Pasta is one of the most popular foods for people of all ages worldwide. Quick and easy to make and packed with nutrients, pasta combines deliciously with practically everything. And above all, you can enjoy its delicious taste without guilt, as it is neither heavy nor fattening. In fact, pasta is one of the healthiest and most nutritious foods and is now recommended as one of the basic dishes of the famous "Mediterranean Diet". A light and easy to digest source of energy, rich in carbohydrates and particularly low in fat, cholesterol and sodium.
The story of pasta is a long and complex one, full of myths and contradictions. The widely spread notion that pasta was introduced into Italy by Marco Polo on his return from the Far East in the 13th century is now thoroughly discredited.
In fact, the earliest indication of the existence of pasta as we recognize it today goes back to the 1st millennium BC, to the Ancient Greek civilization. The Greeks had a word "Laganon" which denoted a broad, flat cake made of dough and cut into strips. This dough they brought with them when they colonized the Italian shores in the 8th century BC, and survived as "Laganum" in Latin, from which came the word "Lasagne" that we use today. The word "Laganum" is mentioned by Latin writers such as Cicero and Horace, as well as by Marcus Gabius Apicius, the most celebrated eater of his time, who mentions feasts with Laganum in one of the earliest comprehensive cookery books, De re coquinaria.
The first pictorial evidence of the existence of pasta comes from an Etruscan tomb dating from the 4th century BC, where a bas-relief depicts utensils that are used until today for the making of pasta: a jug of water, a flour bag, a large board for the mixing of flour with water, a ladle, a rolling pin and a knife.
Pasta was certainly known in Ancient China as well as in the Arab world. Noodles known as "rishta" were eaten in ancient Persia and are documented in cookery books of medieval Islam. What remains unknown is whether this Arab version pre-dated the Greek and Etruscan versions.
Some maintain that real pasta, as we eat it today, derives from Arab Sicily. After the Saracens captured Sicily in the 9th century, there are written documents that speak of the making of some kind of spaghetti in Palermo, named "itria", which in Persian means "shoe laces". This pasta is still made in Sicily today, under the name "trii".
The first complete pasta recipe is found in chef Martino da Como's cookbook in the 15th century and later on we meet pasta in Bartolomeo Sacchi's writings ( head-librarian for the Vatican ), from whom we learn that "pasta should be cooked for as long as it takes to recite three Pater Nostres". Pasta is also mentioned in Boccaccio's writings. In one of the stories of his Dekaemeron he describes a far-off and wondrous place in which stands a mountain of grated parmesan and on which live a people who do nothing else than make macaroni all day. This is a proof of the fact that by that time pasta was already part of the Italian way of life.
From 1400 onwards pasta was no longer a foodstuff to be made only in the home but it began to become commercially available. But it is in the 18th century that pasta truly swept into pre-eminence. During 1700 there were 60 pasta shops in Naples and by 1785 these increased to 280. The climate of Naples was ideal for the making of pasta, which in those days was made and hung up to dry on racks in the streets.
The hot winds blowing from Vesuvius and the fresh breezes from the sea dried pasta to the perfect consistency - neither too brittle nor too damp.
In those times the dough was made with a similar process as the pressing of grapes for wine. The mixing of the semolina with the water was done by the feet. This method was used until King Ferdinand II paid a visit to a pasta factory and shocked at what he saw instructed scientist Cesare Spadaccini to invent the mechanical press, made of bronze. Soon pasta factories spread all over the country and the process was progressively mechanized.
At first pasta was mainly served with cheese and pepper and was consumed with the fingers. Once tomatoes were introduced from the New World at around 1800, the first tomato sauces made their appearance, mainly tomatoes boiled with salt and basil, and the four-speared fork also appeared, enabling a safer transfer of spaghetti from the plate to the mouth!
By the end of the 19th century, the whole process of pasta making became more or less completely mechanized and started to spread all over the world. One may now speak of the pasta industry.
Today, pasta is a universally appealing dish for all ages, all over the world. People of different cultures all over the globe enjoy the famous traditional Italian recipes as well as thousands of adaptations, according to their own particular tastes and traditions.
Pasta is one of the simplest and purest foods around, as it is made of just two ingredients, semolina and water, without the addition of any hidden artificial preservatives or colourings.
The first decisive step in making good pasta is the selection of the appropriate raw material. All quality pasta is made from Durum wheat semolina. Durum wheat is considered to be the most noble of all hard wheats and the richest in nutritional value. Durum wheat is what gives pasta its rich taste, pleasant aroma and bright, amber-yellow colour. It is also what helps it remain firm and keep its shape and its nutrients while cooking.
Mitsides long expertise of 8 decades ensures that the best quality durum wheat from various granaries around the world is always selected for the production of its pasta. Each wheat cargo is laboratory tested to ensure that it conforms to all standards and is then stored in the company’s special grain silos. From there it is transferred to the Mitsides Flourmills for the production of the semolina.
Before the milling begins, the wheat kernels are thoroughly cleaned to rid them of any foreign substances and are then brushed to remove the external layer of the bran and any remaining impurities. They are then conditioned and hydrated to ensure they obtain the right moisture levels, before they enter the cylinder machines where the milling begins. The grinding is done in stages where the wheat kernel is broken until the inner part of the grain (endosperm) is separated from the outer skin (bran). The milling derivative is then sieved to remove all bran leaving behind pure semolina. The semolina is then transferred to the Pasta factory, where the pasta production will begin.
The semolina first enters the kneading machines, where it is mixed with water until it forms a dough. For special kinds of pasta such as lasagne and tricolore, additional ingredients such as dried eggs, tomato or spinach are added at this stage.
The dough is kneaded in vacuum until it reaches the right consistency, and it is then pushed or extruded through the various dies or moulds, which give pasta its desired shape.
The pasta is then passed through pasteurizers for sterilization at 80 - 90 degrees Celsius, where any germs such as salmonella are destroyed. It then proceeds through the automatic dryers that circulate hot, moist air, where the pasta dries slowly for several hours, depending on the shape and thickness of the pasta.
The dried pasta then enters the automatic packing machines, where it is weighted and packed in bags or boxes. The whole process, from the mixing of the raw materials to the packing of the final product, is completely automated and it takes from 6 to 24 hours to complete, depending on the shape of the product.
The shelf life of pasta is much longer than the two years marked on the packet, provided that it is kept under proper conditions, which is a dry and cool place.
As in all modern pasta plants, the whole production procedure followed at the Mitsides Pasta plant is completely automated, using electronic monitoring devices, without the need of any manual intervention at any stage of production.