Monday, March 24, 2008

For the Love of Pasta

I love pasta. All kinds. Spaghetti, rigatoni, lasagna, macaroni, penne, you name it. My family does, too. Fresh or dried, it's all good.

Pasta is such a staple ingredient, too. It's used in so many dishes: soups, casseroles, stuffed with meats or cheese, smothered in sauces - the possibilities are endless.

Pasta and Italian cooking just can't be separated. Legend has it that Marco Polo brought the secrets of the famed noodle from his travels in China but, archaeological evidence suggests that it was eaten by the Etruscans, Italy's earliest known inhabitants. It's popularity in Italy can be traced to the late 18th and early 19th centuries with the development of dried pasta. The first dried pasta was made with semolina flour, and no eggs, in Sicily. These ingredients, or lack of them, made mass production more viable and very inexpensive. By the late 1800's there were over 1,500 pasta manufacturers in Naples, alone.

Because it was inexpensive, it became a staple food for the poorest of Italians, helping to fend off starvation. The role of pasta as a heroic food for Italy's poor was played out in the character of the hunchback Pulcinella - popularized as “Punch” from “Punch and Judy” fame in England and America. Unfortunately, Pulcinella's role as mascot for the poor evolved into an image of Neapolitan gluttony.

Pasta is truly a primal food. Many children in Europe and America are introduced to pasta as infants, being mixed in with some of their first solid foods. What child can resist tiny pastas, shaped into letters for alphabet soup or, more recently, the shapes of dinosaurs and characters from popular fiction.

Dried pasta is a wonderful food choice for our busy modern world. With the myriad commercially canned sauces, it's quickly and easily prepared - and that's a good thing after a long day's work. I can't count the number of times spaghetti, with canned marinara sauce and a green tossed salad on the side, has been on the weekday dinner menu for my family.

A favorite of my children's is macaroni and cheese. Like most Americans, I rarely make it from scratch. Instead, we use the prepackaged variety, even though it's not as tasty, or healthy. We've taught our oldest children how to make it, and now they can feed themselves in pinch. I like adding various spices, such as chili powder, dried onions, and chopped tomatoes to the mix. Cooked sausages or hamburger can be added, as well, to make a quick skillet casserole. In spite of my best efforts to dress it up, my kids still prefer it plain.

I've decided to make April a kind of “pasta month” for Confessions of a Mormon Foodie. Stay tuned all month for stories, tips, and recipes dealing with pasta. After all, spring is here, and spring is all about love. I've talked about romance and pasta, before.

It's all about hot and steamy pasta love, baby.

Photo by Jonathan Werner.

1 comment:

Mark Dutch Oven said...

Over at the Black Pot, http://marksblackpot.blogspot.com, I made a killer penne rustica inspired by your month of pasta!