A Short History of Spaghetti with Tomato Sauce – Massimo Montanari

A Short History of Spaghetti with Tomato Sauce is the third book I read by Massimo Montanari, and I must say I enjoy his writing and all the information he shares with the world. Massimo Montanari is a professor of Medieval History at the University of Bologna and is also one of the world’s most recognized experts in food studies. He is also one of the founders and editors of the popular magazine Food & History. I first read Food is Culture from him, and after that book, I began to read more about food culture and history. It opened the doors of a new genre for me, and I’m so glad!


A Short History of Spaghetti with Tomato Sauce shows us that spaghetti, one of the symbols of Italian cuisine, is a product of encounters, richness of other cuisines and the exchanges made with different cultures. Montanari deliciously talks about how dishes that are symbols of countries actually belong to everyone if we look at their history. In this case, it is A Short History of Spaghetti with Tomato Sauce. I must warn you; you’ll crave spaghetti and dwell on how to cook the best tomato sauce. I am now hunting for the best sauce, and I’ll cook lots of spaghetti this week.

You’ll finish A Short History of Spaghetti with Tomato Sauce in a sitting; it is short, informative and highly entertaining. At the end of his book, Montanari states that “Our identity is what we are. Our roots are not “what we were” but rather the encounters, exchanges and crossings that have transformed what we were into what we are.

And the deeper we go in search of our origins, the more our roots extend and grow away from us- just as it happens with plants. Searching for the origins of what we are may just be, therefore, a way of getting to know others. The others who live in us.” Isn’t he wonderful? Please read A Short History of Spaghetti with Tomato Sauce, cook spaghetti and enjoy!

A Short History of Spaghetti with Tomato Sauce

Al dente”: this untranslatable expression (indeed, the English version is identical to the Italian, literally “to the tooth”) evokes in a synthetic fashion an essential element of Italian gastronomic culture, pasta, and at the same time, the proper way to cook it: not too long, in order to keep it firm to the bite.

Nevertheless, medieval and Renaissance cookbooks recommended cooking pasta a long time, for a number of minutes that today would leave us aghast. “These macaroni want to boil for the space of two hours,” Maestro Martino prescribes in his recipe for Sicilian macaroni. The indication was apparently susceptible to rather significant variations, with another manuscript of the same book reducing the cooking time to “one hour gently gently” and still another takes it down to “half an hour”— adding, however, that in principle “all pasta wants to be well cooked.”

A Short History of Spaghetti with Tomato Sauce – Massimo Montanari
A Short History of Spaghetti with Tomato Sauce by Massimo Montanari,

A Short History of Spaghetti with Tomato Sauce

A Short History of Spaghetti with Tomato Sauce: Intellectually engaging and deliciously readable, a stereotype-defying history of how one of the most recognisable symbols of Italian cuisine and national identity is the product of centuries of encounters, dialogue, and exchange.

Is it possible to identify a starting point in history from which everything else unfolds–a single moment that can explain the present and reveal the essence of our identities? According to Massimo Montanari, this is just a myth: by themselves, origins explain very little and historical phenomena can only be understood dynamically–by looking at how events and identities develop and change as a result of encounters and combinations that are often unexpected.

As Montanari shows in this lively, brilliant, and surprising essay, A Short History of Spaghetti with Tomato Sauce, all you need to debunk the “origins myth” is a plate of spaghetti. By tracing the history of the one of Italy’s “national dishes”–from Asia to America, from Africa to Europe; from the beginning of agriculture to the Middle Ages and up to the 20th century–he shows that in order to understand who we are (our identity) we almost always need to look beyond ourselves to other cultures, peoples, and traditions.

Massimo Montanari

Massimo Montanari, born 1949, studied Medieval History with Vito Fumagalli at the Faculty of Letters and Philosophy of Bologna University. In 1975 he became “assistent” in Medieval History and in 1977 obtained the teaching charge of Medieval Agrarian History. In 1983 was promoted “associated professor”. In 1990 became full professor of Medieval History. He teached four years (1990-1994) at the Faculty of Letters and Philosophy in Catania University. In the years 1994-2000 he teached at the Faculty of “Conservazione dei Beni Culturali” in Bologna University; in 2000 he rejoined the Faculty of Letters and Philosophy.

From 2000 to 2005 he has been the Director of the Department of Paleography and Medieval Studies (Paleografia e Medievistica). Now is working in the Department of History and Cultures. 

He held lectures in many european countries, in Japan, the United States, Canada, Latin America. In 1992 he has been guest professor at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Parigi. In 1993 he held a course of lectures at the UCLA (University of California at Los Angeles). In 2001 he was invited for a cycle of seminars in four different University in Japan. In 2007 he was invited to the “international chair” at the ULB (Université Libre de Bruxelles). In 2008 he teached lectures in six canadian universities.

A Short History of Spaghetti with Tomato Sauce - Massimo Montanari

He is the director of a collection (Biblioteca di Storia Agraria Medievale) published by the Cooperativa Libraria Universitaria Editrice in Bologna. He is a consultant and collaborator of Laterza publishers.

He has been among the founders of the international review “Food & History”, published by the Institut Européen d’Histoire et des Cultures de l’Alimentation (Tours), of which he was the director up to 2008. He is a member of the scientific committee of the IEHCA.

He is also a member of the scientific committee of the Centro Italiano di Studi sull’Alto Medioevo, Spoleto.

In 1997 he founded, together with collegues of different Italian universities, the “Centro di studi per la storia delle campagne e del lavoro contadino”, settled in Montalcino (Siena); he is the President of the same Center.

In 2001-2002 he launched in the Faculty of Letters and Philosophy in Bologna Universityu the Master Storia e cultura dell’alimentazione, now ruled by the Department of Storia Culture Civiltà.

For about twenty years he has been directing local research groups (so called ex 60%) and national ones (ex 40%), on topics regarding the rural history and the food history.

In 2002 Azeglio Ciampi, the President of Italy Republic, assigned him the title of honoured Ufficiale (Officer) for scientific merits.

In 2012 he won the Rabelais Prized, conferred by the Institut de France for special distinction in the study, diffusion and promotion of food culture.

Since 2013 he is a member of the Académie Royale de Belgique (Classe des Lettre set Sciences morales et politiques).

Since 2017 he is an associated of the Sciences Academy of the Institut of Bologna (Classe of moral sciences, philosophical, anthropological and pedagogical section).

Reading this book contributed to these challenges: 

A Non-Fiction a Month

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