As I mentioned yesterday, the early English references to ‘macaroni’ do not specifically indicate the short tubular form of pasta as the word does today, but simply meant ‘pasta.’ There was one distinct type of pasta mentioned in seventeenth century English texts however – vermicelli.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, vermicelli is ‘a kind of pasta made in the form of long, slender, hard threads,’ and gives the first known written use of the word in English as occurring in about 1668. The word derives from the Latin vermis, meaning worm – think vermeology, vermiform, vermicide, vermifuge etc.
Vermicelli appears to have been used almost exclusively in soup in eighteenth century Britain.
Having put four ounces of butter into a large tossing-pan, cut a knuckle of veal and a scrag of mutton into small pieces about the size of walnuts. Slice in the meat of a shank of ham, with three or four blades of mace, two or three carrots, two parsnips, two large onions, with a clove stuck in at each end. Cut in four or five heads of celery washed clean, a bunch of sweet herbs, eight or ten morels, and an anchovy. Cover the pan closely, and set it over a slow fire, without any water, till the gravy is drawn out of the meat. Then pour the gravy into a pot or bason, let the meat brown in the same pan; but take care it does not burn. Then pour in four quarts of water, and let it boil gently till it is wasted to three pints. Then strain it, and put the gravy to it. Set it on the fire, add to it two ounces of vermicelli, cut the nicest part of a head of celery, put in chyan pepper and salt to your taste, and let it boil about four minutes. If it is not of a good colour, put in a little browning, lay a French roll in the soup dish, pour in the soup upon it, and lay some of the vermicelli over it.
The Accomplished Housekeeper, and Universal Cook, by T.Williams (1717)
And from twenty years later - a quite slightly different interpretation of the concept of vermicelli soup:
TAKE two Quarts of good Broth made of Veal and Fowl, put to it about half a Quarter of a Pound of Vermicelli, a Bit of Bacon stuck with Cloves; take the Bigness of half an Egg of Butter, and rub it together, with half a Spoonful of Flour, and dissolve it in a little Broth, to thicken your Soop: Boil a Pullet or Chickens for the Middle of your Soop. Let your Garnishing be a Rim, on the Outside of it cut Lemon, soak your Bread in the Dish with some of the same Broth j take the Fat off and put your Vermicelli in your Dish; so serve it.
You may make a Rice Soop the same way, only your Rice being first boiled tender in Water, and it must boil an Hour in strong Broth, but half an Hour will boil the Vermicelli.
And a slightly later and slightly different interpretation of the concept of vermicelli soup:
The Whole Duty of a Woman, Or, An Infallible Guide to the Fair Sex (1737)
And the pièce de résistance: the amazing Hannah Glasse included a recipe for fresh pasta in The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy (1784.)
To make Vermicelli.
Mix yolks of eggs and flour together in a pretty stiff paste, so as you can work it up cleverly, and roll it as thin as it is possible to roll the paste, Let it dry in the sun; when it is quite dry, with a very sharp knife cut it as thin as possible, and keep it in a dry place. It will run up like little worms, as vermicelli does; though the best way is to fun it through a coarse sieve, whilst the paste is soft. If you want some to be made in haste, dry it by the fire, and cut it small. It will dry by the fire in a quarter of an hour. This far exceeds what comes from abroad, being fresher.
Excellent post, thank you.
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