Did you know that residents of Italy consume more than 60 pounds of pasta–the name translates to “paste” in reference to the dough–per person each year? In fact, wheat for pasta must be imported as consumption exceeds the nation’s annual wheat production! That’s a lot of spaghetti, linguini, fusilli, rotelli (also known locally as ruote), penne, lasagna, rigatoni, vermicelli, orecchiette, tagliatelle, capellini, ziti, etc. In the U.S., Americans weigh in at a hefty annual consumption of 20 pounds apiece. No wonder the widely accessible noodle has a holiday of its own, beloved for its palate-pleasing effects on everyone from toddlers to truckers.
Made largely from durum wheat flour which has a high gluten and low moisture content making it suitable for noodle production, and water or eggs, pasta can be infused with everything from beets, carrots, squash, spinach, tomato, herbs, and even squid ink or baking chocolate (not sweet) often make it a healthy, colorful part of our cuisine. Its value and versatility in soups, salads, and as main dishes is unrivaled.
In Asia, udon, soba, and cu mian noodles expand the list of “pastabilities” as tasty components of a meal. Though sometimes made from wheat, Asian fare can emanate from rice, buckwheat or mung beans which distinguishes it from conventional pasta, and with Arrowroot or tapioca starch added for texture and tenderness. The Greek manifestation of pasta is pearly orzo, and those returning from a trip to Germany or Hungary confirm a daily dose of spaetzle is a hard habit to break.
Historical accounts of pasta’s origins have been disputed, but one record states Marco Polo brought a barley-based noodle back to Italy from his travels in China in the 13th Century, with a dish called “lagana” (perhaps a precursor to lasagna) also noted. As an early connoisseur, Thomas Jefferson reportedly became so enamored of pasta (then called macaroni, which covered all forms) during his 1784-89 Paris sojourn, he returned to America with cases of it in tow and sent for more when supplies ran out.
Long, short-cut, ribbon-cut, decorative, minute or stuffed (all industry terms used to describe pasta), its popularity has ratcheted the ubiquitous noodle to the front of the American cuisine cue, and we can’t seem to get enough. Smothered in a zesty tomato sauce, a favorite meat sauce, or on the trail to lighter pastures with pesto, garlic and oil, today there are even gluten-free pastas on the market. The following recipes, which include a sweet pasta-filled pie for dessert, will help make National Pasta Day – October 17th – a culinary cause to celebrate!