings picturing a Mattarello, which is the Italian rolling pin and a spianatoia, a wooden board used to roll the pasta sheet. During the roman times, we found a similar food that Cicero and Horace, 100 bc were already very fond of, we believe that is where our modern lasagna comes from, it was called then “lagana”, a word that derives from the Greek word laganoz or in latin laganum which was a type of mixture made of flour without yeast and boiled in water.
Trabia near Palermo (Sicily) was considered the capital of spaghetti around the year 1100 which got exported all over in Muslim countries through ships. Pasta during that time was consumed with fruits and nuts. China and the Arab world consumed pasta at that time also, every country developed their own pasta with their own savoir-faire according to the local crops and grains their were growing at the time in a particular part of the world.
There are two categories of pasta, dry pasta and fresh pasta, the dry one is made out of durum flour (triticum durum) while fresh pasta is made with soft wheat flour (triticum vulgare) and eggs. The difference in those two grains is minimal, the grain of the durum wheat is a little longer and almost translucent whereas the grain of the soft wheat is opaque and rounder. The durum wheat is more cultivated in the Southern part of Italy where the climate is dry and hot, the other type of grain is grown in the Northern part mainly in plains where the climate is more humid and less rough. All this explains the high consumption of dry pasta in the Southern part whereas fresh pasta is most commonly consumed in the Northern part.
Even with an important evolution in the pasta making and eating throughout the centuries, there are still some fundamental rules that are still respected by true pasta connoisseurs and need to be respected when preparing some pasta dishes. Then obviously there are no written laws about how you cook your pasta, but some definite common sense rules have to be respected if you want to truly enjoy a non “denatured” pasta dish.
The round, long and soft shapes such as spaghetti are mainly accompanied with well defined and strong flavorful sauces with an oil base. The short types of pasta or egg pasta are mainly perfect for creamy sauces with a delicate consistency. For example if you prepare a spaghetti dish with a creamy and thick sauce, you would “kill” the natural slippery texture of the spaghetti. Traditions have matched pasta with its own perfect accompaniment.
Now the nouvelle cuisine has somehow substitute long and heavy sauces with the freshest and top quality vegetables and ingredients, less fat, decreased the cooking time to keep the benefits and colors of vegetables, and producing a lighter cuisine. I am a true believer that the solution for the art of preparing pasta resides in the middle ground and within the use of the fundamental rules “cum grano salis” in the respect of the common sense.