Friday, March 31, 2023

Insight: This too shall pasta

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

Through the years I imagine I’ve come across many different types of pasta, and I expect that I’m no different from many others in that regard.

Pasta is among the most plentiful forms of sustenance worldwide and a trip to the grocery can leave a shopper bewildered as to the number of pasta brands and pasta forms available. At a quick glance on my latest visit to the pasta aisle at my favorite supermarket, there were at least 12 types of spaghetti noodles including thin spaghetti, regular spaghetti, angel hair spaghetti, wheat spaghetti, protein-infused spaghetti, chickpea spaghetti, lentil spaghetti, soybean spaghetti, egg spaghetti, gluten-free spaghetti, edame spaghetti, and slow-dried spaghetti.

The array of spaghetti brands was also impressive. I spotted brands that featured Barilla, Mueller, DeCecco, Goya, Zeno, Divello, Rao’s, Jovial and Banza.

But spaghetti is just one form of pasta and at any given time, the cupboard in our home typically contains a bag of broad noodles, and boxes of elbow macaroni and rotini.

My last shopping excursion took me to the pasta aisle looking for spaghetti sauce, but to get there I had to pass shelves filled with gnocchi, rigatoni, tortellini, ravioli, corkscrew rotini, colored rotini, pappardelle, linguine, fettucchine, orzo, tagliatelle, farfalle, paccheri, cavatappi, fusilli, bow tie, capellini, penne, and ziti. For some of those, I must admit that I’ve never used those products, and I believe I don’t even know what they are or even what they may look like.

I’m familiar with ravioli, rotini, linguine, fettucchine, penne, ziti, bow tie and fusilli. And in my opinion, the episode of Seinfeld featuring “Fusilli Jerry” is likely one of my favorites in the entire television series.

For most of my adult life, I’ve probably purchased regular spaghetti noodles more frequently than any other type of pasta and somewhere in the back of my brain I can still hear my mother telling me that spaghetti needs to boil in a pot for 11 minutes on the stove before being drained. Lately though, I’ve been purchasing the type of angel hair pasta for making spaghetti and am preferring it to heavier types of pasta. It’s quicker for me to cook (just four minutes of boiling) and a lighter option for dinner.

Our household meals also are known to feature wide or broad egg noodles as a side dish and it’s a product that’s remained fairly stable in price over time.

During the winter months, my wife Nancy always keeps a box of elbow macaroni on hand which she combines with tomato soup when she has a cold or the flu. I’ve never been a fan of elbow macaroni, stemming from my days of growing up and having my mother make something using that type of pasta.

If I was entering the house in the afternoon after school and smelled what my mother called “Hungarian Goulash” cooking on the stove, I knew I wasn’t going to be at the dinner table for very long. That concoction of hers contained tomato sauce, elbow macaroni and hamburger, but I never liked the taste of it and more than 60 years later, I still have an aversion to elbow macaroni or similar casseroles like that.

Another type of pasta dish that my mother served our family for lunch came straight from a can. It was something called “Beefaroni” by Chef Boyardee and that was a blend of tomato sauce and small macaroni with hamburger inside. Again, not one of my favorites, but to this very day I can still recite the “Beefaroni” television commercial jingle from the 1960s. “We’re having Beefaroni. Beef with macaroni. Beefaroni’s full of meat, Beefaroni’s really neat. Beefaroni’s fun to eat. Beefaroni can’t be beat. Hooray for Beefaroni.”

And while I’m on the subject of pasta products coming from a can, my mother also tried to get our family to eat Franco American’s Spaghetti-Os without success. For me the spaghetti was too soft after being in sauce inside the can for who knows how long. The taste of Spaghetti-Os never appealed to me and like Beefaroni, it is a pasta product that never shows up in my grocery cart at checkout.

Spaghetti has been a staple of my dinner menus throughout my adult life. It was a simple dish to make and even when my finances were tight back in the days when I was paid $2.75 per hour, I always could afford to eat spaghetti at least once a week. With or without meat or topped with plain butter if I didn’t have the money to buy a jar of spaghetti sauce, it kept me going when I was pinching pennies to get by. I haven’t purchased a box of Kraft Spaghetti in decades, but back in the 1970s, it was a handy purchase because it contained a small can of spaghetti sauce, a packet of Parmesan cheese, spice mix, and spaghetti noodles, all for under $1. The price for Kraft Classic Spaghetti five decades since I was in college is only $1.56 now.

A cousin of mine once told me the secret to life is a combination of pasta and magic. I’d prefer spaghetti to plain pasta.

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