It’s one of food’s most beautiful relationships: pasta and sauce. But which came first—and how on Earth are you supposed to figure out which of those hundreds of shapes to serve with your pesto? With Valentine’s Day around the corner, we bring you the saucy—and occasionally scientific—history of an Italian staple. Listen in now as we take you from the very first mention of “a food of flour and water” served “in the form of strings,” to the cutting-edge, shape-shifting pasta of tomorrow.
“You would think such a national treasure as pasta would be very well-documented,” says Maureen B. Fant, the translator of Oretta Zanini de Vita’s Encyclopedia of Pasta and coauthor, with Zanini de Vita, of Sauces and Shapes: Pasta the Italian Way. But, in fact, before the Encyclopedia’s publication in 2009, there was no catalog of Italy’s hundreds of pasta shapes—not to mention the unique stories that lie behind each one. Zanini de Vita, a food historian, had investigated everything from papal foods to the peasant cuisine of the Italian countryside, but she turned her attention to pasta when she realized that Italian culinary heritage was disappearing before her eyes. With Fant’s help, we trace Italian history—economic, colonial, industrial, religious, royal—through the invention of new pasta shapes and the development of pasta-making machinery, before ending up at Carnegie Mellon University to explore the science behind the flat-pack, self-assembling pasta of tomorrow.