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Pasta: The Story of a Universal Food [Hardcover]

Silvano Serventi , Françoise Sabban , Francoise Sabban , Antony Shugaar
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

January 15, 2003 0231124422 978-0231124423 First Edition

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!

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Pasta: The Story of a Universal Food + Encyclopedia of Pasta (California Studies in Food and Culture) + The Geometry of Pasta
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Editorial Reviews

From 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
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

In the last 50 years, pasta has risen from ethnic oddity to ubiquity. A bowl of well-sauced spaghetti is both dinner and comfort food. Although pasta is virtually synonymous with Italy, modern historians suspect pasta originated in China and came very early to the Mediterranean basin, thanks in part to Arab merchants. Once it reached up the Italian peninsula, pasta developed in a wholly different culinary direction than in the East. By the fifth century, Italian cooks were already producing a forebear of baked lasagna. Pasta's march to universality probably began about the fifteenth century in Sicily, where the technique of drying hard wheat pasta for export came into being on an industrial scale. Naples' climate proved ideal for drying pasta doughs, and it dominated world trade until technological breakthroughs led to artificial simulation of favorable Neapolitan weather. Serventi and Sabban's remarkable tracing of pasta's history and development makes this a central addition to the history of food. An extensive bibliography testifies to the rigor of their scholarship. Mark Knoblauch
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press; First Edition edition (January 15, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231124422
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231124423
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,295,689 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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4.0 out of 5 stars Thorough, a bit academic February 11, 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I was looking for some general history of pasta; this book is very good and quite thorough. It is quite academic--for example, it uses linguistics to trace the spread of pasta, but is very entertaining nonetheless.
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