On the Saudi Aramco World website, Tom Verde explains the actual history of pasta. Unlike popular belief, it wasn't the Chinese vermicelli that Marco Polo brought back that got the Italians started. Instead, he notes, pasta was brought over by the invading Arabs, giving birth to what are now considered traditional Italian meals.
Local legend has it that when the Arab conqueror of Sicily, Asad ibn al-Furat, landed with his fleet on the southern shore of the island in 827, one of his first orders of business was to muster up food for his troops. Quickly surveying the local resources, Asad's cooks caught sardines in the harbor, harvested wild fennel, currants and pine nuts from the surrounding hills, and combined them all with an ingredient then unknown in Europe, which the invading Arabs had brought with them in the holds of their ships: pasta.
Today, pasta con sarde, or pasta with sardines, is one of Sicily's signature dishes. Yet as legends go, this version of how pasta became a staple of Italian cuisine is far less familiar than the tale of Marco Polo's supposed discovery of noodles in China in the 13th century -- a tale that has been subject to more spin than a forkful of spaghetti.
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