ALTHOUGH IT MAKES a good story, Marco Polo didn’t introduce noodles from China to Italy. People in the Mediterranean were eating pasta long before the explorer and merchant from medieval Venice stepped foot in China. While wheat was first grown in the Mediterranean, most food historians agree that noodles were initially made in China some time before 200 BCE, according to Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking.
China and other Far East cultures originated a number of different traditional pasta or noodle dishes, including wontons, potstickers and filled dumplings. In Italy, post-medieval pasta makers formed guilds and were responsible for an evolution of the dish, according to McGee, who says they first prepared the distinctive style of pasta where it is served as the main component of a dish but not drowned in sauce, soup or stew. Most countries and cultures can now claim some kind of traditional pasta or noodle dish. Germany, for example, has spaetzle, Russia pelmeny, Poland pierogi, Mongolia bansh and Mexico fideos.
Regardless of its point of entry and despite its many incarnations, pasta remains one of the most ubiquitous and recognizable foods on the planet. Essentially, it is a mixture of flour (often wheat), water (or olive oil), and (usually) eggs—a combination that makes an affordable, approachable, comfortable food that is sometimes even considered a convenience food. Thanks to some local chefs who offer it fresh and handmade, pasta in the Hudson Valley can offer an amazing dining experience.