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Italian Pasta: A Timeline

Italy’s traceable culinary history goes back to the Roman Empire, but only within the last 250 years has pasta been widely consumed across the country. How did it happen?

Published June 15, 2021.

Before 1100:

Pasta's origins are difficult to pinpoint, but the method of using wheat to make noodles is thought to have made its way to the Mediterranean from China around the first century. Lasagna-like noodles appear in southern Italy as early as the fourth century.


As regional trade increases throughout the Mediterranean, pasta shapes such as macaroni, vermicelli, and gnocchi appear in historical texts. Sicilians and Sardinians begin to perfect the art of drying pasta by hanging it outdoors on large racks for several days. 


During the Italian Renaissance, elaborate pasta preparations including rich sauces, meats, and various cheeses are available mostly to the wealthy. Pasta is often prepared with sugar and is devoid of vegetables. Pasta exports to France, Spain, and North Africa increase during the Age of Exploration.


Pasta becomes a staple for southern Italians, as wheat grown in Sicily and southern Italy becomes widely available and relatively inexpensive. Pasta dishes begin to include tomatoes and vegetables, with the first known recipe that combined tomato sauce and pasta appearing in 1790.


Industrialization and air pollution drive pasta production and drying into factories, increasing efficiency. Pasta becomes cheaper throughout Italy and begins to become a staple of Italian cuisine.


Globalization increases pasta exports throughout Europe and North America, and modern pasta preparations take root across the globe. High-temperature quick drying is introduced in the late 1900s.


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